New Year's Resolutions

This past weekend, I an invigorating, inspiring Sunday in Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen. In five hours' time, we blanched, shocked, peeled, and squished tomatoes for canned crushed tomatoes. We roasted the heck out of tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and onion for roasted tomato-vegetable soup. We charred, peeled, and chopped peppers for roasted poblano salsa. We chatted all things food over salad greens, fig vinegar, pistachio oil, cheese and baguette, and brownies, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the pressure-canner. We dunked big jars of tomato mush into a boiling water bath, then listened to the music of "ping! pop!" as the lids snapped into place. We perused cookbooks and canning guides, gushed over Dorie Greenspan's lemon cream tart and Mrs. Wheelbarrow's own tamari almonds. We got giddy about dishes we love, laughed about Food52 cooks we stalk, and commiserated about recipes that had unexpectedly let us down. I left feeling a renewed sense of kitchen productivity, and -- more importantly for you, dear readers -- a renewed drive to share what I'd learned, share the things I've been thinking about.

It starts here, today.

I've always had a list of kitchen aspirations: dishes I'd like to learn to make, techniques I'd like to master, skills I'd like to acquire. For too long, that list has been relegated to the back bit of my brain. No longer. This is the year to learn those skills, conquer those fears, make those delicious things.

Today, I'm launching a new feature: Kitchen Resolutions. You'll see it on the left side bar. It's a short-but-growing list of things I'd like to accomplish this year. Yes, it's a bit random -- everything from "sharpen knives" to "confit a duck" and more -- but that's the idea. They're here, and they're public -- now I've gotta do'em.

I can't possibly be the only one out there with kitchen fears; it would be all kinds of awesome if you all chimed in. Surely, you must have some sort of culinary phobia. Have you always been afraid to use anchovies? Are you intimidated by roast chicken? Whatever it is, we can do it. Here's my deal with you. Leave a comment. Share that one thing (or two, or three) that's got you stumped. I'll pick some of the entries over the next few months, and I'll post step-by-step tutorials, with pictures and everything.

If you don't, I'll go at it alone. But wouldn't it be so much fun to have company?

Meanwhile, I'm going to start crossing things off my own list. For starters, kimchi: check. And pressure canning? That's a check-plus, as of Sunday.

Cathy, aka Mrs. Wheelbarrow, is the canning expert in these parts. She offered all sorts of helpful tips on how to can properly and safely. First and foremost: when canning, follow the recipe. Canning isn't friendly to improvisation. Think the jam is too sweet? Want to cut the sugar? Don't. The ratio of fruit to sugar is an important element of successfully canning jam, and if you alter that ratio, your fruit may not preserve properly and could spoil on the shelf. Also important: ensuring sufficient acidity. Acid keeps food from spoiling, so don't skimp on that lemon juice. In fact, as we were finishing up our crushed tomatoes, Cathy explained that for canning (and only for canning), she uses bottled lemon juice. The flavor pales in comparison to that of freshly-squeezed lemons, but the acidity is consistent in the bottled stuff, whereas with lemons, you never know how acidic they'll be. Consistency is the key to success in canning.

There are two ways to can at home: a hot water bath and a pressure canner. More acidic things require only a hot water bath, which heats to 212º, or boiling. Products with lower acidity (our tomato-roasted vegetable soup, for example) must be processed using a pressure canner, which heats up to 241º, the temperature at which botulism dies.

Once cans have been filled, covered, and processed, you should leave them undisturbed. As the liquid inside the jars cools, the lids will be sucked downward onto the jar, and they'll pop into place. When the popping starts, you know the jars have sealed. After leaving jars for 24 hours, you test each to ensure that it has sealed properly. How to do this? Simple. Remove the band (that's the thing you screw onto the jar to hold the lid in place) and lift the jar by its lid (not too high off the table, in case the seal isn't strong and the jar drops). If the jar lifts, the seal is strong enough, and the jars are ready for storage. All home-canned food should be eaten within one year of processing.

