Robbie Burns Day: The Morning After

Into our second miserable cold snap of January, we’re in need of some seasonal eating that goes beyond soup. It’s part of the Crustcrumbs mandate to address eating traditions, so we weren’t about to let Robbie Burns Day pass us by and with it, the only chance to eat haggis for the year. There aren’t many other foods that have such pomp and circumstance follow them out to the table before they are formally addressed.

Minced Haggis Fry

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.
Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

Even in the address it’s noted that haggis is not exactly something we tend to fawn over compared to other dishes but that, I think, is what makes it special. I hope it’s also what makes it okay to say that we skipped over the traditional ceremony and went straight for the leftovers.

Minced Haggis Fry

This is haggis for the morning after. A haggis is ideal to make a breakfast mince fry up because it’s dense with oats, liver and aromatic black pepper. I’d go through with the whole haggis ceremony actually, if only to have these leftovers the next day. Though pretty damned tasty on it’s own, I also can’t resist a bit of brunchery tinkering, adding a golden breaded and fried soft-boiled duck egg to top off this glorious mound so that the yolk can ooze its way through the mince adding to its gravied texture. Boiled potatoes are mandatory just as tatties were the night before.

Scotch Caesar

A Scottish-Canadian beverage seems only too appropriate for a haggis breakfast. Enter in the Scotch Caesar. This is especially tasty if you happened to have any remnants of single malt scotch at the bottom of a formerly beloved bottle from the previous night. Since that’s an unlikely case though, I’d suggest trying a blended scotch for this cocktail, such as Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend Scotch. It’s excellent in cocktails and if you wanted to get fancy, you could infuse it with shiitake mushrooms, though it would be a far cry from being Scottish.

So lets toss in a Scottish prayer and get to the food.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Minced Haggis Fry

Minced Haggis Fry

Enough for 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small (approximately 150g) yellow onion, finely diced
1 leek, sliced into thin half moons
1 large carrot, diced finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1lb cooked haggis, casing removed
100ml red wine
4 whole tomatoes from a can, crushed with your hands
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 large white potatoes, scrubbed and sliced thickly
salt to taste

Slick a large heavy-bottomed frying pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add in the onion, leek, carrot, garlic, and a pinch of salt and sweat for 5-10 minutes until the carrots just begin to soften. Slice the haggis into large rounds and add to the pan with the vegetables, breaking it up as it softens. Add the wine, tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce and cook for 5 minutes more until everything holds together in a cohesive mix. Adjust the salt to taste.

In a medium saucepan filled with cold water, add the potatoes and bring to the boil. Add a generous amount of salt to the water and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife.

To serve, mound the the mince on a plate with the boiled potatoes tucked up alongside.

Breaded and Fried Soft-Boiled Duck Eggs with Haggis

Breaded and Fried Soft-Boiled Duck Eggs

Makes 6

6 duck eggs, at room temperature
946ml sunflower oil
50g all-purpose unbleached flour
1 large chicken egg, beaten
65g panko or other fresh coarse breadcrumbs
salt to taste

Lower each duck egg carefully into a medium saucepan of gently simmering water and cook for approximately 6 minutes depending on the size of your eggs. Immediately plunge the eggs into cold water and leave to cool completely before peeling. Be very gentle when peeling the eggs as the whites will be just set and will break if handled roughly.

Begin slowly heating the oil in a medium saucepan until the oil reaches 375°F.

While the oil is heating, roll each egg separately in the flour, then dip into the chicken egg, then coat in the panko. Deep fry the eggs in the oil for approximately 20 seconds until the coating is a light golden brown. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel and serve warm.

Scotch Caesar

Scotch Caesar

Makes 1 cocktail

2 oz scotch
1/2 oz bottled clam juice
4 oz tomato juice
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 dashes tabasco
pinch of fine sea salt
pinch of celery salt
grating of fresh horseradish
grating of black pepper
fennel fronds, for garnish

In a tall glass filled with ice add everything except the horseradish and black pepper. Stir thoroughly to combine, garnish with a grating of horseradish and black pepper, then the fennel fronds.

An Octopus for the Rest of Us

When I saw a Toronto streetcar plastered with advertising for the new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, featuring an octopus stretched along the outside of the car, I thought “neat, I should take a picture.” When I didn’t take a picture, I was happy to see more ads plastering the inside of the car, and yes, more octopus.

