Wednesday, December 5, 2012

12 Days of Christmas - Joan Kilby

I'm so thrilled to welcome you to Day Three of:

The 12 Days of Christmas
Food and Romance
Blogging Extravaganza! 

It's my absolute pleasure to welcome my guest today, Joan Kilby. Joan is renowned for her heart-warming romances and she's one of my fellow fantabulous SuperRomance authors.

What some people might not know is that Joan is an adopted Australian -- she grew up in Canada. She's here today to tell us about some of the differences she's noticed between Canadian and Australian Christmases AND she's giving away an absolutely fabulous recipe for panforte! Thanks Joan!

Christmas Dinner -- Canucks versus Aussies
By Joan Kilby

When I was growing up in Canada, Christmas dinner meant a 25 lb roast turkey, stuffing--or dressing as we called it--mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, home-made bread rolls, and from the German Mennonite side of the family, bubbat, a raisin-laced, doughy, cakey stuffing that, along with everything else, was drenched in lashings of gravy made from pan drippings. This was followed by homemade pies--pumpkin, apple and plum. Also, Christmas cake, shortbread, mince tarts, Nanaimo bar and butter tarts. Whew!

We Canucks need heavy food at Christmas to create a layer of blubber as protection against the long cold winter in case we get caught in a blizzard and have to live off our fat reserves for a week or two. In Vancouver (where I’m from) you would be more likely to drown from forty days and forty nights of rain but the blubber would still come in handy as a built-in flotation device if you were swept away by the deluge.

Fast forward to present day Australia. I’ve lived here for upwards of twenty years but I will never get used to having Christmas in summer. Every year I think wistfully, This year I’ll make a hot turkey dinner. Then I look at the weather forecast. I’d have to be crazy to swelter in the kitchen all day when it’s 35 C outside! Yes, sometimes it rains on Christmas day in Melbourne but it still doesn’t feel like Canada. Probably what I’m really pining for is my lost childhood but that ain’t coming back. So I have another dip in the pool before I put on the barbecue. After all, it’s Christmas.

I serve cold roast chicken, sliced baked ham and half a dozen different salads. I love the Aussie tradition of seafood at Christmas so barbecued prawns with chilli, ginger and garlic are a favourite starter. Dessert is a fruit platter and my own homemade panforte, the spicy Italian fruit and nut cake. All in all, it’s a lot lighter and healthier than turkey with five starches.

Here is my recipe for panforte which I’ve adapted from several recipes. Classic recipes use fruit peel and glace fruits but I prefer dried fruits. It makes a great Christmas gift, or an energy boost when you’re starving but you’ve still got pages to write before you can call it a day. It’s a lot of work but it’s so worth it.

Joan's latest book is "To Be A Family" and it's out right now in Australia.


400 g whole blanched almonds, toasted and kept hot to help with mixing
200 g macadamias, also toasted and kept hot
200 g raw pistachio nuts (you could also include hazelnuts)
200 g raisins
200 g currants
540 g mixed dried fruit chopped coarsely- figs, pears, apricots, pineapple, craisins - your choice. I like a bit of crystalized ginger for an extra kick
200 g plain flour
20 g cocoa
2 tsp cinnamon  (I use heaped teaspoons of all the spices cuz I like it spicy)
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
300 g dark chocolate, chopped
30 ml water
300 g honey
200 g caster sugar

- preheat oven to 160 C
- line a 20 x 22 x 4 cm pan with baking paper or edible rice paper sheets
- toast nuts, timing them so they’re ready when everything else is ready to be mixed together.
- in a large bowl, mix the nuts, dried fruit, flour, cocoa, spices and chocolate. I mix the flour, cocoa and spices separately first to make sure they’re evenly mixed.
- bring the water, honey and sugar to boil and pour over mix in bowl. This will be thick and dryish. Don't be tempted to add extra liquid.
- Mix well.
- press into the tin, using a sheet of baking paper or oiled fingers to pat it out. Careful, it's hot! Or press down with half a cut lemon which gives a nice zing to the finished cake.
- Bake for 35 minutes until the top is covered in fine blisters.
- when cool slice thinly to serve

Don't forget, as part of TDoCFaRBE I'm encouraging you all to undertake a Random Act of Kindness throughout the festive season. During December, Random Acts is very helpfully making suggestions for all kinds of acts of kindness you can perform. Or you can simply send them a donation and wear a smile all day.


