- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

What I love most about cooking for good friends is that you don’t have to impress them. They come to your house ready to relax and reflect. If the meal is so-so, they still love you.

On the other hand, if the meal wows them, they make you feel good about it for quite some time.

For quick but fancy meals for your friends, a great starting point is chicken tenders that cook in just a few minutes. Add some onion, apple and sliced almonds, and a fragrant, exotic dinner is on the table in less then 30 minutes.

Curry is such an easy way to dress up simple foods. If you add curry powder (a good one) to your favorite dip or salad dressing or soup, it shakes with flavor. In the case of this stew, curry turns chicken into a festive event. Spoon it over warm basmati rice and serve a fresh spinach salad to the side.

Korma is a north Indian cooking sauce. The brand I use, Patak’s, is made with coconut and flavored with garlic, ginger and coriander.

I hope you can locate Patak’s sauces in your area.

To play up the almond flavor, add an almond garnish by toasting sliced almonds in a 350-degree toaster oven for 3 to 4 minutes.

You can also top this stew with fresh cilantro sprigs, sweetened flaked coconut or mango chutney.

Five time-shavings ways to dine with friends

• Stage a shrimp boil with corn on the cob and small new potatoes cooked in the pot with the shrimp. Add small dipping bowls of melted butter. Serve coleslaw, key lime pie and all the sides you like.

• Fondue is for friends. Offer the cheese fondue and let everyone else bring something — bread, fruit, sausages, veggies — for dunking.

• Slap some steaks on the grill but offer interesting sauces such as sauteed mushrooms with a hint of brandy or a fresh parsley and garlic sauce pulsed in the food processor. Add garlic bread and a good salad and you are set.

• Buy a barbecued chicken from the store deli, cut it into serving pieces and turn it into your favorite rendition of chicken cacciatore with tomatoes and peppers.

• Pick up some fresh pizza dough from the deli. Let everyone make their own pizzas with fresh mozzarella, pizza sauce, anchovies, slivers of basil, etc.

Curried chicken and apple stew

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, sliced (about 1 cup)

1 pound chicken tenders (about 12), rinsed, cut into pieces and patted dry

1 10-ounce can Indian coconut cooking sauce

1 cup diced peeled apple

1 cinnamon stick

Water

1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream, optional

2 tablespoons toasted pre-sliced almonds, optional

Sweetened flaked coconut, for garnish, optional

Pour oil into a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until it browns slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add chicken pieces and cook until they also brown slightly all over, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add coconut sauce, apple, cinnamon stick and 1/4 cup water. Let simmer, uncovered, until chicken cooks through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the cream, if using, and increase heat to medium-high, cooking until liquid thickens a bit, 2 minutes longer. Remove and discard cinnamon stick. Serve the stew garnished with almonds and coconut, if desired. Serves 4.

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