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.