Other than the cat's birthday, I don't throw many parties. Most nights we're content with our quiet, unsocial life and casual approach to dinner -- it only has to please us. But occasionally the urge comes upon me to throw another leaf in the dining room table, get out the matching plates and invite people over for dinner. I know I'll need new candles to replace the stubby ends that went into the Halloween pumpkins, but beyond that the whole entertaining thing doesn't come naturally to me.

Luckily, the EatingWell Test Kitchen has developed a fabulous recipe for Quick Chicken Cordon Bleu that also happens to be festive enough for a dinner party. To make traditional cordon bleu, you layer prosciutto (or other ham) and cheese in between thin slices of chicken or veal, then bread and saute the whole stack. This quick, easy version keeps the flavors the same, but skips the fussy layering and breading steps. Serve with delicata squash and broccoli.

Easy, fast and delicious: that's my kind of entertaining.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Recipe

Makes 4 servings.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 1/4-1 1/2 pounds), trimmed and tenders removed (see tip)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese

1/4 cup coarse dry whole-wheat breadcrumbs (see note)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or thyme

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 cup chopped ham (about 1 ounce)

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and salt. Combine cheese and cream cheese in a bowl. Combine the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper with breadcrumbs, parsley (or thyme) and 2 teaspoons oil in another bowl.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large, ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Move the chicken to the center so all pieces are touching. Spread with the cheese mixture, sprinkle with ham, then top with the breadcrumb mixture.

Bake until the chicken is no longer pink in the center and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 F, 5 to 7 minutes.

Tips and notes:

Tip: It can be difficult to find small chicken breasts. Remove the strip of meat from the underside of a 5- to 6-ounce breast -- the "tender," about 1 ounce of meat -- to yield a perfect individual portion. Freeze the tenders and use them in a stir-fry.

Note: We like Ian's brand of coarse dry whole-wheat breadcrumbs, labeled "Panko breadcrumbs." Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets. To make your own breadcrumbs, trim crusts from firm sandwich bread. Tear the bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 250 F until dry, about 15 minutes. One slice of bread makes about 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs.

Recipe Nutrition:

Per serving: 245 calories; 12 g fat (4 g sat, 6 g mono); 82 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrate; 28 g protein; 1 g fiber; 314 mg sodium; 216 mg potassium

Zero carbohydrate servings

Exchanges: 4 1/2 lean meat, 1 fat


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Quick Chicken Cordon Bleu

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