Cider-Braised Cabbage With Apples and Pecans. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)
December 18, 2013

Cold enough for you? There’s something about winter weather that brings on yearnings for simple, plain food: the dishes we’ve come to refer to as comfort food. This week, former Post food critic Phyllis Richman explores the phenomenon that, it turns out, she might actually have had a hand in naming. Read all about it here.

Also in Food, Tim Carman introduces us to an adventurous farmer who’s growing rice in Maryland — and doing it without flooding the land in the traditional manner. And M. Carrie Allan’s Spirits column packs a punch: two kinds of punch, in fact. She explains why it’s the perfect holiday drink to serve people you want to spend time with.

Finally, we go nuts. Yup, nuts make great snacks and welcome holiday gifts, too. Susan Herrmann Loomis offers tips here on buying, storing, roasting and skinning. And there are recipes, of course.

If you’re not otherwise occupied today between noon and 1, you can find out more about any of those topics — and any other culinary subject of your choice — during our weekly Free Range chat. Tune in, ask a question and we’ll do our best to answer it. If we can’t get to yours before the hour is up, I just might tackle it next week in this space. For example, here’s a leftover question from last week’s chat:

I’m starting to put together the menu for our Christmas dinner and am drawing a blank on vegetable side dishes. I would like something that I can prep in advance and that is light, as there will be a lot of heavy dishes.

It seems odd to think of cabbage as light, but I’m going to suggest a colorful and flavorful side dish where it’s the main ingredient. Here’s why it works: The cabbage is cooked only until it’s barely tender, so it retains a fresher taste. And sherry vinegar in the mix lends a great tang that will wake up taste buds after helpings of heavier fare. Check out Cider-Braised Cabbage With Apples and Pecans and see what you think.

If you have cumin lovers in your family, one of the most strikingly vibrant sides I can think of is Moroccan-Style Carrot and Beet Salad. It’s simple but oh, so dramatic looking. And the vegetables — carrots and beets — remain raw, so your stove stays free for other duties.

If a green vegetable is your goal, you can’t go wrong with Laura Bush’s Green Beans With Anchovy Butter. Before you get all freaked about the anchovies, let me reassure you that no one will know they’re there. But they lend a rich undertone to the dish that makes it special. And you can cook the beans the day before, then finish them off right before serving.

Whatever you decide, have a wonderful Christmas and a great dinner.

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