sneaky sausage

Sometimes I try to trick my boyfriend into eating things he doesn’t like.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Food history is rife with people sneaking certain things into family meals—vegetables for kids (or adults), tiny bits of mushroom for the persnickety eater who “won’t” eat them and “can taste a mushroom even if it’s tiny!”, arsenic…let’s hope not too much of the latter.

My boyfriend isn’t a picky eater. He has a shellfish allergy but other than that he really will—and does—eat anything I put in front of him, even if it’s bad (and sometimes it is). He’s choked down overcooked steak and chicken, soggy defrosted vegetables, burnt pancakes, dry, flavorless eggs, and over-salted soups that I didn’t notice because I was half in the bag. In a lot of ways I’m very lucky because he is so pliable and easy to please. But it has its drawbacks for someone who loves to show off through cooking projects. Rather than a fancy triumphant meal that I labor over for hours (*cough cough* looking at you, bolognese), he is happiest with a simple tossed Caesar salad or a humble quesadilla. As long as there’s chicken in it, he’s pleased as punch.

Among the few things on his “won’t eat list” (which isn’t even really a “won’t eat” so much as a “I don’t like this but I’ll eat it” list) are mushrooms, tomatoes, radishes, any kind of sausage, and broth-based soups. I can usually slip diced mushrooms or tomatoes in something and he won’t notice or care. He’ll pick around grape tomatoes if I put them in a salad, so I’ve learned to save myself the trouble. He’s always been pretty adamant about not eating sausage so I never bother making it, though I love it in all its forms, particularly for breakfast. (Cut to me salivating for breakfast links. Kielbasa. Chorizo. Sweet Jesus, Italian sausage and pepper sandwich.) I don’t crave it often, but since I have it so rarely it does occasionally rear its head and roar for attention. Last night was one such occasion.

I had a big, bold, beautiful butternut squash (couldn’t resist alliteration, sorry) from my first Misfits Market box and had decided I’d save it for a baked squash night. Since embarking on our new eating routine, we dine vegetarian a few nights a week so I wasn’t concerned with having this and some salad for dinner. But when I got home from work and started putting it together I felt like something was still missing. Though I can easily make a meal out of baked squash, and even throw some chickpeas in a pan to crisp for a light protein, it just wasn’t going to cut it. I couldn’t get the image of beautiful sautéed crumbled sausage meat out of my head. Sausage I wanted and sausage I must have.

I knew I had a tight-packed tube of it in the freezer from a grocery trip some weeks ago. Earlier that day I had even considered texting him to ask that he find it and let it thaw on the counter. (He works from home so this sort of arrangement is not uncommon for us. #thankscoronavirus.) But I didn’t want him to know that I was making sausage because he would almost certainly scoff at it. So I decided to be sneaky, knowing full well he’d recognize the taste immediately. But, hey, once it’s on his plate, he’ll eat it, right?

While he was out playing tennis I defrosted the sausage myself in the microwave (horrors! but needs must). I diced a bell pepper and half an onion (saving the rest for ratatouille, q.v. tomorrow) and sautéed them in oil with salt and pepper and dried thyme. The squash was already baking in the oven with fresh thyme sprigs and smelling fantastic. When the pepper and onion were beginning to caramelize I threw in the defrosted sausage and seasoned it, browning it swiftly and adding more thyme and garlic powder. I threw in a whole container of baby spinach just to watch it wither into nothingness. Perfect. Just before the squash was quite baked through I stuffed its cavities with the mixture and popped it back in the oven to finish. I sprinkled it with fresh parsley and basil from the pots in my yard that have so far miraculously survived. (Also the lighting in my kitchen is terrible so I apologize once and forever for my awful photos. It will get better when we move.)

The moment arrived. Boyfriend began to dig in (not after some prevaricating on how exactly to start eating half a squash on his plate) and immediately asked, “What’s this meat?” Damn it!

Because I am sly and also determined to get my way, I told him it was pork. He isn’t so easily fooled. Looking closely at it (but still chewing happily), he said “Hm, I don’t taste the pork…but it’s good!”

I folded. I was never good at surprises. “Well…it’s pork sausage.”

“Ewwww,” he said, triumphant at last, “that’s what that taste is. I’d know it anywhere!”

Thus foiled in my master plan to trick my boyfriend into eating sausage, I threw up the white flag of surrender (read: napkin) and continued shoveling pork sausage and butternut squash into my face.

“Well,” I pressed, ever hungry for even a Pyrrhic victory, “you already said you liked it. You probably wouldn’t even have noticed if I hadn’t said it was sausage.”

“It’s pretty good!” he said, which is his way of saying not as bad as he expected. One for the boys back home!

He still cleaned his plate. I guess sausage isn’t so bad after all.

The moral, boys and girls, is that deception in relationships is wrong…but it’s also sometimes deeply satisfying, provided you do no lasting harm.*

Actually, the moral is: butternut squash is delicious with herby pork sausage and spinach. Make it as soon as you reasonably can.

*Don’t take relationship advice from strangers and/or food writers on the Internet. I am not responsible for my own thoughts and actions, much less yours. Don’t write me when you get into a fight because you decided it would be clever to force-feed your loved ones vegetables disguised as baked goods (although I’d love to hear the story) or arsenic (please don’t tell me the story).

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