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What do you do if you're a chef who spends all day making signature desserts, but at 6 o'clock you walk in the door and have to feed your 9-year-old son before basketball practice at 6:30?

In this case, cake won't cut it for Karen Barker, pastry chef and co-proprietor with her husband, Ben Barker, of the award-winning Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C.

"Ben is usually working during dinner, so it's up to me to make dinner at home," says Mrs. Barker, who met her husband while earning a degree at the Culinary Institute of America. "It helps me to have a well-stocked pantry so I can pull together something quickly that a 9-year-old will want to eat."

Mrs. Barker and her son prefer weekday feasts of quick pastas, hearty sandwiches, entree salads and, from time to time, even traditional breakfast foods.

The Barkers' restaurant specializes in New American cuisine, and their menu is known for centering on regional Southern ingredients that are used in new ways or combined with cooking techniques from other parts of the country.

It's not surprising, then, to find that eastern North Carolina-style barbecue sauce is one of Mrs. Barker's pantry staples. It's the secret ingredient in her ingenious recipe for a Tex-Mex-meets-North-Carolina burrito.

"I like using Thomas BarBQ brand sauce for this, because it's a good blend of tangy and sweet and not too heavy," she says. However, any favorite bottled barbecue sauce -- or even a good, standard salsa -- can be substituted, she says.

To save more time, Mrs. Barker suggests purchasing already-shredded cheese and using leftover grilled or roast chicken.

We applied a few additional Desperation techniques in today's adaptation of Barker's original recipe. It's quick, kid-friendly and -- true to form for a pastry chef -- slightly sweet.


"Barbecued" Chicken and Black Bean Burritos

Mixed salad or sauteed zucchini circles

Lemon sorbet


3 skinless, boneless chicken-breast halves (about 1 pound total), fresh or frozen

1 small onion (for 1/2 cup chopped)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic

1 can (15 ounces) black beans

1/3 cup barbecue sauce

1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese, or more to taste

4 large (10-inch) fat-free flour tortillas
If the chicken is frozen, place it on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for 3 minutes, uncovered, to begin defrosting. Meanwhile, peel and dice the onion, and set it aside.

Begin heating the oil in a 12-inch, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks, adding each chicken breast half to the pan as you cut it. Raise the heat to medium-high. When all of the chicken is added, cook for 2 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the onion and garlic and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 5 more minutes for frozen chicken. (If you like spicy food, add a minced jalapeno pepper with the onion and garlic).

Meanwhile, rinse and drain the black beans. Measure out the barbecue sauce and cheese. Set aside. When the chicken is cooked through, add the beans and barbecue sauce to the skillet, reduce the heat to medium and stir well to coat the chicken with sauce. (For a vegetable presence, add 1 1/2 cups frozen bell-pepper strips along with the beans.) Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the skillet and continue to cook without stirring until the cheese melts, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the tortillas in the microwave according to the package directions. To serve, spoon equal amounts of the chicken mixture in the center of each tortilla, dollop with sour cream (if desired), and roll up burrito-style. Feel free to garnish with reduced-fat sour cream, if desired. Serves 4.

Approximate values per serving: 424 calories (31 percent from fat), 15 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 111 milligrams cholesterol, 42 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary fiber, 643 milligrams sodium.

Send us desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; or e-mail:

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