30 Oct

Chicken Shawarma Nuggets Recipe

Last night Matt asked me what was for dinner and I said “Chicken Nuggets” to which his answer was. . .

“Is it my birthday?!”

. . . which is his typical answer when I’m making something with meat in it, especially chicken.

Luckily he’s usually mum when I make something with cabbage or kale or copious amounts of beans (which is probably 4 nights a week). He’s such a good sport, so I guess he deserves some chicken nuggets once in a while.

But, okay, let’s not go crazy. I didn’t just open a box of frozen chicken nuggets for the guy. I made them lovingly from scratch and loaded them with seasonings . . . so in the end the only thing that made them chicken nuggets was their shape.

These aren’t “real” chicken nuggets, but they’re chicken nuggets made with real ingredients.

They’re not coated in breading but there are bread crumbs inside to keep them soft and bind them together.

They are abundantly flavourful.

Oh, and they taste like shawarma so they’ll be just as tasty at 2AM after a drinking bender as they are for dinner.

You all know my reaction to chicken dishes is typically mediocre, since I find them dry and tasteless. But not these. All the spices and herbs makes them super flavourful and the bread crumbs keep them from drying out. I really liked these nuggets. A lot. Consider them part of the repertoire.

P.S. I don’t have any pictures since we ate them all!

Chicken Shawarma Nuggets

Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite
Makes 12-15 nuggets


1 pound ground chicken
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 shallots, minced
2 T chopped fresh dill
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 of a scotch bonnet pepper, minced (optional if you like serious spice)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cumin
1/4 t allspice
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t pepper
plain yoghurt to serve (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with pan spray.

Stir together the bread crumbs, shallots, dill, garlic, hot pepper, and spices in a large bowl. Add in the chicken and mix everything together with your hands until combined.

Form the chicken mixture into nugget shapes and place on the baking sheet.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until cooked through. The time will depend on their thicknes. check the fattest one for doneness (I just cut into one with a knife).

Serve with a dollop of yoghurt.

30 Oct

Hallowe’en 2012

On Friday night we hosted our annual Hallowe’en Party complete with costumes and candy.

I was waffling between going as a Cat or going as Mary Poppins since I figured both of these costumes would require minimal effort and cost and maximal warmth. Because as much as I like Hallowe’en I don’t like wearing anything elaborate and definitely don’t like freezing my tail off in a mini-skirt in mid autumn temperatures. Just last year my costume included long johns and leg warmers for chrissakes.

I ended up going as Sexy Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins

Just kidding.

I went as normal Mary Poppins, who I suppose is crazy sexy in her own right. Hot damn, Julie Andrews!

Our party invite list included a Ninja Turtle,

Ninja Turtle Costume

a douche-bag, a rock ’em sock ’em robot,

Rock Em Sock Em Robot Costume

an Internet Pirate,

Internet Pirate Costume

pop art

Pop Art Makeup

2 serial killers,

Jason and Mrs. Voorhies

Twister (the game, not the movie),


Iron Man and Wonder Woman (how did I forget to take a picture?!),

. . . and I’m not exactly sure what this guy was (a viking hockey player from the future?).


My friend Kyle brought ample pumpkin beer to share, of which I had one and then went back to drinking water. Partay animal, I know. I’ll use the excuse that I was staying in character (WWMPD?).

We had a good time, but it was a late night and Mary Poppins has a strict bedtime.

I managed to squeeze in 5 hours of sleep or so before waking up to tackle our backyard leaf insanity. 4 hours of blowing, raking, and picking up leaves and 30 minutes later the yard looks like you did nothing at all. *Sigh*

C’est L’Halloween

26 Oct

Juniper Chocolate Cake for Nonna’s Birthday

Today is my Nonna’s birthday. She’s a young 89.

Nonna's Birthday

Everyone comments on how cute she is. All. the. time. There’s something about her Italian accent combined with her emotional expressions of gratitude and her height of 4’10” that makes people find her adorable.

I hope people think I’m cute at 89.

Anyway, I made her a cake because 1) It’s her birthday (obviously), and 2) she likes sweets almost as much as I do.

The Cake

I used this recipe for Juniper Chocolate Cake which I thought sounded delicious (I love the pinecone-y taste of juniper berries). It burnt a little at the top, but I wasn’t worried because I was going to cut the top off to even it out and frost it. Matt sampled some of the trimmings last night after I baked the cake.

