Quick Trick Wonders

Perhaps my favorite topic in all of cooking is the eponymous quick trick wonders. What do I mean? Major cooking shortcuts! Cheats. Deceptions. Bending the rules. Unless you're like me and your rules are to do what's easiest and tastiest. Then these wonders fit right in.

One of my favorite quick tricks is polenta. It takes hours to make soft, creamy, smooth polenta from scratch. And that hard polenta from the store is convenient but is just not as good as when it's soft. So here's the trick: corn is corn. The hard polenta is the same darn stuff as the soft polenta. So just reverse it! Turning those polenta logs into great soft polenta couldn't be easier. Literally all you have to do is grate the log like a huge piece of cheese, except it grates really easily. Then put the gratings in a saucepan over low heat and moisten it with either water, stock, milk or cream – really only a quarter cup is needed. Then slowly cook it at that low heat until it's soft and beautiful, and add flavors along the way. You have to remember salt, but taste it as you salt it. I like using water at first and then thickening with a little light, whipped cream cheese later, maybe a quarter cup of each. I also like adding a little Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce to give it a little tang, and the mustard, help as a thickener. Stir it every so often so it doesn't stick and when it tastes cooked and is smooth (maybe 10-15 minutes tops) it's done. Then add a little pat of butter or Smart Balance and let it melt in, to really top off that smoothness and creaminess. Beautiful, divine, soft polenta in 15 minutes!

I made this recently with another quick trick: wonton wrappers as ravioli-like noodles. They taste like fresh pasta and only take 45 seconds to cook in lightly salted and oiled boiling water (so those delicate wrappers don't stick together). I made an open-faced ravioli with these wontons, a nice scoop of my soft polenta, and a beautifully-flavored medley of sliced Brussels sprouts, shallots and leeks.

A gourmet looking and tasting dish in less than a half hour due to my quick tricks. I have many more that I have already and will continue to share, and in case you have any you'd like to share, I am always looking to add to my quick-tricktionary.

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