Monday, November 1, 2010

Confirmed absence... I have not abondoned ship!



Let's see, it's been a few seasons since I last updated the site.  Things have been a bit crazy in the meantime... all of a sudden I am a real estate investor and managing a full-scale apartment renovation... two things that are fairly new to me.  So, I haven't alotted much time to document my culinary endeavors, most of which have involved take-out and potato chips for the last many months.  I will be back, though, as I know my faithful legion of readers (I think I'm up to 3 now?) cannot take much more of my continued absence.  Here are a few photos of some dishes I've managed to throw together since my last post.

Garden heirloom Margherita pizza w/ garden basil and (Costco) fresh mozzarella.
Zucchini Parmesan, ala eggplant parm, made from overgrown-mutant garden zucchini... AMAZING!!
NY Strip steaks (Costco) smothered in sauteed mushrooms, w/ whipped garlic potatoes.
Roasted garden heirloom Brandywine tomatoes w/ goat cheese & herb/scallion/butter breadcrumb topping... to die for!

Edwin's B-day Beef Wellington wrapped in prosciutto w/ mushroom pate, and a side of 2-day beef reduction.
Heirloom BLT... yes, I LOVE my tomatoes.
The ULTIMATE bruschetta... ain't nobody does it better, at least not that I've sampled before.
The reason for my prolonged absence... all 7000sf of it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Linguine & Clams... Forgive the Atrocious Lighting, Please!

This was from way back a few weeks ago... Christmas Dinner, 2009.  Ugh.  I think I was disappointed by the quality of the photos, which is why it's appearing now for the first time.  This was pre-daylight florescent in the kitchen.  Oh, well.  It's still damn good, even if the photos aren't so great.  I'll just have to make it again.  And I'm serious... this might be the best linguine & clams recipe you'll ever find... ever!  I'm willing to bet on that.  In fact, I can't believe I'm airing this recipe w/o copyright protection.



INGREDIENTS:

Clams, In-Shell: 3 lbs.  They need to be AFAP (as fresh as possible!), so purchase the day-of, or at the worst, the day before making this dish.
Clams, Chopped: 16 oz, fresh or frozen, but NOT canned.  **Coastal Seafoods carries fresh-chopped clams w/ juices in a 16 oz container.
Anchovies: 2 oz, I prefer oil packed to keep control of the salt level in the dish.
Onion: 2 med, med dice - yellow or white, not red.
Roasted Garlic: one-half bulb, cloves squeezed from their skins. 
Bacon: 1 pound.
Linguine: 2 lbs.
Thyme: one-half bunch, must be fresh.  Do not substitute dried... it will not be the same.
Red Pepper Flake: 2 scant tsp - 1 tbsp if you like a more pronounced note of heat.
White Wine: 1 bottle - you'll use some and drink some while cooking, so choose something you like.
Lemon Zest: 1 lg lemon, save the fruit for a squeeze over the dish at the end.
Italian Parsley: healthy bunch - roughly chopped, but discard stems
On-Hand: unsalted butter, xvoo, s&p, all-purpose flour, Parmigiano Reggiano and a piece of its rind (NOT the Parmesan from a shaker bottle or shredded container... this is the real deal).


PROCESS:



1) Clean the clams: under running water, scrub the shells w/ a stiff brush to remove any grit.  Next, fill a large bowl w/ cold water and whisk in a couple heaped tablespoons of all-purpose flour.  Submerge the clams in the water for about 20 minutes... do not stir them around.  Gently remove them straight out of the bowl and transfer to a dry bowl.  **The idea is that the live clams will open up and exchange the water inside their shell for the new, cleaner water, dispelling any grit or dirt inside. 

2) While the clams are soaking, fry the bacon in a cast-iron skillet on med-hi heat.  Make sure it's crispy!  Drain bacon on a plate or tray lined w/ paper toweling to absorb the drippings and crumble it when it cools.  Drain most of the fat from the pan, but leave a slick along with the browned bits at the bottom of the pan.