“Umm. . . it tastes really burnt.”

I taste it.

“It’s not that burnt, are you sure that’s not the juniper that you’re tasting?”

“Oh. So, it’s supposed to taste like that?” . . . followed by a disgusted face that Matt was trying very hard to disguise.


Disregarding Matt’s opinions, I thought the texture of the cake was great. It was nice and dense and substantial (which I really like in a cake). I didn’t mind the taste, and actually the more cake that I ate the more I liked it. But, yeah, the juniper flavour was a tad on the strong side and I could have lived without it.

The Frosting

I topped the cake with this recipe from Joe Pastry for Heritage Frosting, which is buttercream for poor people (or calorie conscious people, if that’s your bag). It uses a cooked flour&milk combo beaten into the standard butter&sugar combo of buttercream. It’s dead simple to make and while it doesn’t taste quite as rich as American buttercream, it is still very sweet—just the way frosting was meant to be.

Juniper Chocolate Cake

It’s nothing fancy, but you all know I can’t make anything look nice.

The Result

So I made a dense chocolate cake with sugary frosting that was surprisingly quick and easy to pull together. Were it not for the strong juniper taste this would have been the perfect cake.

Nonna liked it, but she likes just about anything that contains sugar and butter (and, God bless her, she’s 89 and not diabetic. I hope I have her genes.).

Back in the old country in the 1920s, if you were lucky, for your birthday they would make pinza: just flour mixed with figs and cooked under embers until you got a rock hard ‘cake’ that would, according to Nonna, “break your toes if you dropped it on your foot.”

I guess anything is better than the pinza.

25 Oct

Health Calendar

Today I made this bad boy and tacked it up on my fridge:

Health Calendar(Click for larger image)

It’s my new health check calendar. (I stole this idea from Back to her Roots.)

Every day of the month there is a little graphic for each goal that I want to get done. If I do it, I get to colour in the activity with coloured pens. I’m trying to keep myself in line for my waist goals and my other all-around healthy living habits.

It’s like a pretty and colourful checklist.

Coloured Pens!

Did anyone else have an obsession with taking multi-coloured in school? I still remember my colour-coding scheme from university (blue pen for notes, black pen for examples, red pen for titles, purple pen for proofs, etc…). I digress.

Most of my goals are the same for every day, with a few differences in my workouts:

Every Day Goals:

Floss (the dental floss)
Remember to take my Iron supplements (the pill)
Eat a protein rich meal or snack (the egg)
Don’t eat sweets (the cupcake- sidebar: Matt debated the logic of colouring in a dessert graphic if I didn’t eat dessert but I’m sticking with my choice of graphic here)

Fitness Goals:

Weightlift on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday (the arm + barbell)
Sprints or HIIT on Wednesday (runner)
Yoga on Saturday (the yogi)
Long Distance Run on Sunday (the running shoe)

Weekend Goals:

Drink 2L of water – I always forget to do this on the weekends (the glass)

Health Calendar

I’m hoping that it will keep me in check with my goals so that I am motivated to come home and colour in my calendar whenever I meet them. I like seeing things get finished. It makes me feel successful. I won’t get anything else for completing my goals aside from the satisfaction of gettin’ ‘er dun.

I know it’s odd to start something like this in the middle of the fourth week of the month, but I figure it’s now or never right? Don’t worry though, tucked in behind the October calendar is already one printed for November. Huzzah!

Health Calendar

In classic Sam fashion, I already rearranged my schedule on the first and only day I have coloured in. I decided to weightlift today instead of sprint.

To be honest, I actually forgot today was Wednesday.

18 Oct

Just catching up on Downton Abbey Series 3

I’ve been lazy the last few days, I have to admit. I try not to watch a lot of TV because it just enhances my laziness, so my TV viewing is limited to a select few shows that I really really like.

On Sunday I realized that I had missed not just the premiere but the first five episodes of Downton Abbey series 3. It totally fell off my radar.

So I spent most nights this week catching up on my absolute favourite television show ever. Now I’m all caught up and depressed about what happened in episode 5 but ready to get back to my usual intensely productive self . . . at least until Sunday.

Is it just me or are Violet’s one liners more hilarious than ever this season?

