Shortbread cookies

Shortbread or “pasta frolla” is a basic buttery and mildly sweet dough extremely versatile and easy to prepare: it can be used for cookies, pies, crostata…It can be topped and flavored following your taste: chocolate chips, sugar confetti, nuts, jam, chocolate spread, peanut butter are just some toppings you can choose from. Vanilla, orange, coconut, hazelnut, lemon will delicately modify the taste.

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I really like using the shortbread to bake cookies because butter + sugar + flour produce a tender/crumbly cookie that’s ridiculously easy to make and sooo good. Also, I like the cookies to be thick (1/2 inch) so that they do not dry out once baked.

My kids really love shortbread cookies, so I love playing with different cookie cutters and surprising them at breakfast with new cookie shapes.

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Here you are what you need for a big batch of cookies: 60 small cookies or 30 big ones (I baked three baking sheets full of small cookies…)

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How to proceed:

– Prepare the ingredients. Sift the flour.

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– in a food processor add the flour, a pinch of salt and the COLD butter cut in cubes. It is very important to use cold butter, not room temperature.

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– Let the food processor work for 2/3 minutes. The butter will partially mix with the flour forming a so called “wet sand” consistency. This is a very important phase to give the cookies a final lovely grainy texture.

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– transfer the buttery flour mix in a big bowl and add the orange zest, the orange extract, the vanilla extract, the egg yolks and the powdered sugar (sifted)

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– start mixing using a fork and when the yolks will be nicely mixed keep working the mix with your hands. The warmth of your hands will slowly melt the butter in the mix so that the dough will nicely come together.

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– transfer the dough on a flat surface and keep kneading it with your hands in order to obtain a uniform, elastic dough

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– wrap the dough in some parchment paper and store it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to get cold and firm

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– unwrap the dough and using a second foil of parchment paper on top roll the dough with a rolling pin and flatten it into a 1/2 inch layer

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– have fun using any cookie cutter shape that you like.

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– bake the cookies in the preheated oven at 400F/200C for 10 minutes. Enjoy!!!

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posted on February 27, 2015

When to introduce dairy in your baby’s diet

Your pediatrician more than likely will recommend that you wait till after 12 months to give cow milk to your baby. Then, you noticed, while looking for baby food ideas, that yogurt and cheeses are common ingredients starting at the 6-8 months range. And that is when you become confused: isn’t yogurt and cheese basically made with cow milk???? Do not worry, there is a good explanation for it.

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Why it is better to wait until after one year to introduce cow milk in your baby’s diet.

1) Cow milk is not even minimally as rich in nutrients as breast milk or formula milk. If your baby switches from breast/formula milk to cow milk, he/she will take in less nutrients (i.e. Vitamin E, EFAs essential fatty acids) that are required. Furthermore less nutrients might compromise his healthy development. At least for his first 12 months breast milk/formula milk should be his main source of food. A baby can properly survive and develop nicely during his first year just with breast or formula milk. It is recommended to introduce tiny quantities of solid food at around 6 months to slowly and gradually introduce him to the pleasure of eating food. Around the one year mark it will be easier to gradually switch from breast/formula milk to other forms of food.

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2) The quantity of proteins contained in cow milk is too high to be easily digested by the baby. Her digestive system is still very fragile and is not able to digest, tolerate and absorb high quantities of proteins. With time, after one year, the baby’s digestive system develops and becomes capable of handling more complex food.

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3) There is a high risk of iron deficiency. Cow milk slows down the absorption of iron by the body which causes anemia.

How yogurt and cheese differ from cow milk and why they can be offered to a baby starting from 6/8 months.

1) During the production of yogurt and cheese (culturing) the milk proteins are reduced or even eliminated. That’s why a baby’s digestive system can easily process both yogurt and cheese.

2) And the amount of lactose in yogurt and cheese is extremely low making them easy to digest.

3) A key element for the growth of bones is calcium, which yogurt and cheese provide.

