Tuesday, August 19, 2014

20 Tips for Using a Smartphone Abroad

ipad photo shot in hipstamatic and edited in PS Express

Long, long ago in a faraway time I had to lug around an extra backpack just for my camera, my travel books, my walkman - SHUT UP I KNOW THAT DATES ME, reading material and the various gadgets I would need when I set out to see the world on my dinosaur.

Happily, those days are long gone because now I just do a bit of work getting my trusty iphone up to speed, throw that and my ipad mini (you don't even need the ipad but it's really handy for photo storage, magazines and photo editing for my old, bifocal wearing eyeballs) into my purse and I am out the door. Between those two items I have a library of reading material, a million travel books, currency converter, maps, gps, camera and darkroom, a phone, a computer, a travel agent, a translator and personal DJ.

thanks to my iphone, I can travel overseas for 10 days with only this fashionable child's carry on and a purse

Word of warning: This list is very iphonecentric because I use an iphone5 , I have an ipad mini and my desktop is a mac. We are an Apple family and have been an Apple family for well over a decade so I am not familiar with android or other platforms. I am pretty sure that every app that I use is available for other smartphones but because I have no personal experience with them, I am concentrating on what I know based on things I do myself. If you have great tips for using your smartphone abroad, please share them in the comments.

1.You can contact your cell phone provider and purchase a variety of international phone plan add ons. If you know that you are going to have to make the odd call home, or take a call from time to time, buy an international phone package for calling, texting and data for one person in your party and then just buy the cheapest texting package for everyone else. That way, you have the option of making phone calls or checking a map in an emergency from one phone but for your daily communication needs, you can all text each other. Unless your entire family is abroad on important business, there is no need for everyone to have a data package and the low cost texting package gives everyone peace of mind, especially if one of your family members is a wanderer. It's nice to let older kids do a bit of exploring on their own and knowing they can text you to tell you that some nice young man just tried to sell them a bag of pot puts everyone's mind at ease.

I am with Telus in Canada, for example, and we paid $15 each for a basic international texting package for The Kid and I and the combo data/calling/texting plans range from $50 to $150.

2.You can always buy a cheap phone that is not tied to any provider, or, If you have an old phone kicking around, take that with you. You just buy a local prepaid sim card when you get to your destination and then you won't have to use your own phone at all.  In Canada, for example, Telus will jailbreak a phone for a small fee. If you travel frequently, it is worth it to just keep your old phone when you upgrade the next time, have it jailbroken and designate it as your official travel phone.

3. Download Skype so that you can make phone calls for a fraction of the cost. You can always facetime for free with other mac users over wifi but not everyone is on a mac or an iphone so skype can keep you in touch with the poor sods you left back at home. Skype video calling is free over wifi , as is calling skype to skype, but I just put $10 or $15 into my skype account before I leave so I can make a few phone calls to cell phones or landlines at home without worrying about it.

4. Obviously, you are going to make sure you are not using data so you will need to tune up all of your phone settings.The easiest way to deal is to just turn your data roaming off and leave it off. You will still be able to make and receive calls if you have to, you can text and you will access data when on wifi. You can also go in and choose the actual apps you want to give data access too but unless you are absolutely comfortable doing that, just turn the data off. Make sure your fetch feature on your email is turned to manual too. Call your provider and get instructions for your particular phone, and write those instructions down because I guarantee you, you will wake up in the middle of the night at least once while you are away in a panic because you are sure that you forgot a step and are going to come home to a $200,000 bill.

Unless you are self employed like we are and a missed call can equal a missed paycheck, you are on vacation, for the love of Pearl, so you aren't supposed to be on the phone anyway. It's an amazing travel tool but almost everything you need to do, you can do over wifi and it's really easy to find wifi abroad. You can stop in a cafe, spend a buck on a coffee and ask for the wifi password and check whatever you need to check. If you insist on taking it a step further, read up first but trust me, unless you are travelling for business, just turn the damned data roaming off.

I usually change the message on my phone to ask people to email or text me as I will not be checking my voicemail while away. There, problem solved.

