DINNER IN 30 MINUTES

Chicken and Asparagus Stir-Fry

(4 servings)

Perhaps the most common misconception about stir-frying? That it can always accommodate whatever stray vegetables can be found in the fridge. Sometimes such an approach works. Sometimes it results in a jumble of competing textures, colors and flavors. Our preferred approach is to single out a seasonal vegetable -- such as asparagus -- and let its flavor shout.

Set some rice to cook before starting the stir-fry. Adapted from "Martin Yan's Invitation to Chinese Cooking" (Bay Books, 1999).

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

About 16 ounces boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

About 12 ounces asparagus

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup chicken stock or broth

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

About 2/3 cup roasted cashews

In a shallow bowl, combine the oyster sauce and pepper.

Pat the chicken dry and cut it into bite-size pieces. Add the chicken to the oyster sauce mixture and toss to coat. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the ends of the asparagus and cut the stalks and tips into 1-inch pieces.

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water until no lumps remain.

Place a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, swirling to coat the sides. Add the garlic and the chicken mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and stock and cook, stirring frequently, until the asparagus is almost tender but still slightly crisp, about 3 minutes. Add the rice wine and cook for 1 minute. Stir the cornstarch mixture to recombine, add it to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, just until the sauce boils and thickens. Add the cashews and toss to coat. Remove from the heat. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 308 calories, 25 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, 18 gm fat, 43 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 156 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

-- Renee Schettler

Think Spring, Part 1

Want something a bit special for an Easter basket or just to celebrate spring? These colorful cookies from pastry chef Raeanne Hytone are sugary works of art -- slightly pricey, yet oh so easy to eat. Three baby chicks wrapped together are $9.75; a package of two daisies and one bee is $13.75. Other cookies, including butterflies, ladybugs and dragonflies, are also available, as is white chocolate "bark" with jelly beans. The Proper Topper (two locations): 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW (call 202-842-3055) or 3213 P St. NW (call 202-333-6200). Open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m.

Think Spring, Part 2

A cute as well as highly decorative baby chick theme can be introduced to the Easter breakfast table with silver-plated egg cups (left, $10.95 for a set of two). Available at Sur La Table stores: 5211 Wisconsin Ave. NW (call 202-237-0375), Pentagon Row, 1101 S. Joyce St., Arlington (call 703-414-3580) and Tysons Galleria, 1720 M International Drive, McLean (call 703-749-2235). By mail: call 800-243-0852. Web site: www.surlatable.com.

Today's Tip

Many recipes require a small amount of slurry -- a paste made from cornstarch and water -- to thicken a sauce. If you don't have cornstarch, you may substitute an equal amount of flour.

To Do

THURSDAY: From Paganini to the Andes -- South American wine dinner with music by Jorge Saade-Scaff and Julio Almeida at Agua Ardiente restaurant. $50 excludes tax and tip. 7 p.m. 1250 24th St. NW. Call 202-833-8500.

MONDAY: Italian-Japanese Spring Fest -- wine dinner featuring chef Cesare Lanfranconi from Ristorante Tosca and chef Kaz Okochi from Kaz Sushi Bistro. $110 includes tax and tip. 6:30 p.m. Ristorante Tosca, 1112 F St. NW. Call 202-367-1990.

TUESDAY: Wine dinner and book discussion with "The Essential Mediterranean: A Culinary Exploration" author Nancy Harmon Jenkins at the National Press Club. $70 includes tax and tip. 6:30 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. Call 202-662-7638.

TUESDAY: Clicquot wine dinner at Vivo! restaurant. $75 includes tax and tip. 7 p.m. 1509 17th St. NW. Call 703-759-0487.

TUESDAY: Vineyard Brands wine dinner at Marcel's restaurant. $145 includes tax and tip. 7:30 p.m. 2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Call 202-296-1166.

RESERVE NOW:

APRIL 23: A Robert Burns Supper: A Gastro-Literary Affair -- dinner and discussion sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates. $190 for nonmembers. 6:30 p.m. Commons Dining Room, Smithsonian "Castle" Building, 1000 Jefferson Dr. SW. Call 202-357-3030 or see www.ResidentAssociates.org.

APRIL 23-24: Zinfandel wine tasting featuring wines from 70 wineries. April 23: $40 for nonmembers, 6-8 p.m., Marriott Metro Hotel, 775 12th St. NW; call 530-274-4900 or see www.zinfandel.org; April 24: $125, 6:30-9:30 p.m., National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW; call 202-357-4000 or see www.smithsoniancraftshow.org.

APRIL 24-25: Mediterranean Springtime Favorites -- cooking classes with Joanne Weir at Sur La Table. Thursday: cooking demonstration, $65, 6:30 p.m.; Friday: hands-on class, $115, 11 a.m. 1101 S. Joyce St., Arlington. Call 866-328-5412.

APRIL 24: Cape Cod seafood cooking class at Kitchen Etc. featuring Chef John from WTOP Radio. $35. 7-9 p.m. 11840 Rockville Pike, Rockville. Call 301-468-1770.

APRIL 27: Carpenter's Cook-Off -- food tasting featuring local Alexandria chefs. Benefits Carpenter's Shelter. $35 per person; $100 per family. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. Call 703-548-7500.

APRIL 28: Chateau Potelle wine dinner at Melrose restaurant. $85 includes tax and tip. 7 p.m. 1201 24th St. NW. Call 202-419-6755.

Whoops.

Seems we can't tell a bear from a marsupial. Last week's section mistakenly referred to the newest addition to Barnum's Animal Crackers as a koala bear instead of a koala.