Octopus on the Streetcar

Over the last several years Toronto has been swept up under a tidal wave of octopus dishes, featured on both high and low-end menus. We can’t get enough of it apparently, and so at the time of taking that picture I thought of how the new aquarium could make for a great front to supply Toronto chefs with more octopus. Of course, what I found out when we went to the aquarium is that they actually do stock quite a bit of fish that appears regularly on seafood menus. Not only did they have un-photogenic octopus, they had tanks of trout, haddock, halibut, Alaskan snow crab, and lobster. All that was missing was our host with a towel and fishnet to let us pick out which creature we wanted for our dinner.

Aquarium field trip

Some might think this a twisted way to look at the aquarium but I really think it’s just a way of acknowledging what our food is and where it comes from. When we were at the aquarium with the thousands of children quoting lines from Finding Nemo, I over heard one of them repeat, “fish are friends, not food”. Keep telling yourself that, kiddo.

Chef cooking octopus

I, like many Torontonians, love octopus. I order it almost every time I see it on a menu, thinking it’s not something I would attempt at home for fear of creating a dish that’s tough and inedible. Maybe it’s fitting that a creature that carries so much lore and mystery should be slightly intimidating for home cooks.

Chef cooking octopusOctopus boiling on the stoveOctopus boiling on the stove

My favourite bit of octopus cooking witchcraft comes from something I’ve only ever heard of Spanish cooks performing. While there are plenty of brining, marinating, freezing, rock bashing, and drying techniques all for the sake of tenderizing this creature from the deep, in Spain it seems to be common practice to dip the octopus in a large pot of salted boiling water, three times for three seconds at a time before setting it in the pot to cook. I’ve done it this way too because I really see no harm in playing along with the ceremony but I highly doubt it makes a difference. No more difference anyway than it does to leave an avocado pit in a bowl of guacamole to keep it from browning or adding a match to a pot of simmering water when hard boiling eggs. It’s harmless and makes cooks feel like magicians, so I say do whatever makes you happy.

Octopus drying on rackOctopus drying on rack

This is possibly the easiest recipe for octopus and it makes an impressive starter. It’s a recipe adapted from the Barrafina cookbook, a book I trust for luscious and beautifully authentic Spanish cuisine. It consists of a few simple ingredients, meaning you should take the time to source out the best you can find. The paprika I prefer in this dish is a mild and sweet one, more widely sold as Hungarian sweet paprika. I’m sorry it’s not Spanish. If you’re lucky enough to find Spanish paprika, please go ahead and use it. You could use a smoked variety as well if you prefer a smokey octopus.


It’s easy to adapt this recipe to suit the number of people you have to serve. We used a smallish 3kg octopus, which was enough for four as a light starter. Remember what seems like a beast before cooking will of course become more manageable and shrink down after cooking. To go alongside I tossed purple watercress with some green chilli left to macerate in lime juice with a little salt. The counter-hit of heat from the chilli and sharpness from the lime makes for a refreshing accompaniment.

OctopusOctopus with Capers

Octopus with Capers

Adapted from Barrafina: A Spanish Cookbook

1 medium to large octopus, frozen and thawed (3 – 5kg)
1 large white onion, peeled and sliced
1 fresh bay leaf
150ml olive oil
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
50ml extra virgin olive oil
100ml jar capers packed in salt, rinsed
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
large flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a very large pot of water, salted like the sea, dip the thawed octopus for three seconds and repeat three more times before placing the beast head facing upwards in the pot, adding in the onion and bay leaf. Simmer gently for 1 hour and 15 minutes then turn the octopus so that the head faces down and continue to cook another 30 minutes. Remove the octopus and allow to cool slightly and drain on a tray. Discard the head and beak and with a knife and your hands remove some of the skin and suckers, as much as you desire, dismantling the rest of the octopus into large bite-sized pieces.

