Free Range Nurse

Cooking therapy from a former travel nurse

Broccoli Cheese Soup November 30, 2009

Filed under: lunch,soup — freerangenurse @ 5:15 pm

Can I say that I *love* cheese?  I mean I have a deep, deep love for almost all things with the word cheese in the title.  Two exceptions I can think of in a pinch are head cheese (which I am pretty sure has nothing to do with dairy cheese) and cottage cheese.  It should come as no surprise, then, that I love broccoli cheese soup.  I recently decided to try my hand at it.  I decided if I was going to find a good, from scratch recipe, a good place to start would be because their sources are foodie magazines such as Gourmet and Bon Apetit.  The recipe I found was for cream of broccoli soup with cheddar, but I decided to use it anyway and just make a few changes.  It turned out pretty good.  Give it a try if you are like me and have a love affair with cheese.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

(adapted from Bon Appétit, February 2001)

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 2 pounds fresh (or frozen) broccoli, stems and florets separated and chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 6 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 8 ounces grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy pot over medium-high heat.  Add broccoli stems, onion; sauté until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes.  Add garlic, shallots and tarragon; sauté 1 minute.  Add stock; bring to boil.  Simmer uncovered until broccoli is tenter, about 15 minutes.  Stir in cream.

Mix remaining 3 tablespoons butter with flour in a small bowl to make paste.  Whisk paste into soup.  Add florets.  Simmer until soup thickens and florets are tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.  Add shredded cheese and stir until melted.  Ladle into soup bowl, garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, if desired and enjoy!

After thoughts:

The broccoli florets could probably be added sooner, as I found them to be a little too much like raw broccoli.  The soup was better the second and third days because the broccoli softened up by then.  In hindsight, I think frozen broccoli would have been a better texture, in my opinion.


New York Cheesecake November 24, 2009

Filed under: dessert — freerangenurse @ 11:13 pm

This time of year will forever remind me of New York.  I’ve  never been a New Yorker, really, but having spent a couple of months there last fall, I really fell in love with the city.  Walking through the ramble of Central Park, having French press coffee and eggs benedict at Pastis, sipping hot pear cider at the Union Square farmer’s market, shopping on 5th Avenue, and visiting Tiffany’s three times just to stare at the canary yellow Tiffany diamond.  Growing up, I always wanted to visit the big apple, so when the opportunity to go during my favorite time of year, I jumped on it.  Well, I sent a few emails, then I jumped on it.

The slight hesitation was due to the location of the hospital.  It was in Jenny’s old block, you know, south side Bronx.  Not having ever been to NYC, I was a little nervous.  I racked my brain to think of anyone I may know from New York.  Now keep in mind, this was before I discovered the joys of facebook (turns out I know two people who live there).  The only person I could think of was a blogger I loosely followed.  I sent off an email asking about all things New York and the Bronx.  She wrote back quickly and cc’d the message to a friend of hers who had lived in the Bronx.  Derek was quick to respond with not only informative, but also very humorous emails.  He quickly allayed all my fears and gave me subway info, restaurant tips, a history of the city and was always on stand by when I needed him.  I had every intention of sending him some Tito’s vodka and a coffee table book on Austin, but what was it I wrote earlier about intentions and follow through?  I never did send them.  I think it’s time I make good on that intention.  I really owe it to the guy!

When it came time to make a cheesecake for this Thanksgiving, what more perfect one could I make than the one named after my fall home away from home? Enjoy!

New York Cheesecake

(adapted, barely, from Gourmet, November 1999)

  • 1 crumb-crust recipe, made with finely ground graham crackers
  • 5 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Make crumb crust as directed in separate recipe.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees, F.

Beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour, and zests with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add eggs and yolks one at a time, then vanilla, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated and scraping down the bowl between additions.

Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan.  Pour filling into crust (springform pan will be completely full) and bake in a water bath in the middle of the oven 15 minutes, or until puffed (be sure to watch it closely).  Reduce temperature to 200∘F and continue baking until cake is mostly firm (center will be slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken), about 1 1/2 hours more.

Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in a springform pan on a rack.  Chill cake, loosely covered, at least 6 hours.  Remove side of pan and trasfer cake to a plate.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Crumb Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups finely ground graham crackers
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Stir together crust ingredients and press onto bottom and 1 inch up side of a buttered 9 inch springform pan.  Bake for 10 minutes at 400∘F.  Let cool on a rack, fill and bake according to cheesecake recipe.


  • Always use room temperature cream cheese for a smooth cheesecake.
  • Using a water bath to cook your cheesecake will result in zero cracks and a no fall cheesecake.
  • Be sure to wrap your springform pan in foil before placing in the water bath.  I find extra large aluminum foil is large enough to do the job.
  • Use a large  pitcher to add water to the pan while it is already in the oven.
  • Let your cheesecake cool down in the oven while the door is open to gradually cool it down and prevent a falling center.


What Have I Gotten Myself Into… November 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — freerangenurse @ 8:16 pm

Do you ever start a project and about midway through, start to think, “What have I gotten myself into?” I do this on a frequent basis. It can be small things, like this blog. I started it, but find that most days I don’t have anything to blog about, which I know is okay, because it doesn’t have to be a daily thing. I feel guilty because I don’t follow through and I can see that people are checking in, looking for a new post only to see that same old entries they saw the last time they visited. No new pictures, no new recipes, no new antics.

Then there’s the big things (which truly are not that big in the grand scheme of things) like volunteering to make several desserts for Thanksgiving. It sounded good, I had five days off of work, I’d make something every day, I’d have something to blog about.

Then I get to that place where I can’t get the things done that are necessary in order to complete the jobs I have volunteered for like cleaning out the refrigerator, grocery shopping, printing or at least book-marking recipes. I am not sure why I hit this wall. I know these things need to be done, but I can’t seem to make myself do them. The days off tick by, pretty soon they’re over and nothing has been done. I don’t like wasting my time off and I really wish it was the thought that counted, because I have a lot of great intentions, I just can’t always seem to put them into action.

I have two days to get it done, wish me energy!


I swear I didn’t fall off the planet just yet… November 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — freerangenurse @ 8:20 am

Sorry for the delay in posting recently.  I have been working nightly and lacking in sleep daily, so I’ll be amazed if I can even string these words together correctly.  I will be back with some new recipes soon.  I have a lot of goodies ready to be tackled in preparation for Thanksgiving.  Thanks to those of you who are stopping by occasionally.  I hope you are having a lovely day.


Defying Gravity November 13, 2009

Filed under: family — freerangenurse @ 10:00 am

Today I am driving to San Marcos to watch my brother and sister jump intentionally out of a plane.  While this is not that big a deal for my brother (because he’s a little nutty, like me), but my sister is really facing her fears with this one!  She is deathly afraid of heights!  She gets ashen and white-knuckled driving on the 183 fly-over!  I pity the man or woman that is going to be strapped to her back on that jump.  I am so proud of both of them because they are doing something they have both always wanted to do.  I am envious, because I would like to be up there, too.

Let’s drink to working parachutes, skilled professional tandem jumpers and safe landings on terra firma.

I’ll have another recipe or two hopefully tomorrow.  Baby (my kitchen-aid mixer) just received a brand new ice cream maker attachment, which is chilling out in the freezer as I type (hint, hint).  Suddenly cinnamon ice cream may not be so hard to find.

Here’s an update:


A tale of two cookies November 12, 2009

Filed under: cookies,dessert — freerangenurse @ 9:41 am

Cherry Vanilla ShortbreadI have had the ingredients for a few days now, imported Danish butter, almond extract, dried cherries, vanilla bean paste, but I just couldn’t get myself excited about baking them until today.  Now that I have, I wonder what took me so long!  What am I talking about, you ask?  Shortbread cookies.  Buttery, delicate, delicious shortbread cookies.  The sweet scent is filling my home and let me tell you, the candle companies ain’t got nothing on this smell!

I made some chocolate cherry almond oatmeal cookies last week for my coworkers.  That is, I made them because I wanted to create a cookie with some flavors I like, but as usual, I made entirely too much and my coworkers reaped the benefits.  I liked the cookies, but felt that the oatmeal was a bit strong and thought a butter cookie or shortbread would be a better fit.