3) Return pan to a med-hi heat and add the diced onion and a pinch of kosher salt.  Allow the onions to brown for 2-3 minutes before stirring.  The onions will release their liquids and begin to form a pan-sauce w/ the bacon drippings and bits.  **YUM!!!  Saute onions for about 5-6 mins.

4) In a large, shallow, 4-5 quart saucier pan (kinda like this, though I do not like non-stick), heat 4 tbsp of butter along with a couple tbsp. of xvoo on med-hi heat.


5) Transfer the onions/juices from the iron skillet to the saucier along with the anchovies, roasted garlic, thyme, red pepper flake, Parmigiano rind, a good pinch of ground black pepper, and a healthy splash of white wine.  **Make sure to pour yourself a glass of wine at this point if you haven't already!  Reduce heat to med and saute for 10-12 mins, stirring occasionally.  Continue to add wine as sauce thickens and reduces.  You should use at least half the bottle.

6) As the saucier pan sautes, bring a pot of water to boil for the linguine and cook about 7 minutes to a firm al dente.  Drain the pasta, timing it so the pasta goes immediately into the saucier pan to simmer.  **Do not rinse the pasta!


7) To the saucier, add the chopped clams w/ their juices, another good splash of white wine, season w/ s&p, and bring to a simmer.  Add about 2/3 of the drained linguine and toss w/ tongs to coat pasta in the sauce.  **There should be plenty of liquid for the pasta to simmer in.  You can add a bit more pasta if you want a lighter sauce at the end, but do not add more than 3/4 of the cooked linguine.


8) Cover the saucier w/ a lid and saute the pasta for 3-4 minutes.  Remove the lid, toss the pasta, then add the shell clams, parsley, and lemon zest but do not mix yet.  Cover the pan and allow the clams to steam open for the next 6-7 minutes.  Now toss pasta w/ the clams and again cover for another 2-3 minutes.  **This will be ready to serve immediately, so have a big bowl or individual plates ready to go! 

9) Transfer pasta to a bowl or plate, top w/ crumbled bacon, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  **Heaven!!



Chicken Stock... Getting Back on Track!

I have not posted anywhere near what my plans have been.  I wanted to post 3-4 items each week.  Well, we're still getting into the swing of things post-holidays here... and that involves reserving some cash each week from our booze-fund.  Thank God for leftovers!  Oh, I was sick for a few days, actually... and astonishingly could not stomach the thought of food at the time.  And I need to not worry so much about grammar, spelling, wit, or any of that crap... as long as the recipe is correct.  Really, that's the only reason I'm doing this.  Well, aside from the promise of fame & fortune. 



Okay... I made homemade chicken soup for Edwin last week after a minor surgical procedure.  Nothing feels better after an illness, injury, surgery... whatever... than a good chicken soup.  It's actually the only thing I could stomach the thought of eating when I was sick the week prior, but alas... no leftovers in the freezer.  This recipe is for the chicken stock itself... or the 'Vroom', as Edwin calls it.

INGREDIENTS:

Chicken bones/parts: 3 lbs - they can be frozen/thawed, raw/roasted... I'm not getting too picky at this point.  NO giblets... but definitely reserve the neck.  **You can also substitute a 3-4 lb. whole chicken or chicken pieces.
Onion: 1 lb - white or yellow, don't use red.  Rough chop, don't be perfect.
Carrots: 1 lb - whole or babies... roughly chopped.
Celery: 1 lb - ribs & leaves... roughly chopped.
Garlic: one-half to one whole head - smash the cloves to remove the skins... don't need to be chopped.
Bay Leaf: 3-4 leaves, whole - dried or fresh.
Sage: 6-7 leaves, fresh - no need to chop.
Rosemary: 1 med sprig, fresh - don't chop.
Thyme: one-half small bunch, fresh - guess what... don't chop.
Water: about 3 gal - enough to fill a 16 quart stockpot to 1/2 inch from the top.  Hot or cold, your choice.
**Note: I do not add salt or black pepper to my stock because I always add it to-taste when I'm using it for soups, chili, rice, etc.

