Jalapeño Popper Stuffed Chicken BreastsWith the exception of East Williamsburg, just about every apartment I rented in New York City had at least one bodega on the corner. In fact most blocks had several bodegas, a couple of Korean fruit & vegetable markets and possibly a Whole Foods/Trader Joes.

Now that we live in the Hudson Valley that’s just not the case any more (though now we own a house and have a garden and a dog and a bunch of chickens*, so okay, fair trade). But the truth is that, even three years later, I’m still adjusting to the idea that I can’t yell out my window and have someone throw a jalapeño at me.

*I didn’t include cats in this list because I always had cats in the city.

So the other day, I’m walking around the grocery store and find that organic, thin-sliced chicken cutlets are on sale. “Awesome!” I say to myself, because I am literally that much of a dork.

Now if you follow this blog at all, you might have noticed that I almost always use thighs for baking and roasting because I think they have much more flavor. But the one thing you can’t do (easily) with chicken thighs? Stuff them.

So now I’m imagining some kind of crispy, panko-crusted chicken stuffed with some sort of cheesy, creamy, spicy deliciousness. Sounds good right? I thought so too, until I got home and realized that I had completely forgotten to get jalapeños which, surprisingly enough, happen to be a rather important ingredient in jalapeño-popper stuffed chicken.

I hemmed and hawed about it for about four seconds before I decided that, yup, nothing else would do. Back to the store for three dollars worth of chiles.

I don’t regret a thing.

Jalapeño Popper Stuffed Chicken Breasts

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Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese FrostingYesterday, like two slightly terrified mole-rats unused to sunlight and open space, Matt and I ventured out onto our deck and… stood there.

“That’s, um,  great,” says a normal person, “but are you sure it’s a story worth typing up and putting on the internet?”

Yes. Yes it is.

We turned our faces towards the warm sun, each with a steaming cup of coffee clasped in our pale, trembling hands. Our huge pink eyes had grown unused to the light and we blinked, almost afraid to believe it, half convinced that the heat was a practical joke and nature was going to dump a foot of snow on us the moment we let our guard down. So we waited, nervous and twitchy, but nothing happened.

“I think it’s going to be okay,” Matt said quietly. I looked out at the brown, battered garden and noticed tiny little green shoots poking up out of the dirt. The first stems of garlic. Yes, I thought, it will be.

Yup, this winter is Ramsay Bolton and we, my friends, we are Reek. (For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about and who clicked on that first link and think I’ve gone insane, I apologize and assure you that I have not. It’s just that Game of Thrones has started again and I’m a little… distracted). Full disclosure; I spent an entire hour looking for the perfect Ramsay Bolton gif, and boy did it pay off. Click it. Go on. Do it.

Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

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Maple-Mustard Baked Chicken ThighsSome things are just difficult to explain.

For example, how can one man be so attractive yet so clearly resemble an otter? (Yes, I am referring to Benedict Cumberbatch. Click the second link if you want to laugh for 45 minutes).

Also, how can I be so excited about Outlander, when GAME OF THRONES is back on Sunday! (Hey, I can see you making a face but the blog is called NERDS with Knives so it’s not like you were misled.)

And finally, how can the easiest dish to cook also be the most delicious thing ever? This sounds like hyperbole, which granted, I am guilty of a million times per day but I’m not yanking your chain here. This seriously might be the best weeknight dinner we’ve ever made.

Maple-Mustard Baked Chicken Thighs

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Crostini with Cambozola Cheese and Roasted GrapesIt’s taken me a while, but I’ve discovered something about myself. I have tunnel vision. I get an idea in my head and I become obsessed with it (for example; that fun little blog that we were supposed to update every once in a while only when something interesting happened). Sometimes it’s a television show, sometimes a book, or a place.

When we’re going to throw a dinner party, it’s usually one particular dish that hooks me. In one sense it’s great because I love researching recipes and techniques, figuring out flavor combinations and the best ways to prepare a specific thing. The problem is that I can get so obsessed with that one thing, that everything else falls by the wayside and becomes an afterthought (or on more than one occasion, a never-thought). Oh, you wanted something other than just a huge slab of ribs at the party? 

This is especially true for me when it comes to appetizers (or ‘starters’, as Matt calls them in an oh-so-adorably-English way). I usually forget all about them and then, once hungry people are already in my house, I rummage to see if there are any non-moldy cheeses in the fridge I can pull out.

So recently, being a much better host than I, Matt politely suggested that we think about and actually prepare a “first course” for the dinner we were planning with our wonderful friends, Larry and Catherine. I know, he’s so weird. 