5. Download i translate please and if you do not know the language of the country you are visiting reasonably well, upgrade to premium. It does require you to be online to use it but I have found that everywhere we went, we were given the password to the wifi whenever we asked so it was never a problem using this brilliant app to order in restaurants or get help in a pharmacy.  The coolest part is that if you really can't get your point across, you can just say what you want to say into the app and the app will then say it for you in the language you are currently butchering. It works the other way as well, so your new Italian friend can tell the app that you are about to be arrested for public drunkenness and the app will then translate it into english for you. You will never have to wonder how to say "Esigo un avvocato" again!

6. Download Duolingo for everyone. It's the most user friendly way to learn the basics of a language and get yourself used to the sound of it being spoken that I have encountered and kid's love the game aspect that duolingo uses to drill the basics into your head.

When I was preparing for my Portugal trip, I used this app every day while I was out walking or cleaning the house. One day I spent an hour practicing at lunch with four little Montessori boys helping me out and I was amazed at how quickly they were catching on and how much fun we were all having.

7.  Something I like to do is to look stuff up before I go out and keep a list with translations on my phone of the foods I know I am going to want, things I am going to want to ask for etc so I am not fumbling around, searching for the Portuguese word for the bathroom while the angry throng behind me starts to get antsy. Doing a bit of work before you leave saves you stress on your trip and I find it helps to get me excited about my impending adventure.

8. Do take potential apps for a test drive before you go. I tried out at least four offline Portuguese dictionaries before we left so that I already knew how to use the one I eventually chose and I didn't waste time and valuable phone space of the apps that turned out to be duds. Do a bit of googling to try to find the most popular apps and then try out all of the free ones because this is not an app you need to spend money on.

9. Remember to backup your phone onto your computer, itunes, the cloud or whatever you back it up to before you leave just in case there is a problem. Make sure all of your photos are safe and sound and then clear your phone so you are leaving with an empty photo album with ample room for the million photos you are going to take on your trip.

Also, I dump lots of apps that I am not going to use off of my phone to free up space and just put them back on after I return. If you get rid of an app you have bought, you can just re-download it, free of charge or you can put it back on when you sync up to the computer again. You can even make a list of the apps that you remove so you can get them from the app store again when you come back from your trip. Unless you have a 64G phone with 50G free, do you really need all five versions of Angry Birds, your TomTom Mexico and 42 menu planning apps on your phone while you are touring Spain?

10. I use CityMaps2Go  and between that and my saved Google maps, we were golden. I would map out our day while on wifi, drop pins etc and then save the maps and refer to them while out and about constantly.
XE Currency app is a great app for your currency conversion needs.

11. Remember that your iphone has a powerful flashlight, a calculator and other basic functions that we sometimes forget about but that come in handy. The alarm clock is very useful as is the alert function in your calendar. As hard as I have tried, I cannot figure out how to get the cork out of a wine bottle with my iphone but I am sure someone will come up with an app for that eventually.

12. If you are driving abroad in a rental car, buy an app like TomTom and let your phone be your GPS. Just a word of warning: the TomTom app doesn't NOT work on an ipad minis unless it is 3G capable. It works on our iphones and our older full sized ipad, but not our non 3G minis so check to make sure it works on your phone or tablet of choice before purchasing. We used the TomTom a few times when we got a bit lost while out walking too since these navigation apps use satellites and not data. Keep in mind it is not really meant for walking so it will give driving directions so it's not always useful when looking to get specific walking routes since most cities are full of one way streets but it was a good way to orientate ourselves on occasion.

13. Because you are going to be using your phone as your one stop travel tool, you are going to burn through the battery every day so get some sort of external charging device. You can get a charging case that the phone clicks into or an external cell like this Mophie is a popular brand but there are many, many others . I also carry the wall usb charger and a cord in my purse because I am always pleasantly surprised by all of the interesting places I find outlets when I am out and about. 

14. Speaking of charging your phone, all you may need for an iphone is a wall adapter for the country you will be visiting. Always check the voltage requirements for the country you are visiting but I think most wall chargers operate on a 100-240V range which means you are fine anywhere in North America and Europe. Even better than a plug adapter, just buy a usb wall charger when you get there. We bought a double usb charger at the airport when we landed for the same price as buying the wall adapter for our own charger here. The bottom line is that Apple products do not require a power converter. Many hotels will provide a usb charger of some sort (you can also find one in the back of most digital tvs!) and your car phone adapter that plugs into the lighter will work on your european rental car as well. Lots of easy options to charge your phone.
Here is a cool list of voltage worldwide

15. Download Airbnb, Priceline and Booking.com for lodging booking on the fly.You may have another booking site you prefer, so download their app but these are three that I use all the time with great success.