There's so much more to tell, but that's for another time. For now, I hope you enjoy the pictures of our Sunday canning adventure, and that you start thinking about that one kitchen fear you've always wanted to conquer. Bring on the comments!

A Menu for the Jewish New Year

For serious, how has a year passed already? Eek.

The Jewish New Year is upon us. What's a girl to make for a holiday this big and momentous? Answer: a whole lotta food. But at the request of quite a few lovely readers, this year, I'm getting more specific. I'll be posting my Rosh Hashana menu from soup to cake, and -- per your requests -- I'll share my recipe for apple cake. In my humble opinion, it's a perfect recipe, with cinnamon-laced apples and the all-important crust. Let's get to it, shall we?

First things first: my work schedule is such that I'll have one day - one half day, if we're being precise -- to cook. With this in mind, my wonderful stepmother-in-law-to-be, Terri, is bringing a bunch of the staples with her from Detroit. Among the things coming on the plane are soup, 3 chickens, and 2 briskets. Clearly the lady is used to cooking for a crowd, and thank god for that.

Have no fear: just because she's doing brisket doesn't mean I'm not armed with a recipe for ya. It's hard to believe I haven't shared this brisket recipe yet, because it is my absolute favorite, and I rarely make brisket any other way.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the whole menu:

Day 1:

Homemade challah Various homemade pickles Matza ball soup Salad of arugula and romaine, peaches, raw sweet corn, chives, and mustard vinaigrette Terri's chicken and brisket Moroccan eggplant (recipe to come shortly) Summer squash couscous with sultanas, pistachios, and mint

Day 2: Caponata Tomato Soup Fattoush Chicken and brisket Beets with fennel, orange, and walnuts Braised Sweet and Sour Cabbage

And, for both nights, I'll be making my new favorite Jewish apple cake. It's a not-too-sweet, plenty sturdy batter, laced with thin slices of cinnamon-and-sugar-coated apples. I used Cortland, which become soft but not at all mushy. Granny Smith would be great as well. Pretty much anything but Macintosh and Delicious will work.

Some folks like their apple cake with big chunks of fruit; I love that this cake has the apples in thin slices, woven through the body of the cake. When you're pouring the batter into the pan, it'll feel as though you took a bunch of apple slices, dunked them in batter, and baked them off. I love that. This cake is loaded with apples, but have no fear -- the batter expands in the oven, and the blob of batter-coated apples becomes a phenomenal cake.

We're rounding out 5770 here at NDP, and we're also sneakin' up on the blog's 3-year anniversary. It's hard to believe; I'm not sure what else to say. Blogging in this space, hearing your comments, reading your emails, and sharing my favorite recipes with all of you gives me no small measure of joy. I feel lucky to be a place you visit, and I hope this year brings all of us many, many blessings. Have a happy, healthy new year!

My Favorite Apple Cake

4 firm, tart apples; I like Cortlandt 3 tablespoons cinnamon 1 3/4 cups plus 4 tablespoons sugar, divided juice of half a lemon 3 cups flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 eggs 1 tablespoon vanilla 1 cup vegetable or corn oil 1/2 cup apple sauce

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter and flour either a bundt pan (for pretty slices but no real crust), or a 9-inch springform or round pan (more boringtown shape, great crust).

Core apples, slice into 1/2 inch slices, and toss in a medium bowl with cinnamon, 4 tablespoons sugar, and juice of half a lemon. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, remaining sugar, and oil. Beat with whisk or whip with electric mixer until frothy and somewhat satiny, about 60 seconds with a whisk or 30 with an electric mixer. Add vanilla and whisk to combine.

