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SOUP IS THE KEY TO A QUICK CHICKEN DISH

What's the one pantry ingredient that can help you zoom an elegant dinner to the table in less time than it takes to cook rice?

Soup, says Diane Phillips of San Diego, Calif.

"Most of my students tell me what they want most is a one-pot dinner that tastes great with only 15 minutes of preparation," says Phillips, a cooking teacher and author of the new book "The Soup Mix Gourmet" (Harvard Common Press, 2001). "They don't want to go shopping all over for ridiculous ingredients."

All you really need to accomplish this tall order are two basic categories of soup, Phillips says. Condensed soup gives you a ready-made cream sauce, while dry soup provides a concentration of complex flavors in the time it takes to tear open a small foil packet.

The trick is to learn how to use soup as a building block.

"Condensed soups by themselves are pretty bland," Phillips says. "But take cream of mushroom soup, for example. If you saute a few portobello mushrooms and add a little white wine, it starts to come alive."

We decided to head into the kitchen and see just how easy it would be to follow Phillips' advice. The result, Chicken and Broccoli with Mushroom Sauce, fits our Desperation Dinners lifestyle perfectly. You'd never know it started with a plain old can of soup.

Menu

Chicken and Broccoli with Mushroom Sauce

Sliced Apples

Refrigerated Biscuits

Chicken and Broccoli with Mushroom Sauce

1 cup long-grain rice

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves, fresh or frozen

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

6 to 8 ounces already-sliced portobello mushrooms (for about 2 1/2 cups chopped)

12 ounces (about 4 cups) bite-size broccoli florets

2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 can reduced-fat cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup skim or low-fat milk

black pepper to taste

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart or larger saucepan. When the water comes to a boil, add the rice and cook until tender, about 17 minutes. Meanwhile, if the chicken is frozen, place it on a microwave-safe plate and microwave uncovered at high for 2 minutes to partly defrost.

While the chicken defrosts, heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and add them to the skillet. Cook, stirring from time to time. Remove the chicken from the microwave and cut it into bite-size chunks, adding them to the skillet as you cut. Raise the heat to high.

Rinse and drain the broccoli and add it to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring constantly, until the broccoli is bright green and begins to get tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to mix in. Add the wine, and stir and cook 1 minute.

Reduce the heat to low. Add the mushroom soup and milk. Stir until the soup makes a smooth sauce and coats the chicken and vegetables. Season with black pepper to taste. Simmer until the rice is done. To serve, divide the rice evenly among 4 serving plates and top with the chicken mixture. Makes 4 servings.

Send us desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; or e-mail: ddinners@aol.com.

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