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The best meal I ever made was a New Year’s Eve dinner a few years back. Nothing about it was particularly unusual—bacon, a big piece of meat, dark chocolate. I’m not in the habit of preparing heavy, decadent meals, and neither are my friends who’d be eating with me, instead favoring somewhat healthier fare that doesn’t take a lot of time to cook. But I wanted to make something nice for the two of them, who were visiting from out of town, and decided to get more extravagant than usual.

I divided the meal’s preparation over two days. I wanted to spend time with my friends, once they arrived, instead of hurrying around the kitchen all day. The day before, I prepared the beef bourguignon through to before the frozen onions and sauteed mushrooms are added, and the lava cakes until before they’re put in the oven. The day of, after a chilly afternoon walking around my neighborhood and having a cocktail at a bar down the street (the best time to get a drink out on New Year’s Eve is dusk, when the bartenders are still happy to see you), the three of us came back to my apartment and got to work.

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The peak of bacon-wrapped dates’ popularity has probably passed, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still good. They’re also incredibly simple to prepare. My friends did that, while I chopped and sauteed the mushrooms for the beef, and heated the stew on the stove. We ate the dates straight off the baking tray as soon as they were done and had (barely) cooled. Then, more civilized, we plated the stew and sat down to eat. The beef was tender, with a great depth of flavor. The chocolate cakes were, like the dates, easy to make, yet were still impressive with their warm, melted centers. Between the beef and the cake and the red wine we drank with it all, only two of us saw midnight; one friend, full and drowsy, dozed off on the couch while my radiators hissed. Second only to asking for more to eat, it was the highest compliment he could have paid the meal.


New Year’s Eve dinner menu

Bacon-wrapped dates with almonds

These are the perfect thing to prepare and eat while having a cocktail and finishing dinner, the hang-out-in-the-kitchen time. They’re good even without the goat cheese.

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Ina Garten’s beef bourguignon

Ina doesn’t mess around when it comes to rich, filling meals. I think the time this spent in the refrigerator overnight only helped the cause.

Jean-Georges’ molten chocolate cakes

So simple, yet so very good. (Add a minute or two to the cooking time if you’ve refrigerated the batter.)

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