Entries from July 12th, 2010

Creamy Spinach Vodka Sauce and Sautéed Chicken



I spent the past few days at the beach — happily so, since Washington has proven unable to supply weather suitable to foster my addiction to running (see previous beach running entry here).  It was beautiful, active, and as expected, it brought back my memories of growing up in sunny Southern California.  It’s funny, really — I truly believe I’m a rare breed of the East coast girl who accidentally grew up surrounded by the beach bum culture that California breeds.  I wouldn’t have my upbringing any other way —  I lived on the beach for a couple of wonderful years.  Sometimes I catch myself feeling out of place, particularly in the deep south or more commonly in Virginia, but I remember the weather and the politics and the history and the creativity that oozes out of every street corner on this coast, and then I feel at home.  And I remember that I found myself, and my ability to channel my own creativity through writing and food, upon moving to this coast.
The beach, naturally, reminds me of living in Santa Barbara.  For a year, my dorm friends and I ate dorm food and wore bikinis to class and ran to the goleta pier on a daily basis.  We had family dinners at a round table surrounded by glass windows as the sun set across campus, and we smuggled nalgene bottles filled with cranberry juice and backpacks stuffed to the brim with fruit for snacks the following day.  And then we finished our first year, and some moved into houses and apartments on the oceanside cliffs of Isla Vista, and our family dinners continued, oftentimes evolving into family brunches — the key factors included good food, music, and company.  And then I left that beachside paradise for a university that was closer to home and better for my interests and degree, but I found myself returning to those same friends, for family dinners and brunches (in different houses), where my transition to adult life began.  Point being, I am writing this under a beach umbrella from my iPhone; the setting, as unsatisfying as it is compared to my Isla Vista beach, makes me remember how wonderful UCSB appealed to my senses. Even a small, smelly, overpopulated beach can make me feel slightly closer to what I called home for decades.
I don’t mean to offend any East Coasters, but the beaches just don’t compare. It’s like comparing plain, canned tomatoes to a homemade mushroom and spinach vodka reduction, poured over freshly browned organic chicken breast slices. I may be an East coast girl these days, but I will always be a Gaucho at heart. Well, I’m a Bruin for athletics and academics, but for natural aesthetics and appreciation for small communities, I revert to my Gaucho past. But I guess what this weekend came down to is the fact that I’m just a beach snob.


2 chicken breasts, sliced into tenders
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sized onion
2 to 3 cups fresh spinach (or mushrooms, both work wonders)
1 cup tomatoes (I used small heirlooms from my garden)
3/4 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
First, slice the chicken breasts into tenders, about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick. Pat them dry with paper towels (wet chicken tends not to brown). Heat a skillet over a low flame and sautee the garlic and onions. Add the chicken tenders, and let them cook until browned on both sides. If you are having trouble browning the chicken, brush a little bit of all-purpose flour on each slice, which will encourage better browning. After the chicken is finished, remove from the skillet and cover.
With the garlic and onions still in the skillet, dice or slice the tomatoes according to your preference and add them to the other ingredients. If you are using mushrooms, add them now. If you use spinach, let the tomatoes cook down for about 10 minutes. Then, add the vodka and let simmer for another minute or so. Then, add the spinach, stirring until it collapses. Drizzle olive oil if necessary. When the sauce forms a nice texture, remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream. Serve over chicken, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Pizza Bianca



Everyone grew up with pizza, right? Sleepovers, elementary school pizza parties, Book-its (remember those?)… pizza took up some sort of memory in American households in the 80s and 90s.  After all, our parents were workaholics, and not everyone could have been blessed with home-cooked meals every single living day of their lives.  It was always that special treat we got as kids, like soda and ice cream, if and when dinner turned to disaster or the amount of effort required to feed a pool party exceeded the time and patience available in the kitchen.  Birthday parties and movie nights were filled with pizzas in my childhood.

After spending last weekend in New York, and the week prior in Louisiana and Mississippi, I was on a veggie detox.  Never have I eaten such vast amounts of unhealthy food and drink.  I’ve done my fair share of attempting to visit New York without having a slice of pizza, but it just doesn’t work.  Ever.  I don’t know what it is, but that city’s reputation for pizza aligned with my absolute love for all foods orgasmic Italian will probably contribute to the end of me, in 80 years, insha’allah.  We stumbled across Rocky’s pizzeria in Manhattan, and I had “Grandma’s pizza,” loaded with fresh, minced roasted garlic and some sort of pureed bruschetta-like sauce.  My inquiry regarding the types of tomatoes or any other ingredients was respectfully denied, and replaced with a plate of chocolate mousse.  To diefor.  I’ll dream about that pizza until I figure out how to clone its recipe.  And then I won’t tell anyone, simply requiring your presence to witness how amazing it really is.  I don’t know exactly when or how I fell in love with food and hosting dinners, but as you can see via this blog, this lustful romance has taken over my life.

A number of friends are in Washington this weekend, en route from cities all over the world. Naturally, my town house looks like a tornado swept through, dropping off traveling goods from India, Bolivia, and other American cities that my friends have been through — I really am lucky to have friends all over the world. I am, after all, visiting one in Bogota this summer.