15 Oct

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Spiced Buttercream

Pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream (5)

It’s time for this month’s Baking Partners Challenge. The theme for October is Pumpkin Cupcakes & Muffins and there were a few recipes to choose from

pumpkin chocolate cupcakes with orange buttercream, or
pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream and candied pecans, or
pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

I went with the pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream because I wanted a cupcake instead of a muffin and I thought the chocolate in the first recipe would overpower the taste of the pumpkin. I wanted a spiced, pumpkin tasting cupcake to bring to my Thanksgiving dinners last weekend.

Pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream (1)

Generally I prefer cake to cupcakes. I want layers of cake and frosting, to maximize my frosting consumption (yeah, I’m one of those people) that you just can’t get from a little cupcake. I never really understood the cupcake craze. So, I was tempted to make this into a cake instead, but I figured cupcakes would be a better choice since I could split the batch and bring half to each of 2 different Thanksgiving dinners.

Pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream (6)

I really liked the resulting cupcakes, especially when topped with the spiced buttercream, because when they were naked I found that the cupcakes tasted more like muffins. They were dense and not quite as light as I expect from a cake. It was something you could easily cut in half and smear with butter or jam for breakfast.

Which begs the question . . . Does crowning a muffin with frosting turn it into a cupcake?

Pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream (2)

Not in my opinion. There’s a clear and obvious difference between cake texture and muffin texture that any amount of frosting won’t change.

Don’t get me wrong, these ‘cupcakes’ are really good, but only if you’re looking for a cake with a substantial texture. If a light and delicate cake is your preference then maybe you should give this one a pass.

Pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream (3)

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Spiced Buttercream and Candied Walnuts

The recipe comes from a blog for Earth Balance margarine but I subbed all the earth balance for butter instead. Also I doubled the buttercream recipe because I felt it didn’t make nearly enough.

Makes 24

Cake Ingredients

3 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
3/4 t ground cardamom
1/2  t ground nutmeg
2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t baking soda
2 1/2 c pumpkin purée
3/4 c butter
1/2 c light brown sugar
1 3/4 c cane sugar
1 c milk
1 t salt
2 t apple cider vinegar
2 t vanilla extract

Spiced Buttercream Ingredients

1 c butter
2 t vanilla extract
4 c powdered sugar, sifted
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
2 T maple syrup
4 T milk

Candied Walnut Ingredients (optional)

1/2 c walnut halves, toasted
2 T butter
3 T sugar
2 T maple syrup
1 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt


For Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and line 2 cupcake pans with cupcake papers and spray with pan spray.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, spices, baking soda and powder. Stir to mix together and set aside.

Cream butter until smooth and creamy. Add in the sugars and vanilla extract and mix on a higher speed until fluffy. Add in the pumpkin puree, salt, vinegar, and half of the milk. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula and in 1/2 cup increments add in the flour/spice mixture, also adding in the remaining milk in between additions.

Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full with batter and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Check them at about 18-20 minutes and give a light press with the tip of your finger, if it springs back they are done, if not- bake them for a few more minutes. They will be a beautiful golden color when finished.

For the frosting:

Cream the butter until smooth. Add in the vanilla extract, maple syrup, spices, and milk and mix until combined. On a low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar and mix well after each addition. Keep mixing until all is well incorporated and the frosting is smooth and fluffy.

For the candied walnuts:

In a small saucepan, melt the butter on a low heat and add in the sugar and maple syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly. Turn off the heat and stir in the toasted walnuts, vanilla extract, and salt. Make sure the nuts are well coated with the sugar mixture. Pour them out onto a sheet tray lined with parchment and allow to cool.


Once the cupcakes are cooled down, fill a pastry bag with the spiced buttercream and with a circular hand motion, pipe the frosting into a mound atop each cupcake. Garnish with candied nuts.

13 Oct

Fattoush Salad

It’s time for another Eating the Alphabet recipe link-up where each month we make a recipe featuring a fruit, vegetable, legume, or whole grain from a different set of letters of the alphabet.

So far I’ve done:

(A or B): Buttercup Squash and Artichoke Pasta
(C or D): Grenadian Oil Down with Cassava (Favourite)
(E or F): Homemade Fig Newtons (Favourite)
(G or H): White Chicken Chili with Hominy
(I or J): Juniper Berry Bechamel
(K or L): Kamut Brioche
(M, N, or O): Caramelized Onions
(P, Q, or R): Pomegranate Glazed Eggplant (Favourite)

This month’s letters are S or T so I decided to take a look at Sumac.

