Saturday, August 17, 2013

Beach House Chicken Marsala

One of my favorite things about staying at the beach house is dinner. We look forward to dinner every night, talking about what it might be early in the day, looking forward to it coming together, and then enjoying it around 8 pm and hanging out for a long time at the table. I love it!

Last night we enjoyed my sister Anne's baby back pork ribs, slow-baked in the oven with a rub and barbecue sauce. They were so tender, savory-sweet, and delicious. I've never made ribs so it was a real treat for me. John grilled some hot dogs and hamburgers. I made a tuna macaroni salad with small sea shell macaroni, and we had a tossed green salad. We had company for dinner too - Tyler Heintz, USMC, stationed at Camp LeJeune in nearby Jacksonville, NC. John and Tyler's parents went to college together, and they've been good friends ever since. It was really a pleasure getting to know Tyler, and I'm glad he was able to join us. The "kids" all had a great time last night and were up long after the "older folks" went to bed, though I was awakened by their juggling attempts (overhead) as limes kept falling to the kitchen floor! I knew they were having a good time and that activity moved to the outside deck and it was soon quiet again.

The night before last, I made chicken marsala for the crew. I looked up a number of recipes on-line, and decided to combine techniques by baking the chicken and not pounding it flat, as is done in traditional chicken marsala. By lightly breading and frying the chicken, and then baking it with mushrooms and some of the sauce, it came out incredibly moist and tender. The rest of the sauce was reserved, to be added at the table if anyone wanted more (everyone wanted more!).

Here's my recipe for chicken marsala for a crowd:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
Spray large rectangular baking dish or rub with olive oil

3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved crosswise (I had 7 breast halves, 14 pieces)
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. course ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
(If you don't have all the spices, that's fine).
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds sliced mushrooms (I like a lot of mushrooms)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup marsala wine (I used cooking wine - found in the olive oil section of the grocery store)
Parmesan cheese

Wash and cut chicken breast halves in half width-wise.

In a shallow bowl, mix flour with dried spices and seasonings.

In large skillet, melt butter in oil over medium heat.

Dredge chicken pieces in seasoned flour, shaking off excess.  Brown pieces on both sides.  Don't worry about cooking through - that will happen in the oven.

Place browned chicken pieces in baking dish.

Into butter/oil mixture on stove (keep the crumbs in there, that's fine) add mushrooms and sauté until cooked. Add chicken broth and marsala wine. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and sift in the rest of the flour mixture, stirring as you add to prevent clumps. Cook for a minute or two until the mixture becomes slightly thickened. Using a slotted spoon, distribute mushrooms from the sauce over the top of the browned chicken pieces in the pan. Then, spoon a couple tablespoons of sauce over each piece of chicken. Pour the rest of the sauce into a small saucepan and keep warm on the stove.

Bake chicken for half an hour. Remove from oven. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Serve extra sauce on the side. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan cheese.

I served this with baked sweet potatoes, baked Idaho potatoes, green beans, and a big salad.

We're at the end of our vacation here in Emerald Isle, today being the last full day before we head home tomorrow. It's alway a tough realization that such a great week is coming to close. I'm beginning to let myself think about the ride home, and of course I'll be very happy to see the kiddos. Now, it's time to enjoy what's left of our time here. The last few days have been on the rainy side but we've found pockets of clearing and even a little sunshine. I woke up this morning to a beautifully sunny day, took a walk on the beach to gather sea shells for Henry and Peter, and then it began to rain. Watching movies this afternoon and taking it easy. We're hoping for the rain to end so that we can have one last happy hour outside, or even on the beach. If not, this isn't a bad place to get out of the rain!  We are already looking forward to returning here next August!

Sunday Morning

John enjoying the beach

A little gift for our last evening on E.I. - the sun came out just before it set!
Here are a few shots from my broken little Canon camera - it still does a great job!

Enjoy your Saturday, everyone. Wish me well on my long drive home tomorrow!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

More From The Crystal Coast!

Stormy weather in Paradise!
This area of the Outer Banks of North Carolina is referred to as The Crystal Coast. Emerald Isle is a quiet strip of Atlantic beach with colorful houses lining the shore, no high-rise in sight. The beach itself is soft sand, no rocks, and not too wide an expanse to the water. To me, it is the perfect beach. It's never crowded, even on the hottest summer day. Here, you can really appreciate the natural environment of the ocean and the shore. I'm mesmerized by the sea, always looking out there for something...and still searching for dolphins in the distance.

