It's mid-January, and the post-holiday blahs have set in with a vengeance.
It's time to shake up your world a bit by planning a fun weekend escape with some friends and family.
You can head up to the slopes at Tahoe for an invigorating round of skiing, skating and sledding or, if the lack of snow has left you ambivalent, cozy up to a wintry fire and a sunset at a coastal cabin.
Either way, you'll want to kick back with some hearty fare that pairs well with a few pints of Northern California's marvelous microbrews.
To get the party started, we tapped the culinary talents of executive chef Jamil Peden, who heads up the kitchen at the new Woodfour Brewing Co. in Sebastopol's Barlow Center.
At Woodfour, you can sample several of the refreshing, low-alcohol beers made on the premises or order any number of bottled brews from around the world, including an Alaskan Smoked Porter and Beer Here Morke pumpernickel porter from Denmark.
Peden, who has worked at Syrah, Campo Fina, Madrona Manor and Cyrus, is having fun getting away from the wine-centric world and into hops.
"Beer is like sparkling wine -#8212; it's a palate washer," Peden said. "We don't have big stouts or spice ales or really hoppy beers, so I deal with sweet malt and bitter hops flavors."
To pair with those flavors, Peden has crafted a menu of smoky and high-acid foods, using local products from the west county's many farms and cheesemakers.
Featuring a wide range of bites and small plates, the menu provides inspiration for a casual, communal-style feast, with lots of flavor but less butter and cream than most restaurant fare.
"The food at restaurants tastes so good because professional chefs use so much salt and butter," he said. "Being at a brewery, you're already getting a lot of carbs."
For a wintry appetizer, Peden suggested a plate of Fried Brussels Sprouts, sprinkled with Pecorino cheese, Aleppo chile and lemon juice. The savory sprouts are crispy on the outside, meltingly tender on the inside.
"Just heat the oil to 375 degrees to fry them," he said. "You could also saut?or roast them."
Another appetizer that pairs well with beer is the Melted Raclette Cheese with Yukon gold potatoes, pickled onions and cornichons.
The dish originated in Switzerland, where the peasants used to warm cheese over a campfire, then scrape it onto pieces of bread. (racler means "to scrape.")
In Switzerland, Peden said the whole wheel of cheese gets baked, then scraped off onto a big plate of cooked potatoes and roasted sausage.
At Woodfour, Peden boils potatoes in spices and melts the cheese in a cast-iron sizzle platter.
"We do it as a little snack," he said. "It's like a version of nachos, and it's really simple. At home, you can just bake the cheese over the potatoes."
For the dish, Peden sources a cheese from Spring Brook Farm in Vermont that has a slightly nutty flavor. Other good melting cheeses you could use include Raclette, Emmentaler, Fontina, Jarlsberg and Gruyere.
When it's time to sit down to dinner, Peden suggested starting with a wintry cauliflower soup with pickled pear, brown butter and cashews.
"It's a really friendly soup," he said. "You can just dice the pear and put it in vinegar. We heat up the cashews in butter, then strain it and chop it up."
As an entree, a rustic Cassoulet of Heirloom Beans, with Black Kale and Black Truffle Butter and Breadcrumbs, will stick to your ribs.
"It's based on the classic beans and greens," he said. "You can't get a more completely healthy protein than that, and the kale is loaded with nutrients."
You could also throw in any leftover meat -#8212; short ribs, bacon or chorizo -#8212; for an extra rich flavor, or put a poached egg on top.
The beans are finished with black truffle butter and toasted breadcrumbs, and seasoned with chile flakes and fennel pollen, before being browned.
"It's really hearty," he said. "You're burning a lot of calories when you ski."
The following recipes are from Jamil Peden, executive chef of Woodfour Brewing Co. in Sebastopol.
Heirloom Bean Cassoulet
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 1/2 cups flageolet beans
1 1/2 cups borlotti beans
1 1/2 cups cannelini beans
1 bay leaf
2 stalks celery cut in half across
1/2 pound baby dinosaur kale (or large kale)
1 yellow onion, cut into 6 pieces with root attatched
1 carrot peeled and cut in 6 pieces
3 cloves garlic
-#8212; Salt to taste
2 cups breadcrumbs (recipe follows)
1/2 cup smoked olive oil
1/2 cup black truffle butter (or 1? tablespoons black truffle oil and ? cup butter)
1/2 cup fresh chopped chives.
1/2 loaf brioche bread. Crust removed and sliced.
2 cloves finely chopped garlic.
2 tbsp. unsalted butter