16. You can save Google maps for offline use simply by typing "ok maps" into the search box when you are looking at the map you have just brought up. This link gives a longer, more complicated way of saving a map for offline use which did not always seem to work for me. Once I figured out the "ok maps" trick, we were fine. Not all of the features are available offline, but if the GPS on your phone is enabled, you will see yourself walking down the street in the wrong direction,  away from the location that you have dropped a pin to locate as well as zooming in and out and it will save your marriage. Trust me.

18. Take photos of all of your ID, keep PDFs etc of all confirmations for hotels, flights etc with your phone and keep them on it.  If you don't use icloud, put them in dropbox too so that you can access them from any computer if you lose your phone.

19. Speaking of losing your phone, please put a password on your phone, even if you don't use one at home so that if you do lose it, nobody can access your personal information etc. Of course, you will also have "find my iphone" enabled so that if you do lose it, you can put a message on the screen for anyone who finds it with information about who to contact- either the hotel you are staying at or another person in your travelling party. If you do lose your phone, this app will help you locate it and you can lock it remotely if you forgot to password protect it. Find my phone app for android is very similar for non iphone users.

I have heard that using the app to make your phone ping loudly can help you find it wedged down between couch cushions after you have been unable to find after an entire morning of frantic, fruitless searching but I have no personal experience of that. None. Nope. Not me.

20 . Finally, use it to take your travel photos. Unless you are Ansel Adams and are planning to blow up your travel images to billboard size to be displayed at the Guggenheim, you can get amazing quality from your iphone with the help of a couple of free or cheap editing apps.

If you are an instagram or twitter person, make up a hashtag for everyone's travel photos so that you can easily find them all in one spot. On our last trip, we all used #Shackfamilyvacation so a quick google of that hashtag brings up all of our photos across the various social media platforms. That way you will find groupings like this or this or this and can see all of your travel photos, taken by everyone who used that hashtag, all in one spot.

My favourite photo apps are:

Snapseed- this photo editing app is always stop #1 for almost all of my images. I use it to sharpen, brighten, boost contrast and adjust colour balance even if I plan on continuing to edit with another app like PS Express.

top left is straight out of the camera and the other three are using a combo of snapseed and PS Express

PSExpress - this is my second favourite app and and kind of like filters for dummies. A great app to let you add fancy, fun filters to make your images look more dramatic and you don't have to be a photo pro to figure out how to use it.        

after initial editing in PS Express

going crazy in PS Express

Hipstamatic - turns everyone into a hipster. Seriously though, it's a really fun app to use and it   turns a photo of a cup of coffee on a scratched up old table into a piece of art. I like to choose one         filter/lens combo for each situation so that the photos are unified. Play around with all of the different combinations, save the ones you like so you can use them with a simple click.

same image taken using four different hipstamatic lens/film combos
straight camera shot

using a combo of hipstamatic and then using tilt shift in snapseed

TouchRetouch the app that lets you remove crap from your photos. Took the perfect   photo of a mountain vista if only that annoying guy in the neon green shirt wasn't standing right in the centre of the frame? ERASE THAT DUDE PRONTO! love this app

If you really want to take great photos, here is a really good article to read on iphone photography
notice that annoying lamp post?
why thank you TouchRetouch!

 If you are really serious about your photos, buy this tripod mount like this and you can mount your phone to your tripod. We also like to use an Ollo Clip , which is a little combo lens system for the iphone that lets you shoot in wide angle, macro and fish eye. 