PROCESS:

1) Add all ingredients to the pot and fill with water.  Set on stove and turn burner to hi-heat.  Cover the pot with a lid so it comes to temperature quickly.  Stir the pot a few times to distribute the heat.  Should be simmering/boiling within 20-30 minutes.  **Don't take a bubble-bath during this portion... it may boil over if you aren't watching it somewhat attentively. 
2) Once the pot has achieved a simmer/boil, remove the lid, stir the pot, and allow it to boil for a few hours uncovered, stirring every-so-often. **Now you can take your bath.


3) Once the pot has reduced by at least a 1/4 but not more than 1/3, turn the heat off.  Use a slotted spoon or a Chinese Wire Strainer (photo on left... not sure if it's the correct name, but it's an amazing tool... you must get one!) to remove the solid pieces from the pot.  Transfer pieces to a bowl before discarding so that drippings can be saved from them.  **If you're really motivated, reserve the soft pieces, not the bones, and put through a food mill held over a wire-mesh strainer to get even more of the concentrated liquids from the solids.

4) Pour remaining stock through a fine-mesh strainer held over another pot or bowl(s) large enough to hold the contents... there should be around 2 gallons of liquid, give-or-take.  You may want to use a cup or smaller bowl to strain the stock instead of pouring the whole batch at once.  **I recommend doing this in your kitchen sink!!
5) Once the stock has cooled for another 15-20 minutes, you can container it and throw it in the freezer.  This is liquid gold, I'm telling you!!


THOUGHTS:

- I have never tried a stock that simmers low and slow for hours on-end... I'm not sure how much better it would be, but it's worth a shot at some point. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sausage/Kale/Rice Soup: 12/30/09



Although this is going to be out of sequence (yet to post Linguine & Clams, Caesar, etc. from Christmas), it's on the stove as I type (or was on 12/30 when I started this post!). And... it makes this crazy cold weather completely worthwhile!

INGREDIENTS:

Sausage: 1.5-2 lbs, 1/4-1/2" slices.  I used 1 lb Polish Sausage and 1/2 lb smoked (ultra smoked!) raw beef sausage homemade from Edwin's (my partner) family.
Onion: 2 med, medium dice.  Yellow or white.
Garlic: 7-8 cloves, smashed, rough chop.
Diced Tomato: 3 c, strained from juices.  Yes, from a can.  (Container and freeze the juices for something else).  Stay tuned for my preferences on brand.
Kale: 4 c, blanched and spun of excess water, coarse chiffonade.  Ratio of raw to blanched kale is about 1:1, lbs to cups.  No need to get too crazy, just make sure no huge pieces will get in the soup.
Bay Leaf: 2-3.
Red Pepper Flake: 2 tsp or a bit more... this is more to spike the flavor than to create a spicy heat... but make it a-spicy if you like.
Chicken Stock: 6 c, I actually used homemade turkey stock (recipe coming soon), although it's not often you'll have that on-hand.  **Note: it's handy to pre-heat the stock in another pan so that the soup comes to a simmer faster than with cold or room-temp stock.
Rice: brown, white, wild... whatever your preference.  I prefer this on-the-side, not actually in the soup.  If you have a rice cooker (I don't, but really must get one), you're set!  If not, I'll include a quick recipe in the process below.
On-Hand: xvoo, s&p, cider vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano, scallion

PROCESS:

