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Putting together the perfect New Year's Eve feast

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, but another holiday is right upon us: New Year's, Eve and Day, whichever one you choose to celebrate more.

I've never been a big fan of New Year's Eve. There's so much pressure and built-in expectation for how you are going to spend the night and that magical moment at midnight. A couple of years ago, my husband and I started to opt out. After all, he often has to work the next day, and so staying out til 1 a.m. was no longer convenient, nor really possible with the arrival of our son — I believe our teenage babysitters have a better shot of making it to midnight than we do.

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But this year we're bucking that trend. A group of our friends are making a point to get together on a monthly basis for dinner, and with all the busyness of December, we realized Dec. 31 might be the easiest time to all get together. (And none of them had New Year's Eve plans either."

So tomorrow night I will be hosting five couples, all contributing to the meal, for a French-themed dinner. As the host, serving the entree, I got to set the theme, and I had my heart set on a beef bourguignon. (If you've seen the movie "Julie & Julia" about the woman who cooked her way through Julia Child's cookbook, this was one of the big dishes that had the protagonist psyched out, but then totally built her confidence after she accomplished it).

I've made this recipe earlier this year, for company, and while it felt like a lot of steps, I thought it was delicious, and would love to have a chance to try again and improve upon it. (My take-home lesson: really brown those vegetables before you start doing the braising.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself: The reason I wanted to share this recipe this week is also because it fits into another category of my favorite things, which is recipes that use a whole bottle of wine. And I'm not talking about sangria. Though I guess that would have been appropriate for a New Year's Eve column as well.

This beef bourguignon uses a whole bottle of wine, topped off with some beef broth, and yet the whole thing comes out tasting like beef broth, not grape juice. Plus, it feels so decadent to pour a whole bottle of wine into something. (No need to buy something fancy — I usually look for something respectable in the $10 range.)

The second recipe that also fits in the "whole bottle of wine" category are these red wine-braised short ribs. I also made this one for friends during the earlier holiday season and they were quite a delight. Major tip, though: Order your short ribs in advance and then inspect them when you pick them up. You really want the fat ones here, close to 2 inches thick, and you're not going to find that just sitting in a grocery store meat aisle. Even if your ribs look a little smaller than you want, the broth turns out amazing. I saved my extra and froze it, hoping it will be a great starter for my next beef recipe.

Both of these recipes really also benefit from making them a day ahead. First, because then the fat can rise to the surface, solidify, and easily be scooped away before you rewarm it. Second, on the day of having company, all the hard and messy work is done! All you have to do is warm and serve, and your house will still smell great.

Enjoy, and happy new year!

Jen Hatmaker's beef bourguignon

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 ounces bacon, diced

2.5 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes

Kosher salt

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Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound carrots, diagonally cut into 1-inch chunks

2 yellow onions, sliced

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1 bottle dry red wine

2 cups beef broth

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried

4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 pound fresh mushrooms, thickly sliced

Country bread

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add bacon and cook over medium about 10 minutes, stirring a bit until brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to a large plate, leaving bacon grease in the pot.

Dry the beef cubes with a paper towel and give them a hefty dose of salt and pepper. In single layer batches, sear the beef cubes on all four sides in the bacon grease, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the cubes to the plate with the bacon, repeating until all beef is browned.

Toss in the carrots, onions, a tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Put the meat and bacon back in the pot. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and slide in the oven for about 2 hours, until the meat and vegetables are fork-tender. (At this point, if you are making it a day ahead, let it cool and then refrigerate overnight. The next day, skim off congealed fat, then continue with recipe).

On the stovetop, combine two tablespoons butter and the flour with a fork. Stir the product into the stew to thicken it. Saute the mushrooms in two more tablespoons of butter until lightly browned, and add to the stew. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.

To serve, toast thick slices of bread, then rub them with a cut clove of garlic. For each serving, spoon the stew over a slice of bread and sprinkle with parsley.

Source: Adapted from Jen Hatmaker's "For the Love"

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

Ingredients:

5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 medium onions, chopped

3 medium carrots, peeled, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 750 ml bottle dry red wine (preferably Cabernet Sauvignon)

10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

8 sprigs thyme

4 sprigs oregano

2 sprigs rosemary

2 fresh or dried bay leaves

1 head of garlic, halved crosswise

4 cups low-salt beef stock

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons drippings from pot.

Add onions, carrots and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes.

Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.

Cook until short ribs are tender, 2 to 2½ hours. (This would be the time to let it cool and refrigerate overnight if you are making it the day ahead. Then the next day, skim off the congealed fat and reheat on the stove, then continue with the recipe).

Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls over mashed potatoes with sauce spooned over.

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