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Home-Cooked Meals, ASAP

Many of us love a good, home-cooked meal, but rarely do we have time to prepare it ourselves. The editors at Food and Wine magazine compiled their favorite, quick 30-minute recipes in a new cookbook, titled "Fast" and published by American Express Publishing.

The magazine's Special Projects Editor Kevin Patricio proves that these are easy, and presents a three-course meal for four, using a $30 budget for the Saturday Early Show Chef on a Shoestring challenge.

The following is his menu; just click on the red links to get the recipes:

Pan-Fried Soft-Shell Crabs With Wilted Arugula
Chicken And Bulgur Salad With Avocado
Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies

The soft-shell crabs are the appetizers. The beauty of soft-shells is that because they have no hard shell, the entire crab -- legs, claws, shells -- can be consumed. The problem for soft-shell crab lovers is that the season ends in September. In the United States, the blue crab (found along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts) is the species most commonly eaten in its soft-shell state.

Bulgar Wheat is best known as the main ingredient in tabbouleh salad, but it is also used in pilard, soup, baked goods, stuffing, and casseroles. Bulgar Wheat are wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried and crushed. It has a tender, chewy texture, and is light brown in color. If bulgur wheat is not available and you do not want to make your own, cracked wheat can be used in most recipes.

Fennel is being used in the chicken salad. Fennel is an aromatic plant from the carrot family. Florence fennel, also called "finocchio," is eaten raw and in salads. Common fennel is the plant that produces fennel seeds.

The following are some of the "Food and Wine" recipes:

Pan-Fried Soft-Shell Crabs With Wilted Arugula
Serves 4
Total: 25 Min
Recipe adapted by Kevin Patricio

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 medium soft-shell crabs, cleaned
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bunch arugula, washed and trimmed
2 slices Serrano ham or prosciutto, cut crosswise into halves
4 Lemon wedges, for serving

Season the crabs with salt and pepper; dredge the crabs in the flour, tapping off any excess. In a large skillet, heat the canola oil until oil begins to shimmer. Add the crabs to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until golden, about 3 minutes per side. When the crabs are about finished, add one tablespoon of butter and baste the crabs with oil and butter mixture to coat. Remove from heat.

In a separate skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the arugula and season with salt. Remove from the heat quickly and toss to wilt the arugula. Place one slice of ham on each salad plate. Then cut the crabs in half. Place half a crab on each plate on top of the ham. Then mound some arugula on the side. Serve with lemon wedges and garnish with remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

For cleaning soft-shell crabs:
To clean crabs, remove spongy substance (gills) that lies under the tapering points on either side of back shell. Place crab on back and remove the small pieces at lower part of shell that terminates in a point. With scissors, cut off the mouth, eyes and feelers. Wash the crab thoroughly, even under the spikes, drain well.

Chicken, Bulgur, Fennel, Cherry Tomato Salad with Avocado
Serves 4
Recipe by Marcia Kiesel

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
Two 6-ounce boneless chicken breasts, with skin
1/2-cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup shredded basil leaves
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
2 large scallions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Hass avocados, pit removed and slice lengthwise in 1/6-inch slices
1 medium fennel bulb (3/4 pound), cored and thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. In a heatproof bowl, cover the bulgur with boiling water. Cover the bowl with a plate and let stand until the water has been absorbed and the bulgur is tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, coat the chicken breasts with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes, until golden; let cool. Discard the skin. Slice the chicken on a bias 1/4 inch thick.

In a small bowl, whisk the orange juice with the basil, lemon juice, scallions and the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil; season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

Toss the bulgur, fennel and tomatoes with the vinaigrette; season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, toss the bulgur, chicken, avocado, fennel, and tomatoes with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper. Mound the salad onto plates and serve.

Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
Total: 45 minutes
Recipe by Grace Parisi

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose-flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position racks in the middle and lower thirds of the oven. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. At low speed, beat in the dry ingredients until thoroughly incorporated. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and toasted nuts until they are evenly distributed.

Arrange tablespoons of cookie dough at least 1 ½ inches apart on 2 large baking sheets and bake for about 11 minutes for soft and chewy cookies, about 13 minutes for chewy cookies or about 16 minutes for crisp cookies. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes before transferring them to wire racks.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for up to 2 days.

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