1) Heat a couple tbsp/rounds of xvoo in a pot (stainless works... enameled is great... makes sure it's 8 qts or larger) on med-high heat.  Add chopped onion and let brown for 2-3 minutes.  Add a good pinch of salt, some cracked black pepper, the red pepper flakes and bay leaves.  Give a good stir and let saute for 8-10 minutes.
2) Add the sausage and garlic to the onions, stir and continue sauteing for 7-8 minutes, stirring a couple times.
3) Add the diced/drained tomatoes, stock and water to the pot; stir to incorporate.  Cover the pot for 5-6 minutes until the soup starts to steam a bit.  Add the kale and stir well to incorporate; let simmer another 10-15 minutes until flavor is where you want it.  Season with s&p to your taste.
4) Add a scoop of rice to a soup bowl, then the soup.  Top with freshly shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. 
**Rice: 2.5-to-1 ratio, water (or stock) to rice .  Always rinse your rice (removes excess starch and reduces sticking/clumping).  Bring water to a boil in a covered pan.  Add rice and stir... bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to a very, very light simmer in the pan.  Keep cover offset on pan to allow steam to escape... simmer for the next 20-30 minutes.  DO NOT STIR!!!  You can lightly fluff with a fork no more than twice during cooking to make sure rice has absorbed the liquid.  


ETC...
 
- You MUST serve this with a couple slices of hot, crusty (and buttered!) bread like sourdough, French baguette, etc.
- Using the rind of Parmigiano Reggiano in the soup... just a couple smallish pieces... richens the flavors and can add a creamy quality to the soup (thanks, Giada).
- Adding fresh herbs like thyme, oregano, or sage... yum.
- Other toppings such as fresh chopped Italian parsley, scallion, dollop of sour cream...
- Switching out the starch like small pasta, diced/cooked potatoes, barley... I still prefer to keep my starches separate from the actual soup since they can significantly alter the consistency and texture.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Real Beef Stock: A Must!

I feel like it's been too long since I've updated... I was pretty much addicted from the first post.  Plus, I have several recipes that are waiting to make it on the page.  A mini-update: trying out some different formatting... we'll see what sticks!  Regarding the lighting issue, I switched out my standard CFLs for 'natural light' ones.  As you can see below... it's made a huge difference!  Not perfect or even ideal, but come-on... it's a working kitchen, not a studio!  (yet)



Moving forward... homemade beef stock!



This is the first time I've made it... oh what I've been missing!  If you've made stock before, you know how relatively easy it is... I don't know why I was afraid of/confused about doing it.  It's rich and beefy... everything you'd expect from homemade stock.  Look for my trial-run of French Onion Soup soon!

INGREDIENTS:

Beef Bones: 3 lbs.  I used neck and also shank that had nice meat and marrow on it.  Ask the butcher at your grocery store about purchasing beef/soup bones. 
Onion: 1 lb... about 2 med yellow or white onions, rough chop.
Carrot: 1 lb... about 4-6 carrots, rough chop.  Don't bother peeling... just wash them well.
Celery: 1 lb... about 8 ribs, rough chop.  Do you see the pattern?  I typically use the ratio 1:1:1 being 1 gal water,1 lb meat, 1 lb total of vegetables (carrot, celery, and onion trio).
Mushrooms: 1 lb of stems, rinsed well.  I had made a huge batch of stuffed mushrooms a week prior and had frozen the stems.  You can use less or more... or whole mushrooms if you don't have a handy bag of frozen stems!
Garlic: 1/2 bulb... more if you like.  Crush the cloves on a cutting board with the side of your knife to easily remove the skin.  (I'll have to put up a demo of this... super simple, but visuals don't hurt!)  I prefer whole crushed cloves in my stock, not chopped or minced. 
Rosemary: 1 med stem, FRESH!
Thyme: 1 med bunch... about 12-15 stems, FRESH!!
Sage: 6-7 leaves, FRESH!!!
Bay Leaf: 4-5 leaves (dried).
Water: 3 gallons-or-so... depends on the size of your pot, amount of ingredients, etc.  Not an exact science!
On-Hand: xvoo
**Note: I choose not to add salt or pepper to my stock since I always add those ingredients when I'm using the stock for a recipe.  I like that homemade stock is all about the vegetable, herb, and meat flavorings concentrated on their own... you can always enhance the stock later with salt and pepper.