Add 1/3 of dry ingredients to egg mixture. Whisk to combine. Add half apple sauce, and whisk again. Repeat with second third of dry ingredients, remaining apple sauce, and finally, the last third of the dry ingredients. When batter is smooth and only a few lumps remain, add apples, with all accumulated liquid, to batter. Fold in to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake approximately 60 minutes, maybe 70, until cake is set in the middle and crust is golden. Set pan on rack and allow cake to cool 15 minutes. Then gingerly run knife around perimeter of cake, set plate overtop, and flip pan, inverting cake onto plate. Allow to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

My Best Brisket Recipe

5 pounds first cut brisket, trimmed of any excess fat 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 leeks, cleaned and chopped 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and chopped 2 stalks celery, chopped 5 cloves garlic, smashed, skins removed 2 bay leaves 2 tablespoons tomato paste 3-4 sprigs parsley, roughly chopped 2 sprigs thyme 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses 1 cup pomegranate juice 1 bottle dry red wine minus 1 cup (to drink, of course 1/2 cup beef stock, optional

Preheat oven to 325º.

Pat brisket dry and salt liberally on both sides, If using kosher meat, do not salt.

Put your largest, deepest saute pan (preferably oven safe; a dutch oven is a great one to use) over medium high heat.

Using sturdy kitchen tongs, transfer brisket to pan and sear, undisturbed, for 4-5 minutes, until underside develops brown crust. Turn brisket and cook 3-4 minutes on second side, until similarly seared. If pan is oven-safe, transfer brisket to a plate. If not, transfer brisket to oven-safe pan and set aside.

Pour off any accumulated fat in pan, reserving the fond (the delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, which have all the brisket flavor in them). Reduce heat to medium, add olive oil, and swirl to coat. Ad onions, leeks, carrots, and celery, and saute until onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add garlic and saute 3 minutes more. Add bay leaves and herbs.

Add tomato paste, and use the back of a wooden spoon to break it up and incorporate it into the vegetables. Saute 3 minutes more, and then transfer to plate or pan holding brisket.

Raise heat back to medium-high. Add a splash of wine to the pan, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the wine, pomegranate juice, and beef stock, if using. Cook on medium-high heat until reduced by half. Add pomegranate molasses and cook 1 minute more.

Transfer brisket, vegetables, and braising liquid to oven-safe pan (if using a dutch oven, cooking liquid already will be in it, so carefully transfer brisket and seasoning to pan.)

Braise, covered, at 325 for 3 hours, until soft and tender. At the 1 hour mark, taste sauce and correct for salt and seasoning. When 3 hours have passed, remove pan from oven and allow brisket to rest at room temperature approximately 20-30 minutes. To serve, slice against the grain as thickly as desired. Top each slice with a spoonful of sauce.

Foodbuzz 24x24: A Sushi and Sake-Tasting Adventure

Much of the Japanese food in DC is eaten in one of two ways: out of plastic trays delivered to your dorm room or office, or at the bar at one of two high-end establishments, eye to eye with the chef, and at great expense. The Sushi Taro of yore, which struck the precise midpoint between these two extremes, has been replaced by a third expensive (and excellent) restaurant.

Taro and its ilk are reserved for special occasions (say, engagements), and the other places are wholly unremarkable. So what's a gal to do when she wants interesting Japanese food that doesn't break the bank? Where are the mid-range, high-quality, lively-atmosphered Japanese restaurants? As it happens, they're across town.

It seems my corner of Northwest is less of a destination for aspiring restauranteurs than it used to be. The new guys are setting up shop in NoMa -- North of Mass (or, as it's been diminutively tagged, NoMan'sLand). Why? Beats me. 5th and K isn't exactly the center of town. But judging by the crop of promising new restaurants in the area, I'm gearing up for more trips that direction in the future.

The new guys, in this case, include Kushi, and thanks to the kind folks at Foodbuzz, I ate there on Saturday night with a few friends. The trip was part of Foodbuzz's 24,24,24 event: 24 blogs, 24 cities, 24 memorable meals. Someone across the country probably hosted an Italian dinner party, and I was off to Kushi. The goal: wrap my head around sake, and see what all the fuss is about. Also: eat some really good fish.

Saturday night is certainly not the ideal time to eat sushi, since fish deliveries happen Tuesday through Thursday. The freshness of the fish at Kushi would have you fooled, though. Yellowtail tasted like the ocean while retaining its distinctive tang, and a nigiri of saba, or mackerel, was slick and sweet but not the least bit oily, one of the best bites of fish I've ever had.