  1. Ohhhhh, look at that panforte. Mmmmmmmm

    And also, look at that supercute bloke on the front of your book. One question, is he zipping up or zipping down? :-D

    1. Ebs, I like to think he's zipping down and that his grin is for the heroine. :) When you look at the thumbnail you can almost imagine his pink hands are mittens and the whitish background is snow. Maybe Harlequin Sydney knows I'm homesick for Canada.

  2. Hi Joan,
    I like a country where you're actually encouraged to pile on some winter pounds and there's good reasoning behind it. But much as I love the idea of a white Christmas, for me our Aussie style is just as ingrained in my DNA. Lovely to read about the different foods Canadians eat at Christmas. I remember the year my Mississippian sister in law brought peas cooked in milk to Christmas dinner. Blank looks all round :-)

    1. Hi Louise,
      Peas in milk, that's a new one on me. At least in Canada you don't notice the extra winter pounds so much beneath all the layers of sweaters and raincoats. Bathing suits on the other hand, are pretty unforgiving so it's a good thing our dinners are lighter.

  3. I love panforte! Will have to try this Joan. Just a tip, if you ever do want the turkey dinner, a webber cooks a mean turkey and does it OUTSIDE. That's how my Mum used to do it, as soon as she got a webber. Because we loved the turkey and multiple carbohydrate dinner, even in summer!

    Thanks for hosting, Emmie -the series is fun!

    1. You're absolutely right, Imelda. We have a Webber and we cook whole roast chickens on there all the time. Now I have to confess the other reason I never do a turkey -- they're just too expensive in this country. Turkeys are cheap where I come from and to pay more than you do for chicken, well, that's just wrong. But, you've got me thinking about it again...

    2. Ooh, I love the sound of a Weber turkey! Turkey's not big in my family, so I'm not sure how I'd go getting them to agree to it, but I love the idea!

    3. Pork is also brilliant in the Webber. Great crackling and cooked to a turn. I'm sure I remember a Christmas were we had hot pork for Christmas dinner. I have a feeling we had cold glazed ham and turkey as well, which sounds insane but there were a lot of us! And you know, excess is how we roll at Christmas! If the lounge room is not littered with people groaning lightly and falling asleep after Christmas dinner, you're doing it wrong! ;)

    4. I haven't tried pork but I've cooked a whole leg of lamb in the Webber. It worked beautifully. And yes, there's no success like excess when it comes to Christmas.

  4. Hi Joni
    It's your cousin from the 'great white north'. Yes, we have experienced both cultures as well. Our Christmas in Australia in 2004 was much less stressful. Up at the crack of dawn, open gifts, out for a swim in the ocean back home to prepare a nice lunch; salads, seafood etc. Here in Canada we raise the turkey, kill it, stuff it and roast it, along with all the trimmings as you said. Do miss our family get togethers. Merry Christmas to all in Oz

  5. Hi Lorrie, It's great to hear from you here. Christmas with the Janzen cousins is a huge part of my nostalgia for Christmas Past. Your mum's pfeffernusse will always be linked in my mind to the day. Oh, now I'm really homesick. I didn't know you raised your own turkeys nowadays! And killed and cleaned it. Wow. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  6. Hi Joan,
    Great recipe. Panforte is a favourite among family and friends. I keep thinking I should try to make it. Maybe this year!

    Love this series, Emmie. Thanks!

    1. Hi Serena, I blush to show my panforte recipe to an Italian! But I love it so much. It's not that hard, just a bit time-consuming. You should try it and tell me how it stacks up against the real thing. :)

  7. Joan,
    Thanks for sharing. Looks like I'll have to add another favourite to my collection. Great to e-meet another 'Canstralian' here too - cheers,