Shack used the wide angle lens on the Ollo Clip for this photo of a cafe in Porto

If you are an Apple person, all of your devices are connected via the icloud. If you make sure icloud sharing is turned on with your iphone and your desktop, laptop and/or ipad, the photo stream will automatically upload from the phone to those devices every time you connect to wifi. I would go through all the days photos every night in bed, do some preliminary editing, making my pics and getting rid of the photos that didn't work, were blurry or duplicates etc. That way, I could clear them off of my my phone, freeing it up with more space to accommodate the next day's photos. If you aren't on a mac device but have a laptop, you can connect using bluetooth or you can purchase an app like this to transfer over wifi. 

I know, I know, you are going to say "Well, back in my day, we managed to travel all over Europe with nothing but a "Let's Go Europe", a train pass and a dictionary and we managed just fine"

Well, back in the day, we also waited for days for an international operator to get us a line out of Greece so we could call our moms and tell them we were still alive so stop being such an old fogie, get with the program and get yourself a smartphone.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Week in Yum Aug 9-15 The County General, PanAm Food Fest, Patois and Sauvignon Bistro

brunch at The County Cocktail

Saturday was the first day of the Pan American Food Festival so I didn't want to eat anything heavy for breakfast or lunch. I had a night of eating tamales ahead of me and I had to keep my game stomach on so I passed on going to The Wren. I love the Wren, as you all know, but all of the dishes are pretty heavy and I generally make that my meal of the day when I brunch there so I talked the boys into trying someplace new.

At the County General Riverside, they have an Albacore Tuna Nicoise that is chock full of sous vide tuna, crisp bean beans, pistou and potatoes that makes me want to dance in the street. I, quite literally, licked my plate clean which made up for the fact that Shack sent his croque madame back because he deemed it far too dijony. I thought it tasted just fine but he is, as we know, my picky toddler. I can't wait to go back for more salad nicoise and leave him at home to watch F1 and eat chips and dip.

PanAm Food Fest

Trade Commissioner of Peru Jose Luis Peroni, Peruvian Chef Roger Arakaki and culinary curator of the event, Mary Luz Mejia 

The 2nd annual Pan American Food Festival was last weekend and I spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening there. I sat in on a few chef demos, I ate tacos and ceviche and joined in on the Totalmente Tamale competition, eating and then voting for my favourite tamale.

Representing Chile was Chef Cristian Heise from the Empanada Shop with his Paella Tamale. It was a combo of quinoa and masa and stuffed with braised short rib, smoked chorizo, stewed chicken thigh and tiger shrimp and served with a really nice salsa verde. This one got my vote for most tender masa.

That  little, orange oval up there was my overall favourite though. It was a Duck and Chicken Confit with Smoked Pork Belly Tamale from Panama's Chef Rossy Earle. It was, hand's down, the most tender, moist tamale I have ever tasted and the kiss of chipotle made it just spicy enough to tickle the tastebuds without burning the old esophagus. My only criticism would be that it was too small and there should have been half a dozen of them on my plate. 

Other contestants were:
Chef Claudia Gaviria from Cruda Cafe representing Latin America with a raw, vegan tamale

Paula Solorzano from Santo Pecado Catering representing Mexico with a Toasted Pecan and Chocolate Tamale

The delightfully named Cookie Martinez doing Columbia proud with her Colombian Pork Tamale

Last, but certainly not least, we had the dancing fool, from Venezuelan Hallacas with a Sabrosito Style Tamale, Chef Carlos Fuenmayor.

There were quite a number of food vendors serving up all sorts of exotic fare, food trucks, a patio bar manned by Valdez, some dancing workshops and a pisco tasting on Saturday night so lots of stuff for everyone.

I had a blast, ate some amazing food and will definitely be going back next year (I might even volunteer if they promise to pay me in food)

scallop ceviche from Valdez

the beautiful colours of South America

tacos from Santo Pecado Catering

More deliciousness from Santo Pecado


The Whole Shebang at Patois
On Monday we took The Neighbours and their niece, who is like our adopted niece, to Patois to celebrate her birthday. Since it was a special occasion, we not only ordered the Whole Shebang (everything on the regular menu for $99), we also got all of the specials so you could say we got the WHOLE DAMNED SHEBANG.