In a large heavy bottomed frying pan, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the octopus pieces and fry briefly on each side to brown slightly. Remove from the pan and arrange the pieces on a serving board. Sprinkle the pieces generously with paprika then drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil. Scatter over the capers and parsley and season lightly with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Octopus with Capers

Field Trip to the Aquarium

In retrospect, it was a terrible idea to visit the new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada during the holidays, with the crowds of horrible children pushing and shoving, and their parents sticking their iPads in people’s faces to take terrible direct-flash 0.7 megapixel photos.  Nevertheless, when John suggested a field trip to the new Toronto aquarium that opened in October, I jumped at the chance.  Our main purpose was to take pictures of the octopuses, in preparation for a food post about cooking octopus.  (Yes, I’ve been told that’s kind of twisted.)

Sometimes, as a photographer, you approach a situation with a clear shot in mind; something that will truly capture a subject in its all its majesty:


… but instead you end up with this:


Or, this:


Nevermind the aforementioned horrible children and their parents, nor the tiny octopus tank with curved glass that distorts everything, nor the reflections, nor the lack of light… octopuses are nocturnal.  We were at the aquarium for almost 3 hours, and when we looped back through to visit them again at the end of our trip, neither of them had moved.  So, I ended up with the worst octopus photos in the history of octopus photos.

Luckily, John can’t fire me because I own the Crustcrumbs domain (ha HA!), so I’m going to share some other pictures of fish from the aquarium.  However, fish and seafood are so not my thing, so I cannot promise the scientific accuracy of any of my captions.  On the other hand, seafood is John’s thing, so if you stay tuned later this week, he’s going to write more about the edible kind of fish.  He might even use their real names.

Shiny fish.

Aquarium field trip
Drunk fish. Sarah took a pretty good video of these guys, who seem to just float around all day going “whoa…”

Aquarium field trip

Aquarium field trip
Colourfish!  Bonus Crustcrumbs game: guess how many children found “Nemo” while we were looking at this tank?

(Highlight for the answer: ALL OF THEM.  ALL OF THE CHILDREN FOUND NEMO.)

Aquarium field trip

Aquarium field trip
Lazy shark who rests on top of the shark tunnel.

Aquarium field trip
Fat sharks.  (I’m not crazy, right?  These sharks are pretty chubby, yes?)

Aquarium field trip
They still have pretty sharp teeth, though.

Aquarium field trip
Here’s a pile of dead sharks that look like rocks.  (Note: not actually dead.)

Aquarium field trip
Fabulous glitterfish.

Aquarium field trip

Aquarium field trip
This is a stingray photobombing a picture of another stingray.

Aquarium field tripAquarium field trip

So, I may not have taken a really good photo of an octopus, but I did take an average snapshot of a stuffed octopus in the gift shop.

Aquarium field trip

Stay tuned on Thursday for octopus.  Cooked, this time, and much more cooperative as a photography subject.

A Hot Chocolate to Skate With

The Christmas season lulled us into an artificial sense of winter cheerfulness what with its sparkly lights that brighten those initial dark winter nights. But with the cold, harsh reality of New Years Day, it’s now clear that really, what we’re left with when Christmas is all packed back away, is that it’s January. It’s a long cold winter month without Christmas lights, office parties, cookies or trifle.

131218 Skating 0086

A lot of us stuck in this horrendous situation, with winter heavily bearing down, go into a stage of denial, telling ourselves that we can find fun winter activities to keep us busy until spring. At the top of this “winter fun” list is ice skating.

Woman pouring hot chocolate from vacuum flask
Though I don’t especially like ice skating, like most situations I can be coerced if there’s food involved.

131218 Skating 0128
Besides, when I tell myself I want to go skating, what I’m really saying is I want to go to the pub after skating. A nice dark pub with a fireplace, where I can drink a porter or stout, something that’s black like motor oil, accompanied by another something, heavy with fried cheese. I also love the idea of bringing a flask to the rink, to repel the cold and make the activity a bit more entertaining but I don’t think it’s such a great idea to impair my motor skills in any way when I’m on the ice. When it comes to rink snacks, I think it’s fair to stick with simple hot chocolate and whatever fried thing they’re selling nearby. In our case, the french fries were the best option.

Woman pouring hot chocolate from vacuum flask
The hot chocolate is easy to put together and so much better than whatever the nearest vending machines are turning out. When I was coming up with this hot chocolate, I essentially started doing what I thought Nigella Lawson might do and as such I’ve ended up with a few British ingredients in my recipe. Nigella knows her chocolate desserts. She has full respect for chocolate and I find that many of her chocolate recipes are reminiscent of biting into a bar of pure chocolate. That’s the reason for both the dark chocolate and cocoa powder as they both provide their own special depth to this drink.

