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Fall's new apple crop is rolling into the market, and desperate cooks would do well to throw some extra apples into the shopping cart as well. Apples refrigerate for weeks, so they're convenient to keep on hand -- plus they cook surprisingly fast.

If you choose both red and green apples, you can add variety and color to your meals in a flash. The quickest and simplest way is to thinly slice a couple of cored apples -- unpeeled -- and sizzle them in a little butter or margarine until they're almost tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle a little white or brown sugar over the skillet, and you'll have a lovely side dish in no time.

To turn this idea into an effortless entree, just fry up some onions and sausage and add the apples to the skillet in the last 5 minutes of cooking. If you want a different and slightly more sophisticated meal, try today's recipe for Chicken and Apples with Dijon Cream. It's elegant, but it still goes together in just 20 minutes.

There are more varieties of cooking apples than ever before, and you shouldn't hesitate to experiment. You can't go wrong with the brilliantly green Granny Smith, and as for red, McIntosh, Jonathan and Rome Beauty will work in most any recipe.

Chicken and Apples with Dijon Cream

Steamed broccoli

Crusty rolls


1 cup 20-minute rice

3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound total), fresh or frozen

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon butter

1 small onion (or 1/2 cup chopped)

2 red cooking apples, such as McIntosh

1 package (8-ounce) already-sliced mushrooms

3/4 cup apple juice

1/2 cup white wine

1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon chicken bouillon crystals

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

1/4 cup half-and-half
Place 2 cups of unsalted water in a 2-quart or larger saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil (3 minutes). Add the rice, cover, reduce the heat to simmer, and steam for 17 minutes.

Meanwhile, if the chicken is frozen, place it on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 3 minutes, uncovered, on high, to begin defrosting. While chicken is microwaving, heat the oil and butter on medium in a 12-inch, non-stick skillet. Peel and coarsely chop the onion, adding it to the skillet as you chop.

Slice the chicken into 1/4 -inch strips through the width, adding them to the pan as you slice. When all the chicken is added, raise the heat to medium-high and cook for 3 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the chicken just begins to brown. Meanwhile, cut the apples in half and remove the core. Slice the unpeeled apples into 1/4 -inch slices. When all of the apples are sliced, add them to the pan with the mushrooms. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

Add the apple juice, wine, sugar and chicken bouillon crystals. Stir well to dissolve the bouillon. Bring to a boil and cook for 4 minutes. Stir in the mustard and half-and-half. Cook for 2 more minutes. Serve at once over a bed of steamed rice. Makes 4 servings.

Approximate values per serving (using Nutritionist IV software): 382 calories (17 percent from fat), 7 grams fat (3 g saturated), 62 milligrams cholesterol, 24 grams protein, 50 grams carbohydrates, 355 milligrams sodium.

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