When I say the whole menu, I mean the whole menu. The $99 dollar version, which feeds four hungry people (or three veeeerrrry hungry people) comes with 1/2 order of OG Chicken and 1/2 order of Juicy Jerk but for an extra $12 (Yardbird upgrade) you can bump that up to a full order of both. We were 6 hungry people and went for the Yardbird upgrade, plus a jerk chicken chow mein, a beef with broccoli dish and my absolute favourite thing, Crispy Nori Green Beans with Miso Dressing and everyone had to be rolled out of the joint on a fridge dolly but man, we were all happy campers. As my friend, Rhonda from Olive and Ruby says about Patois "WEAR YOUR DRAWSTRING PANTS!"

As always, the fried chicken was the bomb but this time, I couldn't choose between the Juicy Jerk Chicken and the Fried if I were forced to choose a favourite. We all took a bite of the pineapple bun burger and the double down but the surprise star of the show for everyone was the OG Fried Cauliflower - everyone said if they were going to order ONE more thing, like that could even happen at the that point, it would have been the cauliflower - vegetarians rejoice!

Taking a cue from the famous "special tea" you can get at many chinatown haunts in the wee hours, Patois gives you the option of ordering your cocktail of choice in bulk for $35

Sauvignon Bistro

a lovely dinner at Sauvignon
 I don't know why we never go to Sauvignon. It's basically in the Beach, it has not one but two fabulous patios and it's charming as all get out but for some reason, we never think of it when wracking our brains to come up with someplace different for dinner. I had a great meal earlier in the summer and so when I found out that this was going to be the place that some of my friends had chosen for one of our dinners, I was really happy to try it again.

Unfortunately, despite being mid August, it was freezing outside so both patios sat empty while we all huddled together inside, wearing sweaters and fall jackets and pining for squash soup and turkey dinner. Instead, we ordered some lovely wine and the Poached Nova Scotia Lobster Salad and we slowly warmed up and everyone started to feel festive and summery again. The salad has an alarming amount of rich, buttery lobster despite only costing $14. Lots of new potatoes, cucumbers and a nice citrus aioli make it hearty enough for a main, especially if you round it out with an order or two of their crispy frites.

I am going to make a concerted effort to visit this bistro more often and you should too.

The week ended with my What's For Dinner class at Loblaws. I was given a recipe for an Italian Egg Drop Soup that was full of kale and chickpeas so I thought the ladies would like a dessert. It was supposed to be this frozen, berry concoction that should have had the texture of soft serve ice cream but I took the sherbert and ice cream out of the freezer a bit too early and they both softened up too much, resulting in more of a thick smoothie. I was about to apologize for messing it up when I noticed that all of the ladies were doing that thing you did as a kid when you tip your head way back and shake the glass out onto your outstretched tongue to get the last dregs of a milkshake.

at my Loblaws "What's for Dinner" class I let the ladies have dessert before soup because I know how to make friends

Pin of the week: Don't you just want to eat the screen?

Instagram of the week: I LOVE this Danish Photographer's stream

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Middle Eastern Inspired Meatball Wraps

Oh, it's all blend and extend all the time in this house right now. Last week, I finally got around to trying this method of adding ground mushrooms to ground beef in order to make your meat go farther and add a serving of vegetable to dishes while you are at it. The result were these Jamaican Patty Pops and I have to tell you, I was actually kind of amazed at how much the addition of the mushrooms worked as far as texture and and keeping the meat moist was concerned. I spent the rest of the week perfecting these Middle Eastern Inspired MeatBalls, which had been my runner up idea for the appetizer challenge until I got it right. These little meatballs are also great on their own and made a nice little dinner served with a dollop of tzatziki, a greek salad and a chunk of bread.

If you are lucky to live near a store that sells middle eastern groceries, you can find the preserved lemons, pickled turnip and sumac there and some larger grocery chains like Loblaws carry these things as well, sometimes in the Kosher area. They are both easy things to make but require time to cure so they aren't last minute additions. As always, if you can't find them, leave them out. If you don't like spicy food, leave the hot pepper out and if you like it hotter, add more in. If you can't find a scotch bonnet pepper, use a jalapeno. Replace the preserved lemon rind with the juice from a lemon and the zest from about half of it and I would replace the pickled turnip with some julienned radish for some zingy crunch. You could also throw in some crumbled feta or a bit of arugula, some thinly sliced red onion. It's a sandwich, right?

