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Cassoulet of Heirloom Beans, with black truffle, black kale, and bread crumbs, by executive chef Jamil Peden at Woodfour Brewing Company and Restaurant, in Sebastopol. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Wintry Warmers

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

For beans:

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.

For breadcrumbs:

1/2 loaf brioche bread. Crust removed and sliced.

2 cloves finely chopped garlic.

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

-#8212; Salt to taste.

To cook the beans: Soak beans individually in water overnight. You can use whatever beans you like. Different sizes and textures are desired. Place each type of bean in its own sauce pot cover with water and distribute bay leaf and vegetables evenly among them. Cook over medium low head skimming any foam that rises until tender (about 1-2 hours depending on the bean). Season with salt when cooked through and mix beans and set aside to chill. When cool remove bay and vegetables and discard.

For breadcrumbs: In a 300 degree oven dry out bread on baking sheet. When dry and crumbly place in food processor or chop with a knife until desired consistency. Heat butter and garlic in saut?pan and add bread crumbs just to coat with garlic butter. Chill and set aside.

To serve: Heat beans back up with kale and when hot add the smoked oil and truffle butter stirring to emulsify the oil and butter into bean cooking liquid. Distrubute between serving bowls and top with breadcrumbs and chives.

---

Cauliflower Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 heads cauliflower, florets only

1 small Yukon gold potato. peeled and large diced

3 ribs celery, chopped

1 small yellow onion, julienned

3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 ounces unsalted butter

-#8212; Salt to taste

For Brown Butter Cashews:

1 cup whole raw cashew meat

1/4 pound butter

-#8212; Salt to taste

For Poached Celery:

2 ribs celery small dice

-#8212; Salted water for blanching

-#8212; Salted ice water for shocking

1/2 cup celery leaves (optional)

For soup: Over medium heat in large pot cook onion, garlic and celery in one ounce of the butter until translucent. Add potato, cauliflower and cover with just enough water to cover. Simmer until potato is tender (About 30 minutes). In a good blender in batches puree with the heavy cream and remaining butter until smooth. Strain and reserve hot.

For brown butter cashews: In a small saut?pan place cashews and butter together and bring up over medium high heat. The butter will begin to brown and separate they same time the cashews turn brown. Strain and reserve the butter (hold warm). Season the cashews with salt and let cool until you can chop them.

For poached celery: Bring water to boil. Add your celery and cook for 30 seconds. Remove and immediately place in ice water to stop cooking. Strain and set aside.

To serve: In individual bowls, place and evenly distribute the chopped brown butter cashews, poached celery and celery leaves. Pour the soup right before serving and drizzle some of the brown butter reserved from frying cashews into each bowl.

---

At Woodfour Brewing, Peden uses Spring Brook Farm's Reading Raclette, which melts well and has a creamy nutty flavor. Reading Raclette is available at Tomales Bay Foods in Petaluma. Raclette cheeses imported from France or Switzerland would work as well.

Raclette

Makes 6-8 servings

For pickled red onions:

2 each medium red onions julienned

2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

4 each black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

For potatoes:

4 large Yukon gold potatoes

6 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

-#8212; Salt to taste

For raclette:

1 pound Reading Raclette cheese, sliced 1/8 inch thick or coarsely grated.

32 cornichions, cut in half lengthwise

1 bunch Italian parsley leaves, for garnish

1/2 cup fresh chopped chives, for garnish

For pickled onions: Heat all ingredients except for onion in small sauce pot. Simmer for 5 minutes then pour over onions and let cool at room temperature. Will keep for 2 weeks in refrigerator.

For potatoes: Cut potatoes into bite size pieces and put in a saucepot with all ingredients. Cover with cold water and cook at a simmer until potatoes are just cooked through. Strain and discard liquid. Cool at room temperature.

To serve: You can either serve individually plated or "family style." Toss potatoes with olive oil and spread out on baking sheet. Bake at 500 degrees until warmed through (about 5 minutes). Cover with even layer of Raclette cheese and cook another 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted and just starts to bubble.

Remove from oven and using an offset spatula, either divide evenly between plates or slide onto large serving platter. Garnish with the red onions, cornichons, whole parsley leaves and chopped chives.

---

Fried Brussels Sprouts

Makes 6-8 servings

2 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved.

1 gallon rice bran oil or peanut oil, for frying

1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons Aleppo chile flakes

-#8212; Juice of 1 lemon

-#8212; Salt to taste

Heat oil in large sauce pan or deep fryer (if you have one) to 350 degrees.

Fry the Brussels sprouts in batches, being careful not to add too many at once because the oil will bubble and increase in volume. When the sprouts quiet down and start to turn brown (about 3-4 minutes). remove carefully from oil and drain. While hot, toss evenly with salt, lemon juice, cheese and chile. Repeat until all are fried, then serve immediately while hot.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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