My First Best and Last Meal

I have always wanted to document the food that we are cooking and eating here at home, for my kids, and also to help other families stay gathered around the table; families on a budget, families dealing with food intolerances, allergies, or just those who want to take control of what they are consuming.

When I got married, I had never cooked a thing.  The occasional Kraft mac and cheese, of course, but other than that, not much. There was that one time I watched my friend’s parent’s house and called my mom for a tuna casserole recipe. Who even am I? I was 18 and wanted to make tuna casserole, with green peppers as a must. Not normal 18-year-old food, but I suppose I was “playing house” and all good ladies must cook tuna casserole, right?

For the first year of our married life, I swear, we ate Hamburger Helper half of the year, and Taco Bell the other half.  Winchell’s donuts for breakfast anyone??? As fun as those memories are, one’s stomach can only stand so much of that.  So, I started to teach myself to cook.  I’m NO expert, by ANY means, but, thanks to Food Network, Cooking Light Magazine and PBS I found some good info and inspiration to start trying a few things.  There were disasters. Many. Humiliating. Disasters. (Thank you Sweets and other family and friends for being kind, gracious guests, even when it was really, REALLY, bad.)  So, now that I have learned a few things. I want to make sure that I leave my kids prepared for more than dorm food or ramen, and with some recipes for their years as the Mama, cooking together.

Over the years, my family has developed food allergies and intolerances.  I pray, and I wish, I could figure out why.  It breaks my heart every day.  As they have acquired more things that they can’t eat, I have become quite proficient at accommodating all sorts of dietary restrictions, even turning it into a game, “let’s see if I can entertain guests leaving out all sorts of ingredients they live on and see if they feel like they’ve missed out.”  I love to share with someone that they just ate for an entire weekend a dairy free, gluten free, soy, egg, nut free diet.  Usually, they never even realize it.  So, while I don’t really want to have a food blog all about cooking for allergies, know that they are always on my mind, and I understand how to modify meals to take care of those needs. Ask away if you have questions or suggestions!

Family friendly, budget-friendly, allergy friendly, GOOD food, that keeps us sharing life together, breaking bread around life’s beautiful table!  That is what stirs these guts of mine!  I can’t wait to share these days with all of you too.  Write to me, share your ideas with me, tell me your stories, share this part of life alongside us.  We are so thankful you came.

There is only one logical FIRST meal for this blog.  My own made up favorite meal: Sausage and Vegetables. WHY?  Because, in this house, we eat it ALL the time, AND, because all my friends and family have either had it here in my home, or are cooking it in their own homes, upon my insistence. I made this recipe up several years ago. I don’t really remember what inspired it or prompted it, but I started making veggies with a grilled flank steak (which is very good too), and it has evolved over the years into our ultimate family favorite.  It’s good. REALLY good.  Trust me and try it.  It gets kids to eat healthfully, while expanding their pallets to include strong (perfectly balanced) flavors, on the cheap, using up what you have in your produce drawer already, and they LOVE it.  Seriously. Make this. Do it.

Aidells Sausages are amazing. They are chicken sausages, FULL of flavor!  You can get them in different varieties to accommodate different food preferences or allergies. For me, the best part is that they sell them everywhere.  I can get a package for under $6. Two packages of sausage, with added ingredients, mostly already in my kitchen, make a meal, for 6, for under $20. That’s under $3 per serving. Think about it. Can you serve 6 people, a very proper dinner, for less than $20?

Here’s how we do it ’round here:

-Two packages Aidells Sausage (I love the chicken apple. They are dairy, soy, gluten-free. They add a nice sweet balanced flavor.)
-Any veggies you have in your produce drawer and anything else that looks like it would be yummy when roasted.  I tend to use potatoes, red/yellow/orange peppers, onions (I would never leave out the onions), garlic, zucchini, summer squash, anaheim peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes….seriously, almost any produce works, just be careful you don’t choose something that will overpower the other things, like carrots. For this dish I have found them to be a bit strong and take over the flavors of the rest.  Plus, I am not such a fan of cooked carrots.  Just me, don’t hate.