Middle Eastern Spiced Meatball Wraps


350g ground beef
175g button mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large scallions, rough chop
1/4 cup parsley, rough chop
1/4 cup cilantro, rough chop
2 tbls fresh mint, rough chop
rind from 1 small, preserved lemon, diced
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp sumac
1/2 seeded, chopped scotch bonnet pepper or to taste
1/2 cup panko
1 egg, beaten

large flour tortilla
tzatziki, hummus, chopped tomato and pickled turnip


Pulse the mushrooms in a food processor until finely chopped, scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Pulse the garlic, scallions, parsley, cilantro, mint, preserved lemon, ginger, salt, cumin, allspice, coriander, sumac and hot pepper until finely minced. Scrape into the bowl with the mushrooms and stir to mix well. Add in the ground beef and mix lightly with your hand before adding in the panko and the egg and mix thoroughly using your hand.

Divide the meat/mushroom mixture into  approx 20 portions and roll into balls, the size of a large golf ball. Put on a tray in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up.

When it's time to cook, heat a pan over med heat and coat the bottom with a light film of oil. Put the balls in the pan and flatten them down a little with a spatula. Fry for about 4 minutes, flip and cook for about 3 or 4 more minutes more.

To assemble the wraps, lay out a fresh flour tortilla and spread some hummus down the middle. Add some tzatziki on top of that, then lay out three meatballs. Arrange some chopped tomato and pickled turnip over the top, scatter a few fresh mint leaves and wrap folding the ends in, then the flap closest to you, roll in over until it's all enclosed, just like you would for a burrito.

Heat a clean pan over med heat and spray with some cooking spray or brush with a light coating of oil. Put the wrap, flap side down and cook until the bottom is nicely browned. Carefully flip it over and brown up the top, remove to a cutting board and cut in half.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jamaican Patty Pops

About once a year I toy with the idea of making homemade Jamaican beef patties after having one too many stale, microwaved corner store patties. I get all fired up, spend hours reading recipes but then I start thinking about having to find beef rennet for the dough and all of that work and muse to myself "since I have to get on the subway anyway to go find this beef rennet, why not just drop by Bathurst station and buy myself a delectable beef patty and skip all that work?" and that is usually what I do. One bite of that hot, juicy meat pie and all thoughts of beef rennet fly away. Have you ever had the patties at the Bathurst Subway Station???

So, there is a bit of a contest going on over at the Food Bloggers of Canada and I am not one to resist a contest. Mushrooms Canada and Ontario Beef have teamed up to promote their new concept, Blend and Extend. The idea is that you replace some of the ground beef with finely chopped mushrooms in your favourite recipes to add a serving of vegetables to the dish as well as adding more volume to it and stretching the meat out so it goes further. If you look on the Blend and Extend website , you will find a whole whack of recipes, videos and ideas on how to get blending and extending.

For the contest, we were asked to come up with an original appetizer recipe using this blend and extend concept. It just so happens that I have been on one of my "maybe I should try making these things myself" jags, but, as much as I love them, beef patties don't really scream "lovely app to serve at a party". I needed to come with an appetizer but I only wanted to make Jamaican patties.  What to do.

Spicy filling encased inside a buttery puff pastry shell on a stick. Get out of town.

I remembered how much everyone loved my Brie Pops  and wondered if puff pastry would work in place of the traditional patty dough. Patty dough is certainly heartier than puff pastry but they are both flaky and rich and I couldn't see any reason why puff pastry with a turmeric egg wash wouldn't work. The addition of the mushrooms to the filling worked perfectly allowing me to use less meat and the moisture they release, often a dilemma to be dealt with, actually helped keep the filling nice and moist.

A word about the scotch bonnet peppers; even if you don't like spicy food, the scotch bonnet is a vital ingredient in Jamaican cuisine. Not only does it add heat, sitting firmly in them 100,000-350,000 range of the scoville scale, but they have a fruity flavour that can't really be replicated. Just make sure to start with a half a pepper and taste and keep adding until it's at a heat level that you are happy with.  If you truly can't get your hands on a scotch bonnet, a fresh habanero is your best bet but if all else fails, use a jalapeno but you will lose the fruitiness of the scotch bonnet so do try to find them if you can.