Will I take my pizza recipes to South America? It honestly depends on how much time I spend salsa dancing. I’d rather be salsa dancing than anything else — that’s one of the downsides of living in Washington. The salsa dancing scene sucks. I guess I do miss one thing from Los Angeles — Third Street Promenade street salsa Sunday evenings. If Washington had something similar, my life would feel slightly more complete.

Anyway, I made two different types of white pizza for my visitors, who have, consequently, been eating non-stop for the past 48 hours: broccoli-feta-mozzarella, and a zucchini/goat cheese and lemon pizza. They make a really easy and impressive quick fix for having more than enough guests to enjoy a balcony brunch on a breezy, beautiful Saturday morning.


for the zucchini pizza:

Pizza dough.  For the sake of time, I used Trader Joe’s ready-made, one dollar pizza dough.
1 fresh zucchini
Lots of goat cheese
1 lemon, or 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Fresh, cracked pepper
Olive oil, for working with the pizza dough

for the broccoli pizza:

(More) pizza dough
2 to 3 cups fresh broccoli, tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper
1 cup feta cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
Olive oil


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Making pizza is pretty self-explanatory, and I’m positive that you understand the idea.  I like to keep my pizza crusts thin and even: no one likes biting into a doughy crust that could have used another five minutes in the oven.  So play it safe, and spread the crust to be extra thin (but don’t puncture it).

I don’t use sauces on my white pizzas, although, alfredo or some other white cheese sauce would be to die for.  Or even pesto — yes, I often use pesto on my pizzas instead of tomato sauce.  For the zucchini pizza, I used my fingers to spread a soft goat cheese evenly on the crust, and then used a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini.  I like having the zucchini extra thin on pizzas because it bakes to a crisp and just looks beautiful.  After dressing the pizza with the zucchini, use a pepper mill to grind fresh pepper to your liking, and squeeze some fresh lemon juice all over the pizza, to get a nice tangy flavor in each slice of zucchini.

The broccoli pizza is easy — simply toss the broccoli, feta, and mozzarella together in a bowl, and evenly spread the toppings over your crust.  Sometimes I like to add a little basil or marjoram to the mix.  For both pizzas, bake for 12 to 17 minutes.  To roast the vegetables, I turned the heat of the oven up to about 400 degrees for the last few minutes.

Fireworks Cupcakes



Fondant is surprisingly easy to make, but also surprisingly difficult to work with.  It’s sticky, takes incredible clay-sculpting skills, and patience.  It took me about an hour to decorate seven or eight cupcakes.  This chiffon cake is also one of my favorite recipes because it’s a light, moist cake — and I tend to dislike cakes (but love frosting).  So the lack of my favorite thing in the world — thick, buttercream frosting — can attest to how good this chiffon cake really is.  Because I love it.  To death.  The only thing keeping me from devouring these cupcakes is the fact that I spent so much time decorating them with fondant.

Someone recently sent me a youtube video of Buddhist monks working on mandalas, the beautiful sand paintings that they famously perfect for hours only to wipe away their masterpieces upon completion.  This demonstrates their ability to detach from material goods and their lack of some sort of selfish pride in their artwork.  In making these cupcakes, I find myself in a completely separate mindset than the monks.  Perhaps, after mastering the art of fondant cake decorations, I will be able to let go of my creations.  But for now, I can sit and admire my fireworks and star-spangled banner bikini cupcakes — until someone asks if they can eat one.  It’s a dilemma in my head, naturally, of pride and personal satisfaction: I obviously adore the appearance of the cupcakes, but the fact that my friends see them, love them, taste them, and then love the taste in addition to all of that adoration?  It’s what keeps me in the kitchen.

It’s a busy weekend — lots of people are coming into town to celebrate the Fourth of July at my happy home in Washington.  Hope everyone has a fabulous holiday!  This is, after all, my second-favorite holiday of the year :)


For the chiffon cupcakes:

5 eggs, separated
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup sugar

For the fondant:

16 ounces mini marshmallows
1-2 tablespoons water
2 pounds powdered sugar


For the cupcakes:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Then, combine the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, and butter (the butter must be cooled, or else the egg yolks will cook… yuck!)

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients: flour, 1 cup of the sugar, salt, and baking powder.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg combination, and beat with an electric mixer until even.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.  Fold about 1 cup of the initial batter into the egg white meringue, to lighten the batter.  Then, combine the rest of the batter with the meringue, and gently fold until the batters are evenly mixed.  Pour into cupcake molds, about 2/3 full.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops of the cupcakes are a nice golden brown.

To make the fondant, combine the marshmallows in a microwavable bowl with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.  Microwave at 30 second intervals until marshmallows are completely melted.   Then, gradually combine the powdered sugar, kneading until a thick fondant dough is formed.  This gets messy, and the fondant is unbelievably sticky — use crisco on your hands to keep the fondant from adhering to your fingertips.

Roll the fondant on a piece of waxed paper dusted with powdered sugar, and use cutters to decorate and form the shapes that you like.  Enjoy!


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