Free Range Nurse

Cooking therapy from a former travel nurse

This Ain’t Your Steel Magnolia’s Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa! December 25, 2009

Filed under: candy,dessert — freerangenurse @ 1:19 am

I have this recipe for toffee that I got from a friend years ago.  It has become a holiday tradition for me to make it for friends and it always gets rave reviews.  My friend Amy will eat it until she gets ulcers from it.  I take it to parties, share it with coworkers and stand back and baste myself in praise for this simple, simple recipe.  It is so simple, that my friend Jakob has renamed it Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa because that is pretty much all there is to the recipe.  I have finally decided to share the praise and let you make it for yourself and share it with those you love, or perhaps those whose love you’d like to have. (more…)


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.


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.