Oh, and if you chop these peppers with your bare hands, don't rub your eyes, pick your nose or put those fingers anywhere else for the rest of the day. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Jamaican Patty Pops

makes approx 24 appetizer sized patty pops or 8 full sized patties


2 sheets of puff pastry, thawed but still cold
1 egg beaten with splash milk and 1/2 tsp turmeric
beef/mushroom filling
Kosher salt or fleur de sel and fresh thyme
popsicle sticks

Beef/Mushroom Filling

2 tbls butter
250 grams ground beef
100 grams button mushrooms (approx 4 large), rough chop
1 onion, rough chop
3 scallions, greens included, rough chop
2 cloves garlic, rough chop
1 scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and chopped or to taste
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp kosher salt
a few grinds of fresh, black pepper
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
between 1/4 and 1/2 cup chicken stock


First whiz up your bread to make your fresh crumbs. I use a crusty Italian style bun and put aside.
Next, throw your mushrooms into the food processor and pulse until finely ground and put aside.

Now, put the onion, scallion, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper into the food processor and pulse until minced.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a frying pan and saute the scallion mixture for about five minutes until softened but not browned. Using a spatula, scrape the mixture out into a bowl and set aside. Now add the ground mushrooms and the beef to the pan and start to cook it, smashing the beef down with your spatula as you stir so that you don't end up with big chunks of meat. You want the meat/mushroom mixture to be crumbly.

When it's almost cooked, add the scallion mixture back into the pan and continue to cook until there is no pink colour at all left to the meat.

Throw in the curry, allspice, salt and pepper, bread crumbs and 1/4 cup of chicken stock and stir well to combine. Cover the pan and let it cook for about ten minutes, checking it from time to time to make sure it's not getting too dry. You want it to be very moist but not liquidy so if you need to , add a slurp more stock during this time to keep the mixture the right consistency.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature while you prepare the rest of the stuff. You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate it until you need it as well.

Preheat the oven to 375F

Lay out one of your sheets of puff pastry (i worked with it right on the parchment it was wrapped up in). Keep the other roll of pastry in the fridge until you need it. If you use something else, put a piece of parchment onto your baking sheet.

Cut it in thirds one way and then into four strips the other so that you have 12 rectangles. Now, cut each rectangle in half so you now have 24 small rectangles - these photos on Joy The Baker's site illustrate it really well and you should go over there and bookmark her site anyway so, off you go, go look.

Now, lay out 12 of the rectangles and brush each one with the egg wash and stick a little popsicle stick on to it, pressing lightly into the pastry. Now put a heaping tbls of meat/mushroom filling in the middle. Top that with another piece of puff pastry and seal all four sides with the tines of a fork. Prick two rolls of holes on top and move to a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Repeat with the second roll of pastry and when you have all 24 pastry puffs on the cookie sheet, brush them all with the egg wash, lay a tiny sprig of fresh thyme on top of each one and sprinkle the whole thing with some coarse salt.

Pop those in the oven and cook them for about 15 minutes, until they have puffed up and are starting to brown a bit. They are best right out of the oven but they are still really good at room temp.

*if you want to make a larger beef patty, just cut the sheet in half lengthwise and then in quarters the other way so you end up with 8 larger rectangles, skip the popsicle stick and make 8 full size patties. They make a great dinner with a big salad on the side.

They also reheat easily - just pop them on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350F oven for about 6 minutes

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Week In Yum Aug 2-8 Pan Am Food Fest, Norman Hardy

The groom's ride                                                                                                               Photo:Shack

Our week started off with a bang when we attended a Guyanese Hindu wedding in Brampton on Saturday. Now, I have been to an East Indian Hindu wedding and although it was a three day affair, the actual wedding ceremony only took about an hour and was followed by a dinner and a reception so I assumed this would be similar. At this wedding,  guests were free to leave the ceremony and wander over to the food tent whenever they felt a bit peckish with people lining up to fill their plates with delicious vegetarian dishes, sitting at the tables to eat and then returning to the ceremony. Our tablemates filled us in and told us that this was the hard core Hindu ceremony and it would go on for hours and since there wasn't room for all 1000 guests to eat at once, you were encouraged to get up, stretch your legs and get a snack, go back to the ceremony for a bit, come back for a snack until it's all over and then you go home - my kind of affair.