Last night after facing my mortality with the tequila shrimp, I decided to go ahead and make the cookie dough.  Scanning the web, I came across several variations of basic shortbread dough.  Essentially, they are all very similar, but two caught my eye.  The first is from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  The only change I made was adding almond extract in place of the vanilla.  The second recipe was found on the Joy of Baking website.  I tweaked that recipe by adding chopped dried cherries and subbing vanilla bean paste for the vanilla extract.


Both tasted great.  My favorite was the cherry vanilla, Sydney loved the almond, John loved them both equally, so I guess it’s a tie.  The Joy of Baking was definitely easier to work with.

I also dipped some of both recipes in chocolate and while they were tasty, I felt it was too strong for these cookies.  I wish I had some to share, but I think if I tried to take them out of this house, my husband might divorce me.


Vanilla Cherry Shortbread

(adapted from The Joy of Baking)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (better butter = better flavor)
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I use vanilla bean paste for the visible flecks of vanilla)
  • 1/2 cup of dried cherries, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350∘F with the rack in the middle of the oven.

In a separate bowl, whisk flour and salt, set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth (about 1 minute).  Add the sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes).  Beat  in the vanilla paste.  Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.  Add chopped cherries and mix until incorporated.  Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least an hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into rounds or whatever shape you wish using a lightly floured cookie cutter.  Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.  This will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain their shape when baked.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly brown (it is important to achieve the light brown color because it makes the butter flavor more pronounced).  Cool on rack.

Shortbread will keep in an airtight container for about a week or frozen for several months.

Makes about 20 cookies.

Almond Shortbread

(adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling (I use sanding sugar for sprinkling)
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined.  Add the almond extract.  In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture.  Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.  Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut into desired shape.  Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sanding sugar.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

double boiler

If you’d like yours dipped in chocolate, melt the chocolate in a double boiler (a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl and that there is absolutely no water in the inside of the bowl).  Stir the chocolate as it melts, then place it on a plate and place each cookie in the shallow chocolate, flat side down, gently remove and place upside down on parchment paper to cool.  You can speed this up by placing dipped cookies in the refrigerator.


Tequila (nearly tequiled me) Shrimp November 11, 2009

Filed under: dinner,seafood — freerangenurse @ 10:00 am

Tequila Shrimp with Corn TamalitosMy days off of work are generally spent in two places, on the couch with the laptop on its namesake, searching recipes, facebooking, window shopping online or in the kitchen cooking up those recipes.  I love trying new recipes, tasting new flavors and I get most of my current recipes from the internet.  It all started with a recipe for Rao’s meatballs.

I will get into the Rao’s story another time, but the search for that recipe was the path that led me to posting recipes with pictures on facebook, which then led to a blog called Smitten Kitchen.  When I posted the results of the Rao’s recipe, a friend posted a comment that they looked like photos from Smitten Kitchen.  I had never heard of it before, but was intrigued.  Then, I was in love and food envy!  I began trying Deb’s recipes and posting pictures and taking samples up to work.

Eventually, people began asking for the recipes and suggesting I start my own blog.  At first I resisted because, well Smitten Kitchen already exists and I was basically just whipping up her recipes and Barefoot Contessa recipes, but then I began getting comfortable enough to change and alter those recipes as well as others I found through various websites and magazines.  After all, isn’t that what cooking is about?  Learning, adapting, changing, creating. So here I am, trying a new recipe and posting it to my blog.

This recipe is one I found on when I was looking for something to make with some large shrimp I had just bought.  As it so happened, I had just been to the liquor store as well and come home with a fresh bottle of Patron tequila (and maybe, perhaps a few other friends).  The recipe sounded easy enough and had limited ingredients and included flambe!  Sold!  I’ve always wanted to set an intentional fire in my kitchen!


Intentional nearly turned into unintentional burning down the house!  I lit the tequila and took a picture then gently stirred a couple of times as the recipe suggested to quiet down the flame, but instead the flame shot up and nearly set the silicone handle cover on fire.  Never one to panic (yeah, right) I quickly shot another picture, then grabbed a large lid to smother the fire.  One problem…large lid, not large enough.  Crap!  I went back into the cabinet, which put my hair dangerously close to the inferno and grabbed a larger lid.  Success!  I added the crema and no one was the wiser <heavy sigh of relief>.

I served the shrimp with Corn tamalitos from the California Pizza Kitchen cookbook and a little reduced red pepper soup poured over.