Woman pouring hot chocolate from vacuum flask
The bourbon-soaked vanilla bean is completely optional. Whenever I use a vanilla bean I add it to a jar that’s been filled with bourbon, a bit like feeding a homemade vanilla extract. The flavour of bourbon is so welcome in my baking that I thought I’d enjoy a vanilla extract with it as its base. The bourbon, of course is strong and competes with the vanilla so it’s not a pure vanilla extract though it is a satisfying ingredient to have on hand. At any rate, recycling one of these bourbon-soaked beans to infuse into this hot chocolate only makes sense to me if you happen to have it on hand. Otherwise you could add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract or simply leave the vanilla out all together.

Woman pouring hot chocolate from vacuum flask

Hot Chocolate

Makes enough to fill a 750ml thermos

150g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 bourbon-soaked vanilla bean (optional)
500ml whole milk (3.25% M.F.)
2 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup
Fat pinch of Maldon salt

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk over medium-low heat until silky smooth. Decant into mugs or a thermos.

Woman pouring hot chocolate from vacuum flask
Thank you Sarah Wright for being our favourite Crustcrumbs model and recipe influencer.

Bourbon-Soaked Chocolate and Espresso Trifle

Trifle is one of my favourite desserts, I think remaining at the top of the list because I limit myself to one per year. This year, two really because *spoiler alert* we shot this in November and you can be sure I’ll be having another trifle on the 24th of December.

Christmas Dinner: Dessert

It’s easy – like really easy to do. And for some reason, I find that with a trifle, shortcuts and cheats work. The sum is far greater than the parts. I’m sure if you did everything the right, full length way it would also be incredible but I don’t think that’s a desirable route this time of year. Besides, at this point in the meal everyone is about ready to burst and is completely soused. It’s the perfect time for some tomfoolery at the table.

Christmas Dinner: Dessert

The trifle comes off eating as a light dessert because of the airiness of the cream. The store-bought cake that makes up the heft is soaked in merry making amounts of booze meaning it resembles little of its former self, and the cheaters custard just melds everything together. Simply referring to this as a custard is a cheat really. The corn starch in it, in my opinion disqualifies it from being a custard but like I said, it’s not the time to be playing around with scalding milk and egg yolks in the kitchen. If things were to separate on me this late in the game, it would seriously jeopardize my annual trifle intake and that’s unacceptable.

Christmas Dinner: Dessert

I have to say this variation of trifle, with its bourbon, chocolate and espresso comes from my desire to not have to make two desserts at Christmas. The New York Times’ Melissa Clark published an incredible recipe for a Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake in 2008 and upon first making it, it became a staple of our Christmas table. I wasn’t willing to stop making or eating trifle though, so this is my solution. I’m sure the bunt cake would be over-the-top in this trifle but the cake is so perfect on its own, with barely a dusting of icing sugar, it would be a crime to make it solely to have here. Go with plain chocolate cake and to drive my point home about using any store bought cake you can find, I will say unashamed that I used frozen double chocolate, pre-sliced Sara Lee pound cake.

Christmas Dinner: Dessert

Bourbon-Soaked Chocolate and Espresso Trifle

For the custard:
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 large egg yolks
500ml whole milk (3.25% M.F.)
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

For the whipped cream:
500ml whipping cream (35% M.F.)
2 tablespoons icing sugar

To assemble:
2 x 306g chocolate loaf cakes, sliced
125ml bourbon
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

In a medium saucepan whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks then slowly add the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for approximately 20 minutes until the custard is thick. Add the espresso powder and whisk again to dissolve. Refrigerate with plastic wrap resting directly on the surface of the custard to avoid it developing a skin. Cool completely before proceeding with the rest of the trifle.

Whip the cream and icing sugar together to form stiff peaks.

To assemble the trifle, start by adding a couple of tablespoons of the custard to the bottom of a trifle bowl and arrange a layer of cake over top. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the bourbon then a layer, approximately 1/4 of the custard, followed by 1/4 of the whipped cream. Repeat the layers, finishing with a thick layer of whipped cream. Sprinkle with chocolate and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Christmas Dinner: Dessert