There was rice, some kind of jackfruit dish that tasted just like chicken,  pumpkin, achar and a mild potato curry with a thin, crepe like bread to scoop it all up with. I was surprised to hear that, despite their Indian heritage,  none of our Guyanese table mates had eaten much actual East Indian food although one of the ladies had eaten butter chicken once and loved it. I couldn't help but wonder what is stopping her from eating it again since she clearly loved it the one time she tried it. I will eat some butter chicken in her honour.

P.S. We went back for seconds.

On Sunday we went to visit family outside of Kingston for the day so we spent Monday enjoying a leisurely drive home via Prince Edward County, which we arrived to by taking the Glennora Ferry. Since it was kind of on the way homeish, we stopped in at the Norman Hardie Winery in Wellington, Ontario. We tried the riesling and the calcaire and, to be honest, neither of them rocked our world. The winery is known for their pinot and their chardonnay but it was still kind of early and I wasn't up to tasting any more wine but will definitely give them a go the next time we visit. What DID rock our world was the pizza they are cranking out downstairs on the lovely patio.

It is worth the drive just for the pizza and the view.

Shack was off working nonstop and The Kid was away at a camp so I was on my own all week, which means a shit ton of popcorn dinners but I did manage to crank out this batch of Jamaican Beef Patty Pops, my entry in the Blend and Extend Appetizer contest. Mushrooms Canada and Ontario Beef have teamed up and they are hosting a friendly little contest amongst the members of the Food Bloggers of Canada. The Kid ate three full sized turnovers and The Neighbour pronounced them the best thing I have ever fed her. The recipe will be up by the end of the weekend.

Pan American Food Festival

Photo from 2013 Carlos Bolivar Photo
Pan American Food Festival is here at last and I plan to spend my weekend there eating Latin American food, dancing and sipping Pisco Sours. The festival is a family friendly, all weekend extravaganza happening at the Daniels Spectrum in the heart of downtown Toronto and apart from a couple of programs, it's absolutely free to attend. 

Photo from 2013 Carlos Bolivar Photo

Of course, I am always excited about the prospect of eating delicious food but I am particularly stoked because this year's featured country is Peru. I will be attending with our good friends, the MVP's (Most Valuable Peruvians) who are ready to go all weekend with me. When we are done eating, we will all take a  Salsa/Bachata dance workshop to burn some calories so we can eat some more.

Photo from 2013 Carlos Bolivar Photo

Highlights, for me, will be the cooking demos by both Norman Van Aken and Peru's Roger Arakaki on Saturday afternoon. I will follow that up with the Totalmente Tamales Competition at 6:30 where 6 chefs representing 6 different countries will go mano a mano to find the Top Tamale.  Your $9 ticket to the event will cover the cost of tasting the 6 tamales so come hungry.

Photo from 2013 Carlos Bolivar Photo

Sunday is also full of food demos with chefs representing Chile, Jamaica, Panama, Brazil and Columbia and on both days there will be a licensed patio hosted by Valdez Restaurant, an Art exhibit and a Pan American Market from noon to 11pm Saturday and until 8pm on Sunday.

Pin of the week: too gorgeous to eat

Instagram of the week: feeling hot hot hot

Facebook share of the week:

Tweet of the week:

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Week in Yum July 26- August 1 Queen, Patois, Kadbanu and Recipieces This Week

I ate nothing but I took The Kid to see Queen and that was THE highlight of my week, so there

 Busy, busy week again starting with Queen at the ACC on Monday. Shack surprised The Kid and I with amazing seats for the concert because he knows that my son and I share a deep and abiding love for Queen. Let's face it, although they both still play with the energy and stamina of 25 year olds, Brian May and Roger Taylor are closer to 70 than 60 and this could be the last time they play together like this.  Adam Lambert was born to sing this music and did a fine job of standing in for Freddie Mercury but the thrill, for me, was to breathe the same airspace as Brian May, one of the most important guitarists in rock history, in my humble opinion. We laughed, I cried, we sang and all was right with the world.


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