Food That Doesn't Take Forever

Think you don't have time to cook dinner? Think again. Newspaper columnist and cookbook author Tara Duggan has a new book, "The Working Cook: Fast and Fresh Meals for Busy People." It's full of recipes that can be on the table, start to finish, in 40 minutes or less. She pulled recipes from the book for her stint as The Saturday Early Show's Chef on a Shoestring, preparing a three-course meal for four, on a budget of $40.

Duggan is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, where she has written a bi-weekly column, "The Working Cook," since 1999. The column has become quite popular because it offers readers quick, delicious recipes based on easy-to-find, fresh ingredients.

A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Duggan won a James Beard award for her work in 2002. She has two young daughters, so she understands the effort it takes to get a healthy, homemade meal on the dinner table.

Tara Duggan's Menu:

Microwave Baba Ghanoush
Broiled Swordfish with Saffron Orzo
Espresso-Chocolate Pudding.

FOOD FACTS


Baba Ghanoush (bah-bah gah-NOOSH): A Middle Eastern puree of eggplant, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Duggan suggests adding yogurt if you want a creamier dip.

Tahini (tah-HEE-nee): A thick paste made of ground sesame seeds. It's also used in hummus. It typically comes in a can and can be found in the dry-goods section of a grocery store.

Swordfish: This mild-flavored fish is firm, dense and meat-like. It's typically available from late spring to early fall. Tuna steaks could be a good substitute.

Charmoula: A traditional Middle Eastern condiment made from parsley, lemon juice, cayenne, cumin and olive oil. Drizzling this over the fish and orzo brings a nice zing to the dish.

RECIPES

MICROWAVE BABA GHANOUSH

15 minutes, serves 6

Usually, making the creamy Mediterranean dip baba ghanoush requires roasting an eggplant for about 30 to 40 minutes, but in this version, the eggplant cooks in about 10 minutes in the microwave. Serve with toasted pita wedges.

Ingredients:
1 large globe eggplant, (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt to taste
1/4 cup whole-milk plain yogurt, if needed

Method:
  1. Pierce the eggplant with a small knife in a few places. Place on a microwave-safe plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave at high power for 4 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and microwave for 4 minutes more. If the eggplant is not yet very soft all over, cook for another minute or two per side.
  2. Puree the garlic in a food processor.
  3. Scrape out the softened flesh of the eggplant with a spoon. If you see any large pockets of seeds, remove them, as they can be bitter. Add the eggplant to the food processor, along with the tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Puree until completely combined. Season with salt, and pulse a few more times.
  4. If you like a creamier baba ghanoush, add the yogurt. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with olive oil before serving at room temperature.
BROILED SWORDFISH WITH SAFFRON ORZO & CHARMOULA
35 minutes, serves 4

In this delicious dish, meaty swordfish sits atop a bed of buttery saffron orzo. But what really gives this meal zing is a drizzle of charmoula, a traditional Middle Eastern condiment. Cumin and a dash of cayenne in the sauce provide smoky heat, while lemon juice and parsley make the flaky fish taste fresh and light. Firmer fish like Pacific swordfish and tuna are best in this recipe, but mahi mahi, sea bass, or halibut fillets are good, too. Reduce the broiling time if you are using thinner fillets.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
8 ounces orzo or semi di melone (melon seeds) pasta
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Pinch of saffron
4 skinless swordfish or tuna fillets, 6 ounces each and 1 inch thick
Freshly ground pepper to taste
CHARMOULA
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Method:
  1. Preheat the broiler, placing the rack about 4 inches from the heating element. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush lightly with olive oil.
  2. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté about 2 minutes. Add the orzo and stir to coat with butter. Add the broth and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then stir in the saffron. Cover and simmer until the orzo is al dente, about 10 minutes.
  3. While the orzo simmers, season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Arrange the fillets on the baking sheet and broil 4 minutes, then turn and broil until flaky, about 2 to 4 minutes more.
  4. While the fish is cooking, make the charmoula: combine the parsley, lemon juice, cayenne, and cumin in a serving bowl. Stir in the olive oil and season with salt.
  5. Place the fish on serving plates on a bed of saffron orzo, drizzle with the charmoula, and serve.
ESPRESSO-CHOCOLATE PUDDING
2 hours 20 minutes (20 minutes active time), serves 4 to 6

A little espresso, cream and some high-quality chocolate, added to a boxed pudding mix, transform it into a custard with an incredibly smooth texture and the intensity of a chocolate-coated espresso bean. It makes six 1/2-cup servings or four heartier servings. If you don't have an espresso maker, get a few shots "to go" from a coffee shop.

Ingredients:
5-ounce box cook-and-serve chocolate pudding mix (not instant)
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup strong espresso
1/4 cup finely chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for garnish
Chopped candied nuts, for garnish

Method
  1. Place 4 to 6 martini or wine glasses next to the stove.
  2. Combine the pudding mix, milk, cream, espresso and chocolate in a small saucepan. Whisk frequently over medium-low heat until it thickens and just comes to a simmer.
  3. Immediately remove from the heat and use a ladle or measuring cup to pour into the glasses (the pudding thickens quickly as it cools).
  4. Cover glasses with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours or overnight.
  5. To serve, garnish with swirls of whipped cream and the nuts.