Every cook has to begin somewhere: whether it's in early childhood with a toy oven cooking tiny cupcakes with the heat of a light bulb; when you first leave home and begin to fend for yourself in the real world; or, as a newlywed learning your way around the kitchen.
I never set foot in the kitchen until after I was married, although my friend Anne claims I used to make hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches when we were kids. Quite honestly, the only thing I remember cooking was marshmallows over a campfire!
Since I really can relate to the novice cook, just know that I feel your pain and I'm here to help. This one's for you. This dish is so simple that I promise anybody can make it.
The recipe is for chicken breasts baked in a sauce of brown gravy and apricot preserves with a dash of cloves. That's it, nothing fancy but it looks impressive and tastes great.
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A good friend of ours, Jerrie Frye, gave me this recipe at least 20 years ago. She has entertained her husband's customers quite a few times over the years and has gotten the hang of pulling off a business dinner with sometimes short notice. The key to her success is simplicity.
According to Jerrie, she created this recipe after having attended a dinner party where the hostess served Cornish game hens with a delicious gravy and wild rice with water chestnuts. Jerrie got the recipe and revised it by substituting chicken breasts for the game hens, a box of Uncle Ben's wild rice for the real thing, and toasted pecans for the water chestnuts.
I think the result is pure genius.
The secret to this recipe is the gravy. That's what lifts it from ordinary to the "gourmet" category.
If you'd like to throw your first dinner party, follow Jerrie's lead and keep it simple. Serve this dish with rice and a salad, and end the meal with ice cream, fresh fruit dusted with powdered sugar, or a store-bought cake. If you choose the cake, just be sure to put it on a pretty serving dish and for heaven's sake hide the box!
Jerrie's 'Gourmet' Chicken Breasts in Gravy
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 package brown gravy mix (1 oz.)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apricot preserves*
Dash of ground cloves
Combine brown gravy mix with water and stir until smooth. Add apricot preserves. Heat and stir over medium heat until gravy comes to a mild boil. Pour over chicken breasts in a baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 15 minutes. Serve with gravy spooned over chicken. Serves two.
*I've substituted orange marmalade for the apricot preserves and like the flavor better. I've also substituted hot pepper jelly which adds a little extra "zip" to the gravy.