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Lemongrass CollinsThis unbelievably delicious Lemongrass Collins recipe comes from Barnum Cafe in Rome. Have Matt and I ever been to this darling-looking place? Um…no. But we know people.

Important people.

Our dear friends, Rickey and Barbara, went to Italy and, being the most fun people that ever lived, managed to convince the bartender from Barnum Cafe to give them the recipe. I then harassed them into it giving me. And I am now giving it to you, the internet.

Quick aside; Matt and I recently spent the weekend with them, drinking these cocktails and watching a marathon of the first season of The Knick. For me, one of life’s greatest pleasures is spending time with people who make me laugh, cooking great food, drinking delicious drinks, and watching Clive Owen do creepy things to Bono’s daughter.

Lemongrass Collins

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Lemongrass and Lemon-Peel Infused Vodka

Did you know that if you put tasty things into vodka (or gin) and let it steep for a while in a cool, dark place you wind up with vodka (or gin) that tastes like whatever delicious thing you put in it?

I can’t believe I’ve never done this before and, to be honest, I’m a little mad that you guys didn’t tell me about this sooner. Has everyone been drinking delicious infused cocktails for years and hiding it from me? I’m shocked and appalled and I demand you send me your favorite infusion combinations this instant so I can make them, photograph them and put them all over the internet.

Anyway, this one was inspired by our dear friend’s son who just twenty minutes ago was an adorable little baby and is now about to graduate from college. This handsome former-baby (Hi Jesse, don’t kill me!) is clearly an entrepreneur because he makes delicious lemongrass-infused vodka in his dorm room closet. 

[Leans on walker and adjusts ear-trumpet] Ha, kids these days! When I was in college, we thought it was très classy to remove the paper bag from the bottle of Jaegermeister before chugging it. So fancy!

Lemongrass and Lemon-Peel Infused Vodka

Peel the lemongrass until you reach the pale green, almost-white layers.

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Farro Salad with Butternut Squash, Pistachios and ParmesanYay, it’s officially Spring! Also boo, it’s officially snowing.

Here in the Hudson Valley we had one fleeting afternoon of warmth but then, like a high school bully who tells you your sneakers are cool so you’ll look down and then flicks you on the forehead, we got sucker punched.  Even the chickens were like, “Seriously? We are so over this,” when I went to the coop this morning.

Every year I forget that Spring vegetables like ramps and asparagus don’t start to show up at the Farmer’s Market until mid-April at the earliest so right now, it’s mostly the same selection you find in Fall. Which is not a terrible thing when you can get great stuff like butternut squash, apple cider and baby kale.

Farro Salad with Butternut Squash, Pistachios and Parmesan

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Skillet Chicken with Wine, Shallots and Mustard

You know how sometimes when you watch a cooking show (don’t judge me, I find them very relaxing), the host will say something like “this ____ is so simple and quick, it’s easier than ordering a pizza!” and then they proceed to use 6 different pots and pans (on their massive 8 burner stove)? Well, bollocks to that. The only thing easier than ordering a pizza is having someone else order it for you.

And even more to the point, there is nothing easy about a dinner if I have to utilize every pot I own to make it.

That’s why I’m always looking to expand my repertoire of recipes that can be made in a single pot or pan. This one was inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe, but I’ve adapted it to cook in a skillet which makes it faster and also gives the chicken deliciously crispy skin. The sauce is absolutely amazing, so make sure to have plenty of good, crusty bread to sop it up.

Nerd alert: want to see what a dog’s face looks like when you tell her that her dry, dusty kibbles are just as good as this delicious-smelling chicken dinner?

Arya the dog

I don’t think she believed me.

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French Onion Soup with Garlic Butter CroutonsDo you feel a disturbance in the force? As though millions of voices cried out in annoyance and were suddenly told to quit whining? That was the entire population of the east coast of the U.S. simultaneously accepting the fact that this winter will never, ever end.

You’ve made your point Nature! Sheesh. No reason to be such a weiner about it.

Matt and I on our way to the grocery store.

So, if you too happen to live in a frozen hell-scape (or just enjoy delicious French Onion Soup), this recipe is a great way to spend a frigid afternoon. Plus, it includes Winter’s top food groups. Bread, cheese and booze. Yes, there is lots and lots of alcohol in this soup. Three different kinds in fact, sherry, cognac and white wine. This might seem excessive (or if you’re like me, quite restrained), but the alcohol is entirely cooked out, leaving just a warm, rich decadence. Yum.

French Onion Soup with Garlic Butter Croutons

Booze, booze, booze!

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