But since your attention really should be on the decorating — and getting all those (expletive deleted) lights untangled — the food you serve needs to be fast, easy and mostly hands off.
When I was a kid, the night we put up and decorated the tree was a shrimp feast. We bought many — too many — pounds of cooked shrimp, then paired them with a bunch of sauces for dipping, some sparkling cider and a purchased dessert. Done. It was special, but also effortless and allowed easy grazing while hanging ornaments.
These days, I like to put a little more effort into it. But not much. That's why I came up with this medley of roasted vegetables and sausage. You basically season a bunch of produce and arrange it on baking sheets. Toss on some sausage, then pop the whole thing in the oven while you sweep up the glass decorations your child just smashed.
Keeping the vegetables separate on the baking sheets not only makes for an attractive presentation (it resembles a Cobb salad, from which the dish takes its name), it also lets you easily add faster cooking items toward the end of the cooking time.
ROASTED COBB SALAD
Start to finish: 1 hour (10 minutes active)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into small florets
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Ground black pepper
1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 pound Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed
2 tablespoons molasses
2 pounds sweet or spicy Italian sausages
Heat the oven to 425 F. Coat 2 rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix the cornstarch, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the squash and toss until well coated. Arrange the squash in an even layer at one end of one of the baking sheets; it should take up about half of the sheet. Spritz the squash liberally with cooking spray.
Wipe out the bowl, the add the cauliflower and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Toss, then add 1 teaspoon of black pepper and toss again. Arrange next to the squash on the baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the carrots to the bowl (no need to wipe it out). Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil, the fennel seeds and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Toss well, then arrange on one half of the second baking sheet. Add the Brussels sprouts to the bowl (no need to wipe it out), drizzle with the molasses and the remaining oil. Toss well, then arrange next to the carrots.
Arrange the sausages over the Brussels sprouts and carrots. After the squash and cauliflower have roasted for 15 minutes, add the second baking sheet and roast both for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables and sausages are browned and tender. Serve directly from the baking sheets.
Nutrition information per serving: 340 calories; 150 calories from fat (44 per cent of total calories); 17 g fat (4.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 35 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 23 g protein; 1090 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.Suggest a correction