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February 2012
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Why We Love Comfort Food                  
Things are quieter at the ranch. We've been cleaning the mill and waiting for our olive oil from the fall harvest to be ready. The temperature outside has dropped. It's the time of year when it's nice to have comfort food to come home to. These are dishes that bring back warm memories and help take the sting off the chilly, long nights: macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, Mac the Goat Mac and Cheese
meatballs, or roast chicken.

The term "comfort food" elicits different dishes from different people. For some it may be a steaming bowl of chili. For others it may be meat loaf, pizza, or ice cream.

"No matter where they're eaten, comfort foods are the ones we've known and loved forever; the ones we ate as kids and the ones we yearn for as adults,"  James Oseland writes in
Saveur: The New Comfort Food (Chronicle Books, 2011). "They're the foods that taste like home, wherever you happen to be when you eat them."  

A good California extra virgin olive oil is a great partner for comfort food. Olive oil aficionado Tom Mueller - author of Extra Virginity (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012), a new book detailing olive oil fraud - likes to "reinvent American comfort foods with olive oil."

"I think a baked potato with olive oil instead of butter is incredible. Olive oil on a steak as steak sauce enhances the flavor and the texture of the meat," Mueller says. "A full-bodied olive oil over vanilla ice cream creates a counter-point to the ice cream's sweetness."

To help you in the kitchen, we've selected our own set of comfort food recipes, featured below. They all use extra virgin olive oil. The oil can help provide a gourmet twist on a classic comfort dish. Take the mac and cheese: It's made from goat cheese and gets a finishing drizzle of olive oil.

"The oil pairs well with the goat cheese and provides a certain grassiness - but not too much. The oil also is buttery, and it adds a lot of complexity of flavor," says our featured restaurateur: Erin Wade, co-founder of the Oakland, Calif., restaurant Homeroom, where the dish is served.  
Pizza from Fotosearch
Or consider the grilled cheese recipe: It features a garlic confit made from garlic cloves gently poached in olive oil. The sandwich itself is fried in the olive oil used to poach the garlic.

"Pair the mellow garlic confit with zingy baby arugula and a nutty, pungent aged cheddar, gruyère or fontina, and every luscious bite is mouthwatering," food guru and blogger
Viviane Bauquet Farre says of the fabulous dish she created.

It's the kind of dish that would brighten any day - including one in February.

 Our Favorite Comfort Food Recipes   
"Mac the Goat" Macaroni and Cheese
Mac the Goat photo by James M. Ngo

Recipe courtesy of Erin Wade and Homeroom, Oakland, Calif.
Photo credit: James M. Ngo

Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Garlic Confit and Baby Arugula

Recipe and photo courtesy of Viviane Bauquet Farre of Food & Style

Italian-Style Meatballs with Tomato Ragù
Italian-Style Meatballs Saveur

Recipe Credit: Saveur: The New Comfort Food (Chronicle Books, 2011), edited by James Oseland
Reprinted with permission from Chronicle Books

Lemony Roast Chicken
Lemony Roast Chicken

Recipe Credit: Saveur: The New Comfort Food (Chronicle Books, 2011), edited by James Oseland
Reprinted with permission from Chronicle Books

Bucatini Amatriciana
Bucatini Amatriciana Boiardi

Recipe Credit: Delicious Memories (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011), by Anna Boiardi and Stephanie Lyness
Reprinted with permission from Stewart, Tabori & Chang

 Q&A With Our Featured Restaurateur          
Erin Wade
400 40th St.
Oakland, Calif.
(510) 597-0400

Erin Wade first met her business partner Allison Arevalo while sharing a table in a crowded café in the San Francisco Bay area. Wade, an attorney, and Arevalo, a food blogger and marketer, began chatting. They discovered
Erin Wade, left, with business partner Allison Arevalo. Photo by Dan Jung
they had a mutual love for food. They stayed in contact. Nine months later, Wade, who was itching to get into a new line of work, phoned Arevalo: Would Arevalo be interested in opening a restaurant together? The popular Oakland eatery Homeroom was born a year go. One  blogger describes it as "Oakland's temple of macaroni and cheese." The dishes are made with artisanal cheeses from local cheesemakers. We caught up with the busy Wade and asked her about her interest in food, her restaurant and mac and cheese, among other topics.

You were once an attorney handling corporate and employment law. How did you get interested in food and restaurants?

I've always been into food. I was the restaurant critic for the college newspaper at Princeton, where I studied public policy. I've actually cooked before - initially for free at a restaurant in Princeton. In the last year of college I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. But I really loved cooking. At that moment I really wanted to do that. So I moved to New York City and cooked professionally. It was really interesting, but also really terrible, working for other people in New York. Crappy hours and mean bosses. I then decided to go into law. But I didn't have a passion to do that. I needed a good job.

What did your parents do while you were growing up?
Photo by Dan Jung

I grew up in Los Angeles. Both my parents owned their own businesses. My dad was an accountant and my mom was a speech therapist.

Was your family interested in food?

My whole family is very food- and drink-obsessed. My mom has the biggest cookbook collection you've ever seen. It numbers in the hundreds and takes up a huge wall of an entire room. We used to plan all our meals. And while on vacation we'd plan out the restaurants where we'd eat. My sister was a baker in Los Angeles and ran her own pastry business for a while. My brother is in the coffee business.

What's one of your earliest food memories?

My first words were about food. We were traveling in England and eating at a pub. My parents were feeding me English custard. And my first sentence was: "Mmm, I like it!"

What inspired you to focus on mac and cheese when you decided to open Homeroom?

Allison and I both love cheese. There already were a lot of cheese shops and pizza places in the Bay Area. Mac and cheese is fun. And it's an accessible food. Nobody was really doing anything interesting with it. So we wanted to take a food that was simple, that we liked, and that other people liked. We also thought it would be easy to train people to cook it in ways that people have never had.
Photo by Dan Jung

You suggest wine and craft beer pairings with each mac and cheese dish on your menu. How did that come about?

Allison really likes great wine. And the great thing about cheese is that it goes well with wine. We both had worked in fine dining, and we wanted to bring something we knew about fine dining to the average person.

Have you always liked mac and cheese?

I loved mac and cheese. And our recipe is really based on the mac and cheese recipes my dad made and that Allison's grandmother made. I learned to make it at a very young age from my dad.

How do use California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil in your restaurant?

We drizzle it on our Mac the Goat goat cheese mac. We use a fresh goat
Photo by Dan Jung
cheese and then we use sliced scallions. It's baked in the oven. Allison and I are both obsessed with olive oil. We use olive oil at home for everything. I'm fascinated by it. We both have large collections of olive oil. While we were developing the goat cheese mac it just felt like something was lacking. It was good, but not great. Then we said, 'Wait a minute! We always drizzle everything with olive oil.' And that's how that came about.

What does the olive oil add to the dish?

The oil pairs well with the goat cheese and provides a certain grassiness - but not too much. The oil also is buttery, and it adds a lot of complexity of flavor. We use it in our vinaigrette, too. People love that vinaigrette and ask us for the recipe all the time.  

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