PROCESS:

1) Place bones on a baking sheet and roast in a pre-heated oven @ 450 for about 7-8 minutes in the upper portion of the oven.  Flip the bones and roast another 7-8 minutes until a nice golden/caramel color starts to show.  You don't want smoking-hot bones... and don't char them.  That's my opinion, anyways.
2) Toss carrots, celery, and onions with just a bit of xvoo to lightly coat them and prevent burning.  Layer vegetables on a tray... 2 trays if it's getting crowded (you want to roast, not sweat these veggies) and roast them @ 450 for about 10-12 minutes.  A bit of charring on the edges is fine.  Also, roasting the veggies is optional if you don't want to take the time... you can just add them raw to the stock pot.
3) Add bones, roasted vegetables, and all other ingredients to the stock pot.  (I prefer an enameled stockpot because there is less chance of metallic-related flavor contamination.  I also recommend a MINIMUM of a 16-quart size.)  Fill the pot with water to about 1/2 inch from the rim.  Place lid on pot and set the burner on high... it'll take about 30 minutes to get a rolling simmer.
4) Reduce heat slightly to med-high and remove lid.  Stir pot.  Let simmer for 3-4 hours.  You can go longer or shorter depending on how light/dark/rich/mellow you want the stock.  I've read about 'muddying' stock by cooking it too long, but I'm not quite sure I believe that.  If it exists, my palate is not trained to detect it.
5) Turn heat off once stock is at your desired richness.  Use a large slotted spoon to remove the bones and veggies into a bowl; discard.  **Tip: place a paper grocery bag inside your garbage liner and dump discarded contents directly from the bowl.  The paper will help absorb the heat, liquid, and smell so that you don't end up with a sloppy bag of trash to haul outside.
6) After stock has cooled a bit, pour through a fine mesh strainer (ideally a conical/chinoise strainer... it's amazing!) into another pot or large bowl.  If you lack in large pots or bowls, do this in batches and container each stained batch of stock as you go.  Freeze conatiners of stock until you're ready for them.  EASY!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Crab Cake Appetizer on Christmas, 12/25/09.

First, brief blog update.  A few things I've learned/am trying to figure out after my first official post:
- I hate the word 'blog'.
- I still have no clue how to effectively organize my posts for good content and to keep you (and me) reading.
- Photo-albums... tons of photos, not sure yet where the 'upload your photo album' button is.
- Photo-quality may be an issue... my kitchen lacks in great lighting... most cooking will be done in dwindling natural light... warm hues will slightly alter colors in the photos... oh, and shadows may be a problem.  I'll do my best.
- I need to determine approximate servings in my recipes.
- What is my personality?  What's my shtick?  Does it matter?  Do you want to know what I look like?  (okay... the last part is probably 2 years and hundreds of readers/followers too early... I'm sure anyone reading this already knows... and hopefully loves/adores me.)
- If you have comments, suggestions, concerns, failed/successful attempts at what I'm writing about, please share them in the comments!!  



Crab cakes were delicious!  I've done crab cakes several times in the past... and they've always been over-salted.  I used to saute onion, celery, and bell pepper in butter and white wine... but not this time.  I've been reading about 'no-filler' crab cakes and decided it was time for a change.  So, here's how it went down...

INGREDIENTS:

Crab: 32 oz (2-16 oz cans) lump crab meat... I bought mine at Costco (love me some Costco Wholesale Warehouse... not trying to plug, just the damn truth!).
Basil: 1/2 c or more... chiffonade and a couple slices down the middle so you don't have 1-2" long basil 'hairs' that pull out of the cakes when eating them.  FRESH is a must... duh.
Scallion: 1/2 c, thinly sliced (again, I am partial to a bias cut).
Mayo: 1 c... make sure it's plain mayo, not 'sandwich spread'... only reason is you can season it to your preferences.
Dijon: 1 tbsp.
Eggs: 2 whole large.  I like eggs w/ brown shells... the seem real-er.
Crackers: 1 c or so, crushed into a powder.  Lumps/pieces are okay in my book until I'm proven otherwise.  I've read about saltines, Ritz, etc... I just used some plain butter crackers I had on-hand.
Cayenne Pepper: 1/2 tsp or so.  If you like more, add more.
XVOO: 1/4 c, more or less... a couple thin-streamed 'rounds'... avoid glugging it into the mixture.
On-Hand: s&p
**Note: No Old-Bay seasoning was used in the making of these crab cakes.  No reason... I just didn't have any on-hand and it happened to not land on my grocery list.

