6 Disastrous Dishes to Avoid on Valentine’s Day

You’ve wisely decided to skip the restaurant scene this year. Who needs the added pressure of getting a reservation on Valentine’s Day, anyway? You’re not an amateur. You can pull off a romantic evening at home, no problem. Just have to figure out what to serve. Best advice we can give you is don’t fuck it up.

Sugared Roses

All menu planning, the way I see it, is a manipulation of your guests. How hungry do you want them to be when they take their first bite of the main course? How full should they be when they finish dessert? Are you worried they’re going to eat and run and if so should you plan to eat the minute they arrive so they understand the party doesn’t end when the meal is over? These are decisions you need to make before you decide what food you want to serve.

Sugared Roses

Valentine’s Day has its own set of rules for menu planning. We talk a lot about traditional eating around here and Valentine’s Day is no different. Do you go for the obvious aphrodisiacs with oysters and chocolate or do you get sentimental and make your partner’s favourite? Maybe you want to make something you both have fond memories of. Listen, all food is good but sometimes Valentine’s Day isn’t the time for it. This is our list of six disastrous dishes to avoid.

Anything with Parsley

Parsley is one of my favourite herbs in the kitchen. There are several parsley salads I make throughout the year but all of them are banned on Valentine’s Day. You might be thinking, you both love Middle Eastern foods. Remember how you met at that shawarma place after a particularly awkward night of goth karaoke? You may be thinking tabbouleh is a good option on the menu but don’t do it. It’s like rule one of romantic menu planning, unless you want to spend the rest of the evening grooming each other’s smiles, ridding them of a seemingly endless field of parsley.

6 Disastrous Dishes to Avoid on Valentine’s Day

Tabbouleh from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Heavy Food

Sure it’s mid February and all you really want is comfort food and why not? Everyone loves macaroni and cheese, right? Well if your plan is to follow dinner with going straight to bed to have cheese dreams, you really need to consider something lighter. If you want cheese maybe splurge on some Coeur de Neufchâtel and have a nibble before dinner.

6 Disastrous Dishes to Avoid on Valentine’s Day

Macaroni and Cheese from The Farm by Ian Knauer

Food That Makes You Go Poof

You know enough already to leave high fibre foods off the menu tonight. Beans and lentils are not sexy foods, no matter what your vegan friend tries to tell you. Jerusalem artichokes at first glance and to the uninitiated locavore might seem like a good choice. A bit different, in season, and known for their luxurious creamy texture, they’d make a great side. The other, lesser advertised bit of information on Jerusalem artichokes is that apart from them being high in fibre, they also contain inulin, a complex sugar that can’t be broken down easily in digestion. Nothing in your evening following this meal will be quiet, that’s for sure. You might well have served a bag of dried apricots for dinner.

6 Disastrous Dishes to Avoid on Valentine’s Day

A Pan Fry [of Jerusalem Artichokes] with Duck Fat and Bay from Tender: Volume 1 by Nigel Slater

Spicy Food

For some, spicy food is okay but you’d better know that going in. A bit of spice tonight is what you want because it speeds up the metabolism and gets your heart racing. It also clears the sinuses, which is the biggest problem. There is nothing worse than needing a nose tampon to stop a relentless flow of “cleared sinuses” at the dinner table. If this doesn’t apply to you, then carry on.

6 Disastrous Dishes to Avoid on Valentine’s Day

Goan Pork Vindaloo from Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Literal Food

It’s good you’re being creative and really thinking about the menu but it can be easy to take it too far. Stick with heart shaped candy and boxes of chocolate. Eating animal heart tonight – though I’d recommend it on other nights – is not appropriate unless you’re into some Star Trek Klingon role play and you need to fortify yourselves on the heart of a beast before fracturing a few clavicles.

6 Disastrous Dishes to Avoid on Valentine’s Day

Grilled, Marinated Calf’s Heart from The Complete Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson

Phallic Food

It’s a double standard for sure that you could absolutely serve a meal of oysters and papaya tonight but geoduck is off limits. Blame society’s imbalanced views on the sexes and really weird looking seafood. Sashimi is a very good idea for Valentine’s Day. It’s light and fresh tasting, simple to prepare and luxurious. Geoduck sashimi though creates too many Lorena Bobbitt-like scenarios. It’s just bad foreshadowing for the events to follow in the evening. At best it’s going to remind your partner of the time she had an online dating profile and was bombarded with numerous photographic come-hithers.

6 Disastrous Dishes to Avoid on Valentine’s Day

Geoduck Sashimi from Serious Eats: The Nasty Bits by Chichi Wang

The Waffle Obsession: Up with Raised Waffles!

As a culture we may be a bit preoccupied with waffles. And I’m thankful for it. Though I personally speak to the Canadian aspect where anything that acts as a vehicle for maple syrup is a thing worthy of obsession, I know our neighbours to the south also share our obsession.

Growing up it was never homemade waffles but from-frozen Eggos, waffle cones and special trips that included hotel breakfasts and diners where the waffles share little resemblance to a balanced breakfast, topped with billowing whipped cream, drenched in dessert sauce. Later, in University I discovered how well waffles worked in savory preparations. It was a valuable lesson in keeping an open mind to all things edible.

Waffle House

At the Starving Artist in Toronto, a restaurant with a waffle-heavy menu I had my first chicken and waffle BLT. That sandwich, which left my hands smelling like sweet waffles when I was finished, opened up the gateway to a waffle addiction that until then was completely under control. Waffles started replacing Sunday morning pancakes – the loud waffle iron alarm sounding off another batch of golden-crisp waffles became part of our breakfast soundtrack.

Waffle House

That is what brought me to this recipe. Making waffles at home creates a challenge not uncommon to most mass breakfast productions. By the time the last batch of waffles has sounded, the first batch, that’s been kept warm in the oven, has lost much of it’s crispness. This recipe for waffles produces what I expect to receive in a diner. A batter that’s old fashioned, tried and true. The recipe, which has been highly publicized around the Internet comes from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. The reason it works so well at home is because the batter cooks at a very high heat in the waffle iron, something many other batters can’t withstand, producing a waffle with a crispness that lasts until the last batch is finished.

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The flavour of this batter is also something special. Some batters taste as though they’re just pancakes that have been poured into a waffle iron. This one tastes faintly of yeast, which is what gives it that old fashioned charm. Though there’s not much to be improved upon in this recipe, I sometimes like to replace the sugar for maple sugar to give it a boost of maple flavour before I drench them in dark maple syrup.

Waffle House

Raised Waffles

Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham, Fannie Farmer Cookbook Corporation, Archibald Candy Corporation, and Lauren Jarrett

1 x 8g package active dry yeast
125ml lukewarm water
500ml lukewarm whole milk (3.25% M.F.)
90g salted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons maple sugar or granulated sugar
355g all-purpose unbleached flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda

In a bowl large enough to hold everything double (these will rise), dissolve the yeast into the water. Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour and whisk together until evenly incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest overnight at room temperature.

The following morning whisk in the eggs and baking soda until thoroughly combined. Preheat your waffle iron to its hottest setting (temperatures will vary) and pour in the batter being careful not to overfill the iron. Cook until the waffles are golden brown. Serve as you like, but preferably with maple syrup and butter.


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Waffle House

140117 Crustcrumbs Waffle House 0015

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

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.

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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.

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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.