SumacSumac Plant (Image source)

Sumac is a quintessential ingredient in Lebanese and Middle Eastern cooking. The sumac plant grows wildly in the Middle East and is harvested in the fall. A variety of sumac also grows wildly in North America, I’m sure you’ve seen it before, except the North American variety is poisonous. . . so don’t try foraging it in your back yard!

The sumac plant makes a cluster of tiny fruits that are ground into a powder that is used as a spice. It is deep purple in colour and has a lemony taste but is more tart than lemon. There’s really no good substitute for sumac.

Sumac (1)Sumac Spice (Image Source)

One of my favourite use of sumac is in fattoush, a Lebanese chopped salad loaded with vegetables, dressing with a tangy sumac dressing, and topped with crispy fried pieces of pita. In this version I toasted the pita instead of fried it, which obviously isn’t as delicious as fried pita, but it is a quicker and easier variation.

This is a pretty standard fattoush recipe but you are free to play around with the ingredients a bit by adding chopped parsley or diced peppers or your favourite salad vegetable.

Keep in mind that the keys to the flavour of this salad are the fresh mint, the sumac, and the pita, so don’t sub these ingredients, whatever you do.

Fattoush Salad

Makes one huge salad (enough for probably 8 people as a side dish)



1 head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 medium English cucumber, diced
2 small tomatoes, diced
1/2 bunch radishes, halved and sliced
2 green onions, diced
1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
1 large pita


2 cloves garlic
2 lemons, juiced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for pita
2 T sumac, plus extra for pita


Preheat the oven to 325F. Brush the pita with the extra olive oil and sprinkle with the extra sumac. Toast in the oven until crispy and golden. Break the toasted pita into small shards and set aside.

Put all the salad ingredients into a large bowl and stir together.

Sprinkle the garlic with a dash of salt and mash with the side of a knife (or a pestle). Place the garlic in a small bowl and whisk in the lemon juice, sumac, and olive oil.

Pour the dressing over the salad and stir until all the ingredients are coated. Add the pita pieces and toss to combine.

(Click for more info on Eating the Alphabet)

11 Oct

Date Night: Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit Institute of Arts (32)Detroit Institute of Arts

Matt and I managed to squeeze in our September Date of the Month right at the end of the month. We went back to Detroit (last time we went to see the Tigers game) and this time headed to the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Detroit Institute of Arts (11)Grand Hall at the DIA

Both Matt and I have never been to the DIA before. We parked in a lot behind the building and headed toward the rear entrance. I pointed out the sign that said “Group Entrance Only”, but Matt shrugged it off and said that other people were going in that way. So we walked right in, strutted past a security guard like we owned the place and ended up right inside the gallery without paying admission. After a brief debate about the negative karma of sneaking in, we headed to the front entrance and ponied up the cash for tickets. It’s only $8 anyway.

DIAI really liked how the rooms were designed to coordinate with the art inside them (like a room for medieval art designed to looks like a church, very cool).

I was thoroughly impressed with the collections. We spent most of our time in the Eurpoean paintings collection– which is the largest collection in the gallery I think– particularly the medieval and renaissance works which I think both of us find the most interesting.

In the European Modern Art collection we managed to find some famous impressionist artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, and Matisse.

We quickly scanned through contemporary art, though both of us are critical and find this type of art frustrating and then briefly visited the Islamic and Asian collections before the museums doors closed.

Detroit Institute of Arts (15)Van Gogh

Detroit Institute of Arts (22)This was one of my favourite pieces, though I can’t remember what it is

Detroit Institute of Arts (20)Matt is not impressed with Picasso’s work.

Detroit Institute of Arts (35)
The building itself is a work of art, really.

After the Detroit Institute of Arts, we walked over to a vegetarian restaurant called Seva close by. I was detoxing so I wanted a place with lots of options for me, and surprsingly Matt was game for this place. I showed him the menu online and he thought it looked promising. When we got there it was quiet (also, it was 5pm) but when we left, the place was nearly packed.

Seva Detroit (6)
This general tso’s cauliflower was omg amazing (and probably not cleanse friendly, what with the sugary sauce and all).