PROCESS:

1) Put all ingredients into a glass or plastic bowl (metal bowls run the risk of altering flavors on delicate/sensitive ingredients... take no risks).  Season w/ a good pinch or 2 of salt and fresh ground black pepper.
2) Gently combine the mixture w/ one hand... two hands if you're not dexterous enough... while turning the bowl to assist in mixing without 'mashing' or 'mushing' the crab.
3) At this point, you can either refrigerate the mixture or cook the cakes immediately.
4) In a heavy-bottomed skillet or shallow pan (I prefer good ol' black cast iron), melt a few tablespoons of unsalted butter on med-high heat.
5) Form cakes in your hand with about 1/3-1/2 c of the mixture.  Add cakes to the pan as your make each one... do not overcrowd the pan.  You'll need room to flip the over.
6) After about 4-6 minutes of sizzling, flip them over for another 3-5 minutes.  If you're not sure they're done on one side, lift up the first cake with a spatula for a peek.  You want a rich, golden-brown color.  If it's turning black, the heat is probably a bit too high.  Also, if you've browned them well but they seem soft/undone inside (you've probably made them too large for pan-frying), pop them in the oven at 325 for about 10 minutes.
7) Serve immediately.  Here's a brief recipe for a divine 'tartar' sauce to go with them... make it before-hand and chill it:

ACCOMPANIMENTS:

Quick/Delicious 'Tartar' Dip
- 1/2 c. mayo, plain
- 1/2 c. sour cream, full-fat (always!)
- 1 tbsp. Dijon
- 1 tbsp. horseradish sauce
- 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp. roasted garlic
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice (fresh!)
- pinch of kosher salt
- fresh cracked pepper... a couple good dashes
**mix it all together and chill... easy!!

FURTHER THOUGHTS:

- Old Bay: what is the secret?  What contributes to the magic?  Must find out...
- Breadcrumbs v.s. crackers.  Toasted v.s. fresh.  Wheat v.s. white??  Definitely not.
- Other ingredients to enhance/lift the crab: celery?  garlic?  dill?  ???
- Ooooh!  Just thought of avocado... that would be incredible somehow.  Maybe alongside the cakes in a simple salad w/ greens and a citurs vinaigrette?
- Going Asian... not my area of experience... but think of fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili sauce, toasted sesame seeds, panko... must try this next time!

Friday, December 25, 2009

First Post: Beef Bourguignon, 12/24/09. Whew!!

Yes, inspired by the movie Julie & Julia... this recipe, that is.  This blog is my method for documenting the trails and tribulations in my cooking... in the effort to become better... and in the effort to remember... and in the effort to eliminate a pile of random scribbled-on pieces of paper.  Oh, and to bring myself into the year 2000 (not a typo).


I sought out several variations on this recipe, as I've never cooked it before and the movie made it seem like a complicated task.  It wasn't, for me at least.  I read over Julia Child's classic, looked at Ina Garten's take... and went from there with my own spin.  This is how I begin any recipe that I've not tried... or one that I have tried and either forgot or, well... forgot.  Is a well-established short-term memory normal?

