Dinner is often the last thing you think about as you navigate through the busy holiday season.
But even a few simple ingredients from your pantry can be transformed into a delicious feast when you've armed yourself with the cook's secret weapon: Sausages made by one of the North Bay's artisan producers.
Just saute the sausages with some vegetables, or throw in some cheese and pasta, and you've got a miracle meal in minutes.
Here are some folks who grind, mix, stuff and twist off a few of the North Bay's most luscious links.
Two years ago, John and Francesca Vrattos opened Yanni's Sausage Grill in a 270-square-foot kitchen with a small counter and three stools.
Despite its size, the Penngrove sandwich shop has gained a big reputation for its bold flavors.
"In 2009, our daughter gave us a Cuisinart, and that started the whole thing," said Francesca, who develops the recipes and works the front of the house.
In addition to a monthly special, the couple makes eight varieties of sausages ranging from Loukanico (pork, anise, orange and lemon zest) to "Gyro in a Link" (lamb, garlic, oregano).
"We do things that we like," John said. "And it works."
For the past two years, Yanni's has won Best of Show Charcuterie at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. This year, the winner was an Italian Christmas Sausage (pork, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese) served with provolone, grilled onions and peppers.
Yanni's sells sausage to go, but you need to pre-order before picking up.
Angelo's Meats in Petaluma is known for its jerky, but you can also pick up 18 kinds of juicy sausages here, including 12 that are smoked.
Owner Angelo Ibleto, an old-world butcher who has stuffed links at the Adobe Road shop for 40-plus years, uses garlic, wine and spices to add flavor.
"You don't have to hunt for flavor," he said. "It's supposed to come to you."
Among his sausages are classics like Hot Italian and Mild Italian, Chorizo and Linguica, Bratwurst and Hawaiian Portuguese, the best-selling link.
To cook smoked sausage, Ibleto advises the steaming method, using beer instead of water.
"Cook it for five minutes," he said. "And dunk the bread in the beer."
When Richard Caggiano of Sonoma moved to California in the early 1980s, he couldn't find a decent Italian sausage, so he started making his own at a Napa butcher shop.
About 15 years ago, he moved the business to Petaluma, where he now produces 23 different kinds of links.
"The Wurst (in Healdsburg) carries three of our sausages," he said. "The Hot Smoked Beer Sausage is our biggest selling sausage."
Since his operation is USDA-certified, Caggiano's links can be found in North Bay grocery stores.
Franco Dunn of Franco's One World Sausage company in Healdsburg makes 65 different links from all over the world and sells them at farmers markets in Sonoma County. But he only makes five kinds at a time.
"It's cold right now, so I'm making cottechino," he said. "It's generally eaten in the winter, because it's a really rich sausage."
Dunn started making links back in the 1980s, when he was rooming with sausage guru Bruce Aidells in the East Bay. Among Dunn's more unusual sausages are Zalzett tal-Malti sausage from the Republic of Malta; Chorizo Verde from Toluca, Mexico; and Chorizo Bilbao, a Basque-style sausage.
Around Christmas, Dunn sells a lot of French boudin blanc, a white pork sausage made with cream.
Chef/owner Dino Bugica of Diavola in Geyserville serves his own sausages on pizzas and charcuterie plates, but he also sells the links to the public.
"Right now we're doing blood sausage," Bugica said. "I learned the recipe from a butcher in San Minato, in the province of Pisa."
Bugica concentrates on Italian and Middle Eastern links, cranking out Toscano and Calabrian sausages along with Lebanese Shawarma and Moroccan links made from chicken thighs, apricots, almonds and harissa.
The following two recipes were shared by Francesca Vrattos of Yanni's Sausage Grill in Penngrove. She makes these dishes at home with Yanni's sausage.
"This is great served with sweet Italian bread and salad," Francisca said.
Loukaniko in Tomato Sauce
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound Yanni's Loukaniko sausage links, cut into coins
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 red peppers, sliced
5 small onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
? teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup chardonnay
? cup water
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large frying pan. Over medium-low heat, add the sausage coins and cook until brown. Remove the sausage form pan and set aside.
Saute the onions and peppers in the drippings until soft. Add the garlic, cloves and oregano and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sausage coins to the pan along with the tomato sauce, wine and water. Simmer 5 to 6 minutes.