I wanted dessert, but instead I ordered fresh carrot, apple, and ginger juice. It was good. It wasn’t dessert obviously but it was good.

The night was still early when we got back home so we watched Snow White and the Huntsman (not great, don’t bother) and then went to bed.

Another fun date night 🙂

Date of the Month Club

Check out other posts in the Date of the Month club, where Matt and I go on one special date every month of 2012:

January – Bookstore Scavanger Hunt
February – Board Game Night
March – Bowling
April – Detroit Walking Tour
May – Colasanti’s
June – Picnic
July – Next Restaurant
August – Detroit Tigers Baseball Game
October – Wine Tasting

08 Oct

Lasers vs. Aigles

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

So, where was I? . . . after Apple Picking I headed to the new Tecumseh Vista Academy to watch the football game, crossing yet another item off my Autumn Bucket List.

Tecumseh Vista

I’ve never seen the school before, but it’s the kind of shiny & new suburban monstrosity dropped in the middle of a farm field that’s really the definition of Urban Sprawl and that yuppie parents seem to love. Of course it’s nice and all, but I went to a similarly isolated high school and grade school like this and It Sucks. Whatever happened to schools being integrated into towns??

But enough about my thoughts on urban planning. For an interesting perspective on school sprawl, check out this and this.

Football for a CureIt was a special Football for the Cure week so there was lots of pink going around.

After the 10 minute walk from the parking lot to the football field I found my brother-in-law in the stands and we watched the first half together although if we’re being honest I don’t think either of us was really paying that much attention.

Lasers FootballThe grass isn’t really that green here in Essex County. That’s turf, folks.

I find high school football games hard to watch. I’ve already told you about how I can barely follow pro games so when the players are smaller and the field is bigger (they play CFL rules) and the announcers don’t call the plays until minutes after they happened, it’s pretty impossible to tell what’s happening. Until the spectators cheer and I know someone scored a touchdown.

Halftime Huddle

My brother-in-law left at half time so I spent the rest of the game walking laps around the track and pausing to watch the plays. It was a gorgeous evening and I enjoyed watching the game, especially since I was able to get some laps in. Plus those high school kids are just so stinking cute to watch.

Lasers Football

In the end, Matt’s team won by a lot of points (I can’t remember how many) but they had the benefit of a bigger school and a much larger team and of course my husband’s superior coaching skills 😉


07 Oct

Apple Picking 2012

Thursday night I crossed 2 more to-do’s off of my Autumn Bucket List: apple picking and watching Matt coach a football game.

The game started at 5pm so I had some time to kill after work and since Wagner Apple Orchard is not far from the field where the game was happening I detoured for apple picking.

Apple Picking at Wagner's

There was a frost in the spring which has been pretty hard on this year’s apple crops so I wanted to make sure that I got some good apples, especially before the Thanksgiving rush this weekend which I’m sure is going to bring tonnes of pickers. I knew that Empire and Mutsu were available, and Mutsu are my favourite so I was highly disappointed when the lady at the orchard told me that the back orchard where the Mutsu grow wasn’t open.

I think she was trying to deter me from picking apples altogether, really. Saying things like All we have in golden delicious right now. . . they’re very hard to pick. . . WAY up in the trees . . . you’ll need to find a ladder, and they can be hard to find sometimes” I was waiting for her to tell me “Maybe you should just go” since she seemed so disappointed when I told her that I figured I could manage.

Apple Picking at Wagner'sI found a ladder!

I was a bit worried that the apples were going to be crap and I would end up with a paltry amount of apples for $13 (since they don’t charge by the pound but by the bag instead) but actually when I finally managed to find a ladder and climb all the way up into the tree to grab one I took a bite and it was delicious. Golden delicious.

Apple Picking at Wagner's

I kept singing “I’ve got a golden delicious” to the tune of “I’ve got a golden ticket” from Willy Wonka. To myself of course not out loud.

Apple Picking at Wagner's

I paused for some narcissistic self-timer photo ops and then continued picking, mostly from one tree, until I filled up my bag.

Apple Picking. Check!

Apple Picking at Wagner's

Now, what to do with 15 pounds of apples? Apple pie? Applesauce? I’ll probably eat most of them raw actually because they’re so good.

Stay tuned for part two… watching high school football.

Apple Picking at Wagner's