4) Yogurt has an extra bonus: it contains live bacteria which are very helpful for the proper functioning of the digestive system.

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Can every kind of yogurt be offered to a baby? YES

I used to give regular yogurt to my boys: nice, thick and rich in beneficial fat. Babies under one year old need fats (not low fat) to grow and develop. Unfortunately, things change when we get older ;-)

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Can every kind of cheese be offered to a baby? NO

Not cultured cheese made from raw not pasteurized milk may contain a dangerous bacteria called “listeria” that can be very harmful to babies and pregnant women. That’s why you should only offer pasteurized cheese to your baby. Brie, feta, camembert, roquefort, blue cheese are not pasteurized and should not be given to babies.

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That being said, if there is a history of milk or lactose allergies in your family you should consult with your pediatrician regarding how and when to introduce dairy foods to your baby’s diet.

Please note that I’m a mom and not a pediatrician, so I’m sharing my knowledge, research and experience about baby nutrition and development. Should you have any other questions, I will be more than happy to reply!



posted on February 19, 2015

Gluten free polenta pizza

My mom is in town (yeah!!!!!!) and she is the polenta expert. She knows how to perfectly cook it and she also really likes it. I decided to let her prepare the polenta (she’s the best!!) and I played around the traditional recipe to prepare something fun and inviting for the kids: mini polenta pizzas!!!

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Some background information about Polenta. Polenta is a traditional Northern Italian dish, is made with yellow maize flour and it is basically a cooked cornmeal or a corn porridge. Like pasta there are tons of recipes with polenta, from the traditional polenta with beef stew, where basically the polenta acts like a side rice or bread for the stew, to more creative recipes like the one I would like to share with you today.

Polenta is naturally gluten free as it comes from corn that doesn’t contain gluten.

Also, it has a very creamy texture (something that kids really like), thanks to the gelatinization of the grain starch.

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That’s all you will need to prepare 20 mini polenta pizzas:

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That’s how to proceed:

First thing to do is to prepare the polenta. Yes, you can always buy the polenta already made at the grocery store, the one that comes in a small yellow cylindric shape (I think it’s called polenta tube…) but…it’s not the same taste as an homemade polenta and my mom will never, never let me buy the already made polenta ;-)

– Fill a medium size saucepan with 4 cups of water. I deeply suggest to use a standard iron saucepan, NOT a “non stick” one. It will be much much easier to clean. Add salt and bring it to a boil. When the water starts bubbling, slowly add the polenta flour (yellow maize flour) and mix it with a whisk in order to obtain a smooth consistency.

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– Reduce the heat to minimum, so that the polenta will just simmer and cover with a lid. Let the polenta slow cook for 40 minutes.

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– Once every five minutes stir the polenta. If the polenta will stick to the bottom of the saucepan, it’s fine. Do not worry, it happens. You will be able to perfectly clean your saucepan later.

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– The polenta will be ready when it will reach a thick creamy consistency. That’s what we need for this recipe. Transfer the polenta in a oblong glass pyrex baking dish and level the polenta with a tablespoon in order to obtain one thick layer (1 inch).

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– Let the polenta cool down and get firm for 30 minutes. If you are in a hurry you can place the dish in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. When the polenta is firm and cold you can remove it from the dish just flipping it over on a flat surface.

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– Using a round cookie cutter start cutting out small circles of polenta and place them one next to the other on a parchment paper on a baking sheet.

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– Do not throw away the polenta leftovers. They can be molded as play dough in the cookie cutters and form other circles…nothing will be wasted!!

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– Spread one teaspoon of tomato paste (a good quality one) on top of each polenta circle

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– Add one or two cubes of mozzarella. Sprinkle with some fresh or dry oregano and a tiny pinch of salt. Drizzle some extra virgin oil of olive on top of the small pizzas. Bake them in the preheated oven at 400F/200C for 15 minutes. Add 5 minutes in broil mode in order to let the mozzarella get golden.

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Enjoy warm!!!

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gluten free polenta pizza quadro

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posted on February 12, 2015

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