INGREDIENTS:

Beef Chuck: 3lbs or so... cubed and patted dry.  I left all the fat on the meat, which will be the first thing I do differently next time.  My only complaint with the meat was getting too much gristle/blubber... I hate that.
White Onion: 1 lg/2 med, rough chop... I honestly don't remember how much onion I used... probably 1 lg.
Carrot: 4-6 large carrots, freestyle chop... just don't make them too big or too small.  I did a bias cut (my favorite cut) at about 1/4 inch thick.
Mushrooms: 16-24 oz, freestyle chop.  I used the 24 oz. creminis from Costco... the whole package.
Bay Leaf: 3-4... I left mine whole, not crushed.
Thyme: small bunch... make sure it's FRESH!  This is key, in my opinion.
Tomato Paste: 1/2 small can or so.
Roasted Garlic: 1/2 bulb... or more if you like.  I didn't use raw... I'm in a phase where everything calls for roasted garlic.
Bacon: 1/2-1 lb cubed/rough chop... I used 1/2 lb, but you can't go wrong with more bacon.  I couldn't find slab bacon so I used regular sliced... but will make sure to locate slab on my next attempt.
Red Wine: 3/4-1 bottle... I reserved a 'sampling' glass... not a bad idea.  I used a French blend we had on hand, it wasn't the classic Burgundy.  I would seek out the Burgundy next time.
Beef Stock: 2-4 c, depending on if you save a glass of wine to drink from the bottle you'll be emptying into the pot.  HOMEMADE stock is mandatory!!  It's incredibly easy... recipe to follow.
Pearl Onions: 1 or 2 16oz. bags of frozen... or fresh if you're nuts.  I used 2 bags of frozen... maybe someday I'll try the fresh approach to see how it differs.
On-Hand: kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, xvoo.

PROCESS:

1) Cook bacon over med-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan (enameled cast-iron is ideal... go buy one!).  When bacon has browned nicely, transfer to a plate with paper toweling to absorb remaining fats.
2) Season beef cubes w/ salt & pepper (s&p from now on) and brown in the same pan on the same heat setting.  Do this in batches and, as the movie (and Julia Child) says, do not overcrowd the pan.  Brown on at least 2 sides (this was sufficient for me) and transfer to another plate with paper-toweling.
3) Add onion to the same pan (with all the fats and well-browned bottom that will be in the pan) and season with a nice dash of salt... then cover for 2-3 minutes or so.  This will release water from the onions and will help turn the browning in the pan into a rich liquid.
4) Add carrots, mushrooms, and bay leaves.  Season with a dash of salt and stir the mixture several times for the next 4-5 minutes.  Season with fresh ground black pepper.
5) Add back the beef and bacon along with the garlic, tomato paste, pearl onions, and fresh thyme (whole stems can be picked out after cooking).
6) Now for the liquids: add most (or all) of the bottle of red wine and finish with beef stock until all ingredients are nearly covered over.  Season again with s&p, stir to incorporate all ingredients, bring to a simmer, and put the lid on with a slight gap for steam to escape and the stew can reduce without drying out.
7) Transfer pot to a pre-heated oven... bottom rack... at 325 for 2 hours or so.  At 1 hour, take it out, stir, test for flavor of liquid and doneness of meat.  Continue cooking until meat is fork-tender.
8) If it's necessary to thicken the liquid once cooking is completed, create a roux: equal parts flour and butter (start w/ 2 tbsp. of each).  Melt butter, add flour, whisk into paste, add liquid from the pot (one ladle at a time) and continue whisking until the roux is a creamy consistency.  Let cook for 1-2 minutes, then add mixture back to the pot and stir to incorporate.

ACCOMPANIMENTS:

Mashed Butter Potatoes: Yukon Gold potatoes (skin-on), whole milk, unsalted butter, s&p.  Simple.  Perfect with the rich beef gravy!
Green Salad: field greens, cucumber, scallion, creamy homemade Gorgonzola dressing.  An oil & vinegar based dressing would be lovely, also. 
Dessert: Christmas cookies & milk... although something with chocolate and/or fruit would make sense.  Next time! 

FURTHER THOUGHTS:

- Marinating beef a day or two beforehand would help tenderize and flavor it... though a liquid marinade could affect the ability to brown the meat properly.
- Crisp, crumbled bacon added to individual servings would be marvelous!
- Possibly incorporating fresh sage and rosemary... a classic trio with thyme... might be worth a shot.
- Fresh egg pasta in lieu of potatoes would be amazing!