But let's back up. Before a piece of fish even passed our lips, we encountered the only gimmick of the evening: a server came by with a tray full of different sake cups, and let us each pick one. Shortly thereafter, we were sipping (actually, some of us were gulping) cups of cold, semi-sweet sake. Over the course of the evening, we worked our way from sweet sakes to drier ones, which, if you're used to drinking wine, seems counterintuitive. But sweet sake isn't actually all that sweet -- it's just lighter, less intense, more refreshing. The drier varieties stood up to the fish better than those early cups.

Here's another counterintuitive thing about sake: some of the nice stuff actually comes in a can. When our server set our last order of sake down on the table, we all watched in mild disbelief as she lifted the tab, spritzed it open, peeled back the metal cover more familiar on canned fruit cocktail, and replaced it with a plastic cap. When she saw our faces, she laughed; she probably gets that response often. The cans are underrated here in the States, she said -- she walks down the street in New York drinking one, and people assume it's soda. Good to know.

Whoever first thought to pair sushi and sake is a genius. The fish, slick and fatty, contrasts with the sweet tanginess of the rice, and the fermented, slightly bitter but very refreshing notes of the sake help wash it all down. Sake operates like pickled ginger, the pregnant pause between bites and a palate cleanser of sorts.

When you're alternating between smooth slices of salmon atop perfect logs of rice, humble "onigiri" rice balls with cooked fish tucked in the center, skewers of robata (charcoal-grilled protein and vegetables), braised daikon with three kinds of miso, crispy soy-glazed fried chicken, and more, those palate cleansers are key. They give the meal some flow, separating slurps of soup from bites of crispy, luscious duck leg. And I slipped "braised daikon" in there with nary an explanation -- an unjust treatment of one of my favorite dishes of the evening. The japanese white radish had been braised in dashi (fish and seaweed stock) until fall-apart tender, the small chunks of vegetable then cloaked in three types of sweet, mellow miso, all utterly addictive.

Dishes as complex as these deserve competent and unobtrusive service, and Kushi has that in spades. Our server was gracious and diligent, but casual and unpretentious. She chatted just enough to make us feel at home, but avoided the in-your-face "are you ready to experience genius at work?" shtick present at some other new restaurants in the area. This is straightforward good food. Actually, really good food. But feel free to show up in (nice) jeans. Nothing about Kushi is stuffy.

Filled to the brim with fish and sake galore, we ended our meal the way all meals should end: with ice cream. I think most of Kushi's selections come from Dolcezza, an excellent gelateria here in DC -- but at least one, the pineapple pepper sorbet, is made in-house. We had that, along with the meyer lemon-sochu, the ginger, and everyone's favorite -- sea salt. Yes, sea salt ice cream. A simple base of eggless vanilla is tempered with just enough sea salt that the ice cream is curiously, wonderfully savory, not too sweet, and not downright salty, as we'd worried it would be. I'll be trying this at home soon.

It probably goes without saying that our meal at Kushi was memorable. If you're ever in the area, don't be lazy...go to 5th and K and give it a try. Both the sushi and the sake won't disappoint.

Kushi Izakaya 465 K St, Washington (202) 682-3123

While We Were Out...

NDP was out of pocket this weekend. After a few very long weeks at work and some serious head-down time, we packed out bags and headed for the lake with some of our all-time favorite people. The goal of the weekend? Simple. Relax.

And relax we did. PJs and yoga pants were worn, and slippers, too. Beds were warmed, eyes were closed, sleep was had. Movies were watched. Games were played (Taboo and Settlers of Catan, our two favorites).

And of course, stomachs were very, very full.

We're back now, and recharged for the week to come.

Before I forget, there's one more bit of delicious news to share: last week, the wonderful team over at Food52 wrote a profile of NDP for their weekly "reciprocity" column. I couldn't be more flattered! Check it out if you have a chance: I'm truly touched to be featured on their great site, and I hope you enjoy the write up!