Rows of colorful beach houses!

A beautiful home-away-from-home!!!

We've been enjoying late-night lightning shows with dramatic rumbles of thunder. Unfortunately, the accompanying rain decided to hang on long after the light show ended, and we woke up to a soaking rain that just now (5 pm) stopped. The forecast calls for a lull and then more rain headed here for the remainder of our vacation. We were house-bound most of today (and if you have to be house-bound, this is the house to do it). After a short shopping trip to pick up a few things for Will's apartment in Charleston, Anne, Will, and I stopped at the grocery store to pick up ingredients for tonight's dinner: chicken marsala. I'm very excited to make this favorite dish tonight. I hope it comes out well. We're having baking potatoes (Idaho or sweet) and green beans, so it should be a really good dinner.

Anyway, rain has put a damper on the day, but we've really had an amazing time here. So far we've had two great beach days, and lots of fun at night with dinner in, and craziness afterwards! Ben and I started it last night with a dance-fest that started with one spontaneous song and ended up going into the wee hours with all of us joyfully dancing like fools in the living room! Anne captured it all in video on her phone and I hope no one ever sees it! It did provide lots of laughs today! I told Anne that if I am ever in a bad mood, all I have to do is watch that video and it will make me laugh out loud!

We've had some memorable experiences so far. We were very fortunate, last night, to witness just-hatched baby sea turtles making their way to the ocean for the first time. The original hatching/migration was three days earlier, and last night we noticed a bunch of people gathering on the beach. I went to see what was happening, and a woman told me that she was part of a group that would be excavating the nest, to count shells left behind and see if there were any babies that hadn't made their way out of the nest. There were two (of about 120-180) still needing a little help and direction. They were lifted out of the nest and started down a cleared path toward the ocean. There were probably 100 people on both sides of the barrier quietly cheering these little babies on. It was very exciting, but at the same time, unsettling to think what might happen to these little guys once they entered the water. I was anxious as the first waves pulled them into the sea, and then pushed them back up onto the beach, only to pull them back out and into the deeper water. It's amazing to see the instinctive pull that guided these sea turtles toward their destiny. I went to bed last night worrying about them, hoping they survive to adulthood and make their way back to this beach one day. The odds are not in their favor, but I'm pulling for them!

Waiting for the babies to appear and start their journey...

Baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Ocean-bound!

Look who I met on my walk yesterday...

Pretty mosaic of seashells...

I'm going to get outside while the rain holds off, and hope to bring you new photos of our vacation and the recipe for tonight's chicken marsala in my next post.

Have a lovely evening, my family and friends!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Home-style Vacation in Emerald Isle, NC!

After eight or so years of coming to this place for vacation, it feels, in a way, like coming home. My sister Anne and her husband John rent a beach house every August in this beautiful corner of Emerald Isle, part of the southernmost tip of North Carolina's Outer Banks (EI, OBX!). I am very grateful to join them each year. Typically, I fly but this year decided to brave the highways and drive. What I expected to be a 12-to-13 hour road trip was actually 16 hours. Fortunately, I had stopped at the library the day before and picked up audio books for the trip: Tina Fey's "Bossy Pants" and Steve Martin's "Born Standing Up." These books kept me company for the long haul, and since they were both narrated by the authors, I felt like I had very good company almost the whole way.  (Both, by the way, are excellent books!) I have two more books for the drive home, but I won't let my mind advance forward to leaving here. It's just too magical a week, too special a place, to even consider leaving!

We don't leave this house or beach, it seems, except to buy groceries with the exception that John takes a long bike ride every morning. We settle in and enjoy this house (so beautiful) and the beach. We have, over the years, created a routine of sleepy mornings, late breakfasts, packing lunches for the beach where we spend a few hours, coming back to the pool, starting dinner, happy hour, and then a long, leisurely dinner around the table for hours. That's followed by nights outside on the deck and playing games. We haven't even turned on the TV so if something big is going on in the world, I don't know about it! You know how when times get tough and you mentally want to go "to your happy place?" ...this IS my happy place, and I AM here!