-olive oil
-balsamic vinegar
-salt (preferably sea salt or kosher) and pepper
optional lots of Greek Seasoning (Cavender’s brand is the best)

crushed red pepper flakes

That is all you really need to make this meal great, but, if you want to take it to a level of flavor and deliciousness unparalleled, to achieve flavors that will cause intense cravings and a blatant disregard for appropriate portion sizes, you will want these things too:

-a loaf of bread, preferably a good ciabatta, but a simple baguette will do too.
-a block of bleu cheese.  I like blocks better than crumbles for this, they seem more fresh, with more flavor.  Danish blue is soft and works well with a fairly mild flavor, but use what you have….no blue cheese dressing, please.
-balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Okay, ready?

Cut up all the veggies into bite size pieces. Potatoes I tend to cut first into cubes about 1/2″ -3/4″ in size, and then I use them as a measure for all the other veggies.
Place them on a baking sheet with sides (jelly roll pan) drizzle with olive oil, a few dashes of balsamic and season liberally. Liberally means lots more than you think, more than you would normally add, more than a pinch, please.  I like salt, pepper, Greek seasoning and a few dashes of red pepper flakes for a touch of heat.  Don’t be scared, my kids eat it.
Then, you have a few options, you can put the veggies in an oven at about 425 degrees, or, you can put a metal pan right onto a preheated grill (don’t use your treasured bake-ware please. it’s going to get ‘blackened’).  Cook the veggies until the potatoes are softened, about 30-40 minutes, giving them a toss with a spatula after about 15 minutes in and every 10 minutes after that to prevent them getting stuck to the bottom of the pan.  (and if some happen to get burned to the bottom of the pan, you will want to save that for yourself because it is SOOO good!!! Just sayin’).  Then add the sausages.  If you are pressed for time, or have let the veggies go too far, slice the sausages, otherwise, put them on whole, nestling them into the veggies, and return them to the oven or grill for about 10-15 more minutes, until  the sausages are hot and browning and the veggies are soft and getting some good color on them.  The juice from the sausages will pour onto the veggies and help flavor them even more. This entire process takes from 45 min to 1 hour depending on how hot your fire is/stays.

Right before the veggies and sausage are done cut up your bread.  I like the ciabatta loaf because it’s airy with a good crust on it, and it’s a nice size, but a baguette or another crusty loaf would do just fine.  Cut the bread into single serving type slices, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  When the veggies come out of the oven or off of the grill, put in the bread. If you are grilling, I put them directly on the grill, oil side down. In the oven, I place them on a cookie sheet oil side up. Either way, you prepare them they will need a flip, once one side is crunchy and golden–but NOT BLACK, flip them over. I always burn the bread.  Don’t burn the bread. Once it is crunchy and perfectly toasted it’s ready.  I don’t know how long it takes…because if I tell you 5 minutes and you close the door for 5 minutes, it will be burned…but it might take 10 minutes.  Sorry.

Here’s how to assemble this heavenly indulgence:

If you skipped the bread and optional fixins’ then dish up and enjoy.  even without the bread, a drizzle of balsamic and a few crumbles of bleu go a very long way.  If you are going for gold, then, put a shmear of bleu on your grilled bread, top with veggies and sliced sausage and top it off with a small drizzle of balsamic….or a large drizzle if you are like Ashlee and me and cannot get enough.

Sit down with a glass of red wine and ENJOY this!  …With your family, with friends, with your neighbors, with a stranger, on your patio, in your kitchen, packed into a picnic….in a house with a mouse, in a box with a fox, try it, try it you will see!

This photo is from a meatless version of the same recipe, but you’ll get the idea. So pretty…and TASTY!

So, that’s it; my first best recipe.  And, so long as I can find enough minutes in my days to sit down and write regularly there will be many, many more to come.


PS: If I ever get sentenced to death row: this is my order for my last meal. Please don’t let me down. I’m counting on you.

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