DINNER TONIGHT

New Chicken Le Cordon Bleu

(4 servings)

Sometimes a little innovation is all it takes to reinvent an old favorite. For example, fresh herbs are a simple way to personalize a recipe while lightening the calorie load.

This recipe was devised by Seattle chef Jerry Traunfeld; we found it in "The Best American Recipes 1999" by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin (Houghton Mifflin, $26).

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds total), pounded 1/4 inch thick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 thin slices smoky dry-cured ham (such as Black Forest or Westphalian) or prosciutto

4 thin slices Gruyere cheese

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 cup chopped fresh sage

2 tablespoons olive oil

Season the top of each chicken breast half with salt and pepper to taste. Turn the chicken over and top each half with 1 slice of ham and 1 slice of cheese, folding any ham and cheese that drapes over the edge of the chicken toward the middle. Fold each chicken breast half in half vertically to completely enclose the filling. Set aside.

In a wide shallow bowl or pie plate, stir together the parsley, rosemary and sage. Place 1 chicken breast in the herb mixture and press to make the herbs adhere. Turn and coat the other side with the herb mixture. Transfer the chicken to a plate; repeat with the remaining chicken. (Chicken may be covered tightly and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Season the herbed chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Carefully transfer the chicken to the skillet, reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook until the other side is brown and the chicken is cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 381 calories, 47 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 20 gm fat, 122 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 791 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Looking for the perfect long-handled brush to clean delicate and deep Champagne flutes? Here's one with a soft cotton tip that will not scratch crystal. It sells for $2 at Home Rule, a hip, new shop in Shaw for well-designed, useful housewares. We also spotted this quirky, Italian-made sugar bowl by Zelco ($18 each, in five colors) that would brighten any breakfast nook. The fun, as well as functional, kitchen funnel ($4.50 each, in four colors) is made in Germany by Kozial. Both companies are well-known in Europe for colorful and distinctive plastic accessories. Home Rule, 1807 14th St. NW; call 202-797-5544.

Sesame Oil for Your Condiment Collection

Behold, the power of the sesame! Long rumored to possess magical powers, sesame seeds were buried with Egyptian royalty in ancient times. Fast forward a few thousand years: today, sesame products are said to possess antioxidant powers.

Somewhat confounding, though, is the fact that two types of sesame oil are available: roasted and unroasted.

Although both oils possess a slightly sweet, nutty flavor and aroma, they are far from interchangeable. Roasted sesame oil is made from toasted or roasted sesame seeds. As such, it possesses a very concentrated, intense flavor, a dark brown appearance and a very fragrant aroma. It should be reserved as an accent flavoring for Asian dishes.

It doesn't take much roasted sesame oil to do the trick. Stir in up to half a teaspoon of the smoky-flavored oil into marinades, salad dressings or dipping sauces. Or sprinkle a few drops into a simple soup of beef or vegetable broth to which you've added a handful of vegetables and leftover turkey or shrimp.

Stir-frying with roasted sesame oil is a no-no. Not only is it too intensely flavored for frying, it also has a very low smoke point (read: it burns very easily). If you wish to infuse a stir-fry with sesame flavor, mix six parts canola or peanut oil to four parts roasted sesame oil, stir and fry to your heart's content.

Or try unroasted sesame oil. It is produced in a fashion similar to that of extra-virgin olive oil: "top-grade" unroasted sesame seeds are cold-pressed and the first run-off is collected. The result is a slightly nutty, somewhat sweet oil that is lighter in color and flavor than roasted sesame oil. It can be substituted for virtually any cooking oil.

Store sesame oil in a cool, dark, dry place for up to several months. A wide variety of sesame oils are available at supermarkets, Asian markets and health-food stores.

Add this Web site to your bookmarks:

www.gingerbreadlane.com

There are lots of Web sites that promise gingerbread-housemaking tips, but we were charmed by the simple, step-by-step instructions offered by Ginger Lane Kitchens. The site offers photos as well as straightforward, easy-to-follow directions, from a list of useful candy decorations to the recipe (gingerbread men cookie dough is too soft for a house) to the all-important basic house blueprint, complete with sizing estimates.

Coffeecakes Just Like Grandma Use to Make

Does your grandma live in Boston? Well, neither does ours. But someone's does and she makes a mean coffeecake. Although the ingredients list seems a little long on preservatives and other stuff that grandma wouldn't have in her kitchen, My Grandma's of New England can ship you a fine coffeecake in Cinnamon-Walnut, Granny Smith Apple, Cappuccino, Golden Raspberry, Banana-Walnut, New England Blueberry or Cape Cod Cranberry, as well as an assortment of lower-fat versions. Prices, with shipping, range from $19.95 for the small Cinnamon-Walnut to $36.95 for a large Cape Cod Cranberry in the lower-fat version. The company is also staging the "Grandmother of All Contests." All you have to do is guess the month and year in which My Grandma's will make its 1 millionth cake. But there's no time frame so this is probably not for those who demand instant gratification--the bakery is not giving out any hints except that it has been making the cakes for about seven years. First prize? A coffeecake every month for 10 years.

Order by phone at 1-800-847-2636 or easy-to-use Web site, www.mygrandma.com

Here's a different take on the traditional Buche de Noel--the French pastry yule log. Leonidas, the Belgian chocolatier noted for delicious fillings made with fresh cream, calls it simply Chocolate Log ($33 for 1.2 pounds). Under the silk ribbons there's a log-shaped box made of intense dark chocolate. Inside are 18 assorted filled chocolates, each distinct, none cloying. Choose a standard assortment or select your own. Two flavors not to be overlooked are Manon Blanc (butter coffee cream) and Ganache (dark chocolate mousse). Order in advance and specify a pick-up date; chocolates made with fresh cream have a 10-day shelf life. Available at Les Delices d'Isabelle, 1531 Wisconsin Ave. NW; call 202-944-1898.

To Do

FRIDAY: Austrian wine and food tasting at the Austrian Embassy. Benefits the Good Knight Empowerment Network. $39 in advance; $45 at the door. 7-10 p.m. 3524 International Ct. NW. Call 301-595-8989.

FRIDAY: A Hungarian Experience--wine lecture and tasting at the Hungarian Embassy. Sponsored by the Wine Tasting Association. $55 for nonmembers. 6:30 p.m. 3910 Shoemaker St. NW. Call 703-799-1221 or www.winetasting.org.

SATURDAY: Tasting of more than 15 ports at Arrowine. Free. 1-4 p.m. 4508 Lee Hwy., Arlington. Call 703-525-0990.

SATURDAY-SUNDAY: Children's gingerbread house decorating workshop at Bloomingdale's White Flint. Benefits the Greentree Shelter of Bethesda. $3 per house. Noon-5 p.m. 11305 Rockville Pike, White Flint. Call 301-984-4561.

RESERVE NOW:

DEC. 15: Italian wine dinner at San Marco. $36.50 excludes tax and tip. 7:30 p.m. 2305 18th St. NW. Call 202-483-9300.

DEC. 15: Delicious Dessert Wines--tasting sponsored by the Tasting Society International at the Radisson Barcelo Hotel. $50. 7-9 p.m. 2121 P St. NW. Call 202-333-5588 or www.tastedc.com.

DEC. 15: Wild game wine dinner at Barolo Ristorante. $75 excludes tax and tip. 7:30 p.m. 223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Call 202-547-5011.