By Jennifer Wing
Holidays are about getting together with family and friends, celebrating the season and each other. They also are a time of remembering loved ones we’ve lost and honoring their memories through traditions and talk of seasons past.
My mother-in-law passed away during the pandemic, and that loss has been hard to bear. She was always happiest when surrounded by family, sitting at her dining room table, enjoying the feast she had prepared.
On Christmas day she would always serve what she called “roast beast,” (a term many who are fans of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” would understand) along with the typical side dishes most likely featured on tables throughout the country, even the world, that day.
After she died, the loss was palpable, made even worse by the strictures of the pandemic, but I was determined that her tradition of serving “roast beast” be upheld. And that is how a new tradition was born in my household, and how I first learned to cook prime rib. Each year on Christmas day, when I put the “roast beast” on the table, I think of her, and the times we shared at her home, doing the same thing. It is my homage to her, in the same fashion as the dishes from her table that now populate mine.
Making that roast beast the “star” of my holiday table was surprisingly simple – I just followed a formula for minutes per pound in the oven at a set temperature and – voila! A perfect rare in the center, with medium rare to medium radiating out to the deliciously-browned outer edge.
The supporting cast to my star, however, was a different matter.
Oh, sure, mashed potatoes and gravy are a must to go with the juicy beef, but somehow plain corn and dinner rolls didn’t seem to be a fitting foil for our special entrée.
So, when it came to creating something, well, different on the menu, I decided to focus on the vegetable category.
I’ve had some success with this and, as in the case of a broccoli casserole I once brought to my mother-in-law’s house, some failures. That one was pretty bad.
Last year I decided to go with a new recipe and, out of an abundance of caution, made it as a side dish to a meal a few weeks before Christmas, with my husband as guinea pig. Only after he gave it a thumbs-up did I then add it to my roster for the Big Meal.
I chose this recipe not only because I felt it would taste good and would fit in with the rest of the meal, but also because it was simple and could be done while my prime rib rested and was subsequently sliced for serving.
That Christmas morning, after the presents were unwrapped and the resulting mess was cleaned up, I set the table and prepared the salad, mashed potatoes, rolls and corn – feeling I needed to play it safe with a backup vegetable – all the while checking on the “roast beast” in the oven. As its doneness approached, I prepared my new side dish. Finally, my meat thermometer hit that sweet spot, and I took the meat out to rest, quickly replacing it with the vegetables and adjusting the temperature.
By the time the dish was done, everything else had hit the table, and it was just a matter of putting it in the serving bowl and setting it in its new place in the lineup.
Jump to the end of the meal, with everyone bursting at the seams, declaring it was too early for dessert. I polled the audience – how was this new member of the supporting cast to my star roast beast?
The reviews were in – and they were all positive! There might just be an encore performance this year. Or maybe the understudy I’ve been eyeing will get a turn.
What was this menu ingénue? See the recipe sidebar to find out!
Makes 5 servings, so for our meal I tripled the recipe
1 head cauliflower
1 large crown of broccoli
1 medium red onion
2 medium carrots
2 bell peppers
2 medium zucchini
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Pepper and salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. (In the case of the carrots, I made the chunks a bit thinner for quicker cooking.) Place in a large bowl, or two smaller bowls if you don’t have one big enough for all of the vegetables. In a separate bowl, combine the garlic powder, dried oregano, smoked paprika and salt and pepper; mix well.
Add olive oil to the vegetables and mix so that all of the vegetables are coated. Add the spice mixture and mix again so the vegetables are evenly coated.
Spread the vegetables out into a single layer on the baking sheet (I used two large sheets because I had tripled the recipe) and put into the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and mix the vegetables carefully before placing them back into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes more or until cooked through.
Author’s note: I cut up all of the vegetables and put them in plastic bags in the refrigerator the night before, saving time on Christmas Day.