- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

During the cold, snowy days of winter, nothing is more satisfying than comfort food. Familiar, unpretentious fare, it consoles when the thermometer plunges and the landscape turns white.

Roast chicken, pot roast with rich dark gravy, smothered pork chops, macaroni and cheese, potato gratins, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie are the types of dishes I long for and find myself preparing for my family and company, as well.

In the winter, I often invite people for supper, rather than for dinner, the former conjuring up an image of a simple, satisfying meal and the latter denoting a more formal repast. I am already planning one of these winter suppers and have chosen a menu of comfort foods.

A rich soup made with carrots, turnips and leeks, offered with a basket of warm peasant bread, will begin our evening in front of a roaring fire. It will be followed at the table by sauteed sausages, braised red cabbage and mounds of mashed potatoes. A baked pear crisp will end the meal.

I’ll serve Bruce Aidells’ chicken-and apple-sausages or reduced-fat kielbasi, both of which are full of flavor and gentler on the waistline. The braised red cabbage is an updated version of a classic cold-weather dish. Cabbage is sauteed with onions; seasoned with wine vinegar, a little sugar and crushed fennel seeds; then simmered in water for about 45 minutes until tender. Serve it with a garnish of finely diced Granny Smith apple, toasted walnuts and minced flat-leaf parsley.

Braised red cabbage with an apple, walnut and parsley garnish

1 medium (2 pounds or larger) red cabbage

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 cup (1 medium) chopped onion

cup red wine vinegar

cup sugar

2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds

1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

cup finely diced (-inch) Granny Smith apple, cored but unpeeled

2 tablespoons walnuts, toasted and chopped

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Quarter cabbage, then cut each quarter crosswise into -inch strips. Cut enough cabbage to yield 8 cups. (Save extra cabbage for another use.)

In a large, heavy nonreactive skillet set over medium heat, heat oil until hot. Then add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and just starting to take on color, about 3 minutes. Add cabbage and cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes.

Whisk vinegar, sugar and fennel seeds together in a bowl, and pour mixture over the cabbage in the skillet. Season with 1 teaspoons salt and several grindings of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until all liquid has evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes or longer. Add 2 cups water, and stir to mix. Lower heat, and cover skillet.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender but not mushy, 45 minutes or longer. Season cabbage with additional salt to taste, if needed. (Cabbage can be prepared a day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat in a skillet, stirring, over low heat.) When ready to serve, mix together diced apple, walnuts and parsley. Serve the cabbage with roast chicken, pork, duck or grilled sausages. Garnish each portion with some of the apple-walnut mixture. Makes 4 servings.

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