Fired upReally fired up

Tequila Shrimp

(Gourmet magazine, September 2007)

  • 1.5 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup white or reposado tequila (I used Patron Anejo)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream or crema
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced (I omitted this)

Toss shrimp with kosher salt and pepper.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté shrimp, turning, until pink and just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.  Reduce heat and add tequila, then increase heat to medium-high.  Tilt skillet over gas burner to ignite tequila (or do as I did and use a long skewer to transfer fire from burner to skillet).  Cook, shaking skillet gently once or twice, until flames subside.  Remove from heat and stir in crema.  Serve sprinkled with scallion (if using).  Enjoy and try not to set the kitchen or yourself on fire.


Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup November 10, 2009

Filed under: lunch,soup — freerangenurse @ 11:35 pm

So here’s the first recipe.  I just ate two bowls of it, myself.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

I grew up hating tomato soup.  I think it was because all I ever had was the canned, condensed variety.  I always thought it was odd that I didn’t like it because I have always loved tomatoes.  I used to eat tomatoes out of my grandmother’s garden as if they were apples.  I will say that there is nothing better than a fresh, off the vine, sun ripened tomato!  Delicious!

roasted peppers

Anyway, one day I was in Nordstrom and decided to have lunch there with my sister and my daughter.  My daughter ordered the grilled cheese sandwich and it came with a side of tomato basil soup.  I decided to give it a try and what do you know, I DO love tomato soup, after all.  I started looking for recipes that mimicked the soup I stole from my daughter and once I had that down, I began improvising with the recipe.  Eventually I decided to incorporate red pepper into the soup and that led me to this recipe.  It is an amalgamation of many different recipes, but largely improvised by me.  It is a little spicy, so you can certainly dial back the kick by lessening the amount of red pepper flakes you put in, or discarding the seeds of the jalapeño.  That is the great thing about cooking.  There is always room to tailor a recipe to your exact taste.

1 large sweet onion, chopped
several cloves of garlic, minced or chopped (I use 7-10)
1 small shallot, minced
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle on peppers
4-5 red bell peppers
1 jalapeño pepper
2 28oz cans San Marzano tomatoes, hand crush and remove any hard parts
1 quart chicken stock
1 tsp red pepper flakes
15-20 fresh basil leaves, cut into strips (chiffonade)
parmesan cheese (optional)

Cut red peppers in half (from stem down), remove seeds and stem. Cut jalapeño in the same way, but keep seeds intact. Place both peppers and jalapeño on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, place under the broiler and broil until skins blacken and bubble, turn and roast the undersides as well. remove from oven, cover and set aside. In a large stock pot, saute garlic and shallot in the olive oil until softened and just beginning to brown. Add chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, pepper flakes and halved jalapeño, let simmer. Peel skins off red peppers and hand tear into pieces, add to soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about an hour, add basil and simmer 15 minutes more. Puree with an immersion blender until it is at the desired consistency. Ladle into a bowl and add freshly crumbled or sliced parmesan cheese. Enjoy.


They talked me into it…

Filed under: Uncategorized — freerangenurse @ 10:49 pm

Okay, so I wasn’t going to do this whole blog thing because anyone who knows me knows I already spend far too much time on the computer facebooking.  Lately though, I have been cooking with ridiculous obsession, so I have had a few requests from friends to start a blog where I could share my recipes or inspirations for the things that are happening in my kitchen.

That brings us here.  You may be asking yourself why the name of the blog is Freerangenurse.  What does that have to do with cooking?  The answer is nothing and everything.  I am a nurse by profession, specifically a neonatal (premature baby) nurse.  I was, until recently, a traveling nurse which meant I traveled the country to work in hospitals that were temporarily understaffed.  I really, really, REALLY enjoyed the travel experience, but as my daughter started entering the tween years, I thought I’d better clip my wings and stay home for a while.

I went “native” at a local hospital and took up cooking and baking to entertain myself.  I have always enjoyed cooking, but realized I had become lazy in my approach to cooking, always making the same old recipes.  I decided to start trying new recipes and new inspirations and I have discovered a new pair of wings in the process.

I hope you’ll enjoy it, but if you don’t, there are a lot of other blogs out there, so I’ll wish you luck in finding one you do.