On my facebook page, my friend Sibyl instructs me to have a good time and, affectionately, to "stop being so damned productive!" OK, Sibyl, you got it. Accordingly, I'll cut it off here but first I'll share a few photos, after which I'm taking a walk on the beach (with my camera, of course!). It's an overcast, misty morning but it's an overcast misty morning by the ocean!

I got a little color!

Nightfall on Emerald Isle, NC

Ben and his girlfriend Megan, and bruschetta!

Roasted veggies - so delish!

Thanks for reading, and I'll post again very soon!  Have a great Wednesday, everyone!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Vacation Mode

All week at work, I have been in Pre-Vacation Mode (or PVM as my boss Jen and I have nick-named it). You know, that burst of energy just before you take time off, where you are hyper-productive in anticipation of being away from the office for a week or more. I once heard that if we all worked as if we were going on vacation the next day, we'd get so much more done. And that is how it was this past week for me. And not just at work. There were a bunch of things on my to-do list at work and at home, and most have been checked off, though not all - yet. There are a few items that have to get checked off today. I'm baking for my favorite Saratoga hotel to the tune of 12 dozen muffins and 12 dozen scones so that they can have a steady supply while I'm away. Then there's the 50th wedding anniversary cake that is being decorated in white buttercream roses, to be delivered by noon. Later, I'd like to get the car washed which is probably silly before driving for such a long distance, but I just love a just-washed car!

And here's the cake!

The plan is to hit the road by 3 am in order to arrive in Emerald Isle, NC, by 4 pm tomorrow afternoon, in time to meet my sister Anne and her family at the beautiful beach house with an aptly designated name of its own: Seaside Retreat. I'm packing a cooler of drinks and food for the 13-hour drive. I have to stop today to buy a car charger for my phone, and finish up laundry and packing. If I can get to bed by 8 pm and set the alarm for 2 am, that'd be great.

There's a lasagna in the freezer that will be packed in my new Trader Joe's zippered cooler bag (thank you to my son Jeff for the cool bag!), and some groceries packed and ready to go. I stopped at the library yesterday to pick up some beach reading, and the Kindle Fire is charged up. Russ shared some books on CD to help pass the time. I'm driving south through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and on rather than take the more eastern New Jersey, DelMarVa route to avoid the beach-bound congestion on the highways.

So, my friends, please check back for posts from the beach house! I am happily looking forward to sharing my vacation with you!

Photo credit:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mac 'N Cheese, Southwestern Style!

One of the dishes I'm bringing to our beach house vacation is Mac 'N Cheese, Southwestern style!  I made it (and made it up as I went!) the other night when my daughter Tricia and her husband Jeff came for dinner. Katie and Bill had a night out with friends, so Henry and Pete joined us. Russ was here too, so every seat around my kitchen table was occupied (I love that!). It was one of those evenings when I worked late and hadn't shopped for dinner but wanted to serve something really delicious. I had all of the ingredients so it went together very quickly. It's a one-pot dish, served right off the stove, no baking required. I served it with broccoli and a big tossed salad, and they gobbled it up!


1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked al dente, and drained
4 tablespoons butter
4  tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups Mexican blend cheese
1 1/2 cups Italian blend cheese (I added this by mistake but it was great - so go ahead!)
1/2 cup Monterey Jack Cheese with Jalapeño peppers, shredded
1 cup salsa, drained to remove excess liquid

In the same large pot that you cooked the macaroni in (now drained), melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking as the flour cooks for about a minute or two. Whisk in milk and turn heat up to medium-high. Bring to a boil, whisking the whole time, and simmer for a minute or two until the mixture thickens and big bubbles rise to the surface and pop slowly, as if you were making a thick pudding.

Turn off the burner and stir in salsa, mixing completely. Stir in cheeses until completely melted. Add cooked and drained macaroni, toss till completely coated with cheese mixture.  Serve from the pot.

It makes GREAT left-overs (confession: I ate it for breakfast the next day!)

This dish deserves a close-up!

I've been baking recently, too.  Here's the evidence!:

Baby Rafael's Baptism Cake

Shannon's Graduation Party Cake - she's headed to Hampshire College!