Monday, September 28, 2015

Weeknight Sweet and Sour Garlic Sausage over Polenta (Creole Sausage Stew on Grits)

The wife and I had a great Monday today at school. Things are going well for us this year. On the way home we shopped and, on impulse, I decided to make a sausage stew to go over yellow grits a/k/a polenta. Sometimes you just have to say, "What the heck!"

This dish requires a bit of straightforward knife work, but is surprisingly easy once that is done. Let me show you the steps.

1 ring kielbasa, cut in 1/4 inch slices
1 sweet pepper, large diced
1 onion, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced
2 large mushrooms, halved and sliced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
4 sprigs thyme
2 leaves sage, minced
1/4 cup oregano, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 Tbs. flour
1Tbs. tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 Tbs. tamarind paste
1 Tbs. sugar
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
salt to taste
extra virgin olive oil as needed

Fry the kielbasa rings in the oil until browned. Remove from the skillet, leaving the fat.
Fry the fennel, onion, sweet pepper, and mushrooms until beginning to soften. Add the tomato paste, garlic, crushed red pepper, and flour and cook another two minutes while mixing the additions into the vegetables. Add the wine and tomatoes to deglaze the pan.
As soon as the flour has absorbed the wine, add the sausage back, the chicken stock and the herbs. Cook until the stew thickens. If needed, add more chicken stock. Add the tamarind paste and sugar. Mix in well and taste. Add salt as needed. Adjust the tamarind/sugar blend as needed.
Serve over grits or polenta prepared as indicated on the package.

The final result:


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Holiday Island, Arkansas

Eureka Springs, Arkansas has a long history for an Arkansas town. Much of it fascinates with true tales of bank robberies, grand hotels turned into crack pot healing asylums, and a 66 foot tall, mortar on mesh Christ of the Ozarks. Maybe the best explanation of Eureka is the fact the statue stands across the street from a men's nudist colony.

Holiday Island began as a planned retirement community (suburban improvement district) outside of Eureka Springs on the shores of Table Rock Lake in the early 1970's. Table Rock is one of the chain of lakes on the White River as it flows from a beginning near Fayetteville, Arkansas north into Missouri, then back south to an eventual meeting with the Arkansas River just before that river joins the Mississippi. Nowadays, the population of Holiday Island, around 2400 people, nearly equals that of Eureka Springs five miles away.

Although called an island, the development actually lies on a peninsula created by the junction of Leatherwood Creek with the White River channel. The community lies at the point where the river changes to lake at the upper end of the nearly 70 mile long lake. Around 7 miles upstream, the river flows out of Beaver dam, the uppermost damming on the White River. Just before the river reaches Holiday Island, it flows through the small town of Beaver, Arkansas. That town, the source of the dam and lake name, formed when workers began to quarry limestone from the banks of the then undammed river for the building of the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs.

In the picture above you can see the remains of the rail bridge at Beaver. That line carried the quarried stone into town and later carried the tourists visiting the destination hotel and the supposedly healing springs. On the bluff above the abandoned bridge note the glitzy bed and breakfast built for modern day tourist trade.

This picture shows the world's longest remaining one lane wooden suspension bridge. This bridge connects the town of Beaver by road to Holiday Island and Eureka Springs. The bridge was featured in the movie Elizabethtown.

This picture is just upstream from Beaver and shows the "modest" homes people are beginning to build along the high banks of the river.

The first concrete bridge over the White River to connect Eureka Springs to civilization ran on these spans on old Highway 62.  That road was replaced with a wider and straighter 62 shown below.

Last in this essay on Holiday Island is a sight I enjoy every time I come upon it. Before Holiday Island was Holiday Island, a large family farm covered the peninsula for many years. That family created their own family grave site. The developers had the good sense not to disturb the graves and left the fenced plot. The grave yard sits on the edge of the lake and many mornings I ease the boat up to the shore to fish a good little hole that sits near by. The sight below shows a common occurrence. Buzzards are gathered in the grave yard, sitting on the stones or the fencing. I often wonder at their discussion.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Fall Cross Country Meets in the Ozarks

Just as everywhere else, Fall is Cross Country season. Our school here in the Ozarks is far too small to field a football team and basketball season is still some weeks away. The athletes who can run tend to join cross country. Meets of varying sizes begin to happen starting in September and Eureka Springs traditionally hosts the Holiday Island Classic here on the banks of Table Rock Lake near the end of the month.

Unlike many areas of the country, today's meet was not crisp and brisk or ideal runners weather. From dawn to nearly 8:00 AM a heavy fog covered the low areas and by meet ending at 11:30, the air temperature was a moist 80 degrees. 

The wife and I have acted as the scorers for nearly a decade and today was like many others. We had a light over-shirt on when we arrived, and by the end, our sun screen was running into our eyes. 

One of the joys of such events, despite the sun, are the people. Everyone knows everyone. The overall boy winner today was Oliver Perez from the next town over at Berryville. We have watched him race since he was a freshman and wished him luck for his last run in our event today. We hope he receives a healthy scholarship to University of Arkansas. 

We also visited with numerous parents, fellow school employees (some retired), students past and present, and with the usual community members who are involved in all local events - our banker, our insurance agent, and such.

Enough preamble. Today's post will be about a quick and easy pasta suitable for week nights or for company. At the same time, this version emphasizes the fresh tastes possible late in the summer.

Summer Seafood Pasta

1/2 small red onion, diced small
one 6.5 ounce can minced clams, drained with juices reserved
12 to 18 raw shrimp, shelled and cut in 3 or 4 bite size pieces
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 large pinch crushed red pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup each minced fresh oregano and parsley
16 ounces fettuccine or linguini  

Heat 4 quarts of water to boiling in a large pot or pasta cooker. Add a palmful of coarse Kosher salt and when the water boils once more, add the pasta.
As the pasta cooks, about 5 to 8 minutes, heat the olive oil to hot but not smoking in a very large skillet. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute). Add the onion and reduce the heat to medium. Saute the onion until translucent. Add the tomatoes and the clams and continue to saute for one minute. Add the clam juice and remove the pan from the heat.
When the pasta is done to al dente, place the skillet back on the heat and drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of liquid.
When the tomato mixture reheats, add the herbs, a large pinch of salt, and the shrimp. Immediately add the hot drained pasta and begin to toss to mix the seafood and tomatoes/garlic/onion. and herbs into the pasta. If liquid is needed, use the reserved pasta water. 
Serve immediately with fresh cracked black pepper and fresh shredded Parmesan or Roman.
Serves four to six.