Updated Christmas Cake

Once November 1 hits, the Christmas season starts in our household. The decorations come out, and the baking begins. Smells of cinnamon and spicy cloves, bright citrus, and buttery cookies fills the house and makes the dark days of autumn much more festive.

A couple years ago, I came across a recipe for a Christmas cake in the BBC Good Food magazine. I’m not a big Christmas cake person, so the combination of cranberry and hazelnuts in a Christmas cake intrigued me. This cake is very straightforward to make, and you don’t even need to mix it with an electric mixer (if you are like me, and prefer to just do it by hand). It lasts a good week or more, and you can freeze it up to about 6-8 months. I like to eat it warmed up with a little butter and a cup of tea, or even with a bit of cheese.

Because this is a British recipe, all quantities are in metric. You can convert to imperial, but sometimes the amounts aren’t quite right, so I recommend using a kitchen scale if you have one.


Cranberry and Hazelnut Christmas Cake

Servings: 16

200g butter, softened, plus a little extra for greasing
150g raisins
200g pot glacé cherry, halved
100g dried cranberries
100g dried pears, chopped (optional)
200g fresh or frozen cranberry
zest and juice 1 orange
2 tbsp mixed peel, chopped finely
50ml sherry, brandy, Disaronno or Frangelico
250g light soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
100g toasted hazelnut, chopped
100g pistachios, chopped (optional)
1 tbsp mixed spice (See here for a recipe to make your own)

1. Heat oven to 320F (160C/140C fan/gas 3). Grease a deep 20cm cake tin and line with baking parchment – high enough to come 2.5cm above the top of the tin, or grease and flour a bundt pan.
2. Put all of the dried fruit, orange zest and juice, and alcohol into a small pan. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 3 mins, until the cranberries have softened a little and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
3. Put the sugar, butter and vanilla in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, flour, almonds, hazelnuts and mixed spice. Whisk again until just combined, then stir through the soaked fruit and any remaining juices.
4. Tip the cake mixture into the tin and level the top, then bake for 1 hr 20 mins, or until a skewer pushed into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave in the tin to cool. Serve cake at room temperature, or warmed in the microwave.

Acadian Chicken


Many years ago as a teenager, I visited Cape Breton Island with my family. There wasn’t a lot of memorable meals on that trip—after all, what teenager wants to spend their vacation driving around in a van with their family! However, I do remember the stunning scenery and one particular dish.

We stopped for lunch on the Cabot Trail in a tiny French-speaking hamlet. It may have been in the Chéticamp area, but it was certainly on the eastern coast. We were hungry, and there was a single restaurant in town, serving just a very few dishes. One, which both of my parents ordered, was a simple stew of chicken and onions, served with mash potatoes. I remember trying their meal, and wishing I had ordered the same. It was so good that my parents asked the proprietors for the recipe. The ladies explained in broken English that you simply dredged the chicken in a bit of flour, salt, and pepper, browned the chicken, added in chopped onions, and let everything simmer in the oven until the onions have virtually melted to form a “sauce.” This is exactly the sort of meal you can imagine early settlers to the East Coast cooking over a fire in a great big 17th century cooking pot!

Since then, the so-called “Acadian Chicken” has become a part of our family meal repertoire. It may not be pretty, but it is filling, simply, and delicious, and especially good on a cold, Canadian winter’s day. We’ve doctored it over the years to suit our tastes, though the essence is the same. Now that autumn has taken a frozen turn towards winter, I cooked up Acadian chicken recently. It is nice served with mashed potatoes or egg noodles, and a vibrant vegetable.

Acadian Chicken

Serves 4-6

2-3 lbs of bone-in chicken pieces (or one large chicken, cut into pieces)
10-12 medium onions, sliced
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
Splash of dry white wine (optional)
1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 sprig fresh thyme)
Salt and pepper

1. Add oil to oven-proof dish or roasting pan. On medium-high heat, brown chicken pieces. Set aside.
2. Turn down heat to medium-low. Add onions to pan. Cook 2-3 minutes. Preheat oven to 325F.
3. Add chicken pieces and stock. Add thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. You can also add some dry white wine at this point.
4. Cook chicken in oven with lid on for 1.5-2 hours. Remove lid and continue cooking for 1 more hour or until chicken is falling off bones and the onions have cooked down to create a sort of sauce. If the chicken is too saucy (or you are impatient, like me), you can thicken the dish with a slurry of chicken stock and flour.
5. Serve with mashed potatoes, a glass of wine, and enjoy!

Note: You could probably adapt this recipe easily to a slow cooker. We have often prepped everything and left it in the oven all afternoon to cook around 300F. It is a perfect meal to “fix and forget about it.”

Pumpkin Pasta Bake

Caravaggio, Still Life with Fruit, c. 1603, oil on canvas. Denver Art Museum.

Building on my previous post about eating pumpkins, I thought I would go back further in time. Pumpkins, a member of the cucurbit genus, are native to North America. They have been consumed for thousands of years by indigenous peoples—they ate the pumpkin flesh, the seeds, and even blossoms.

After Columbus reached the Americas, pumpkins arrived in Europe. Some of the first images of cucurbits in Europe are found at the Villa Farnesina in Rome, a beautiful Renaissance gem that was decorated by Raphael and his pupils in the second decade of the sixteenth century. Other artists, like Caravaggio, included pumpkins in still-life paintings, like the one you see above.

Renaissance Europeans also began to cook with pumpkin. One recipe, found in Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera, published in 1580, includes a recipe for a tourte of domestic pumpkin, which combines ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar, pepper and cinnamon that is then poured into a tourte shell, covered with an upper shell, baked, and finally glazed with sugar and rosewater. (Scappi, Book V. 106) This recipe sounds suspiciously like a precursor to our “modern” versions of pumpkin pie!

Pumpkin is often found in sweet foods, but it is equally tasty in savoury pasta dishes. In the Northern Italian town of Mantua, for example, raviolis are filled with a mixture of pumpkin, amaretti, and mostarda (a spicy condiment of fruit preserved in sugar syrup and mustard oil). I opted for a simpler pumpkin pasta recipe when I had some friends over for supper recently. This recipe has a creamy pumpkin sauce covering ziti noodles, peppered with chunks of sausage and fresh sage leaves. It was delicious, and a perfect way to consume seasonal produce in a slightly different way!


Pumpkin Pasta Bake
Serves 6-8

1 pound ziti or rigatoni noodles, cooked to al dente
1 pound sausage meat (I used a combination of mild Italian and British bangers)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
6-8 sage leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 of a garlic and herb cream cheese spread (i.e. Boursin)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup cream
15 oz can pumpkin puree (approx. 2 cups of pumpkin)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Brown the sausage in a pan over medium high heat until the sausage is no longer pink. Break up larger chunks as you cook.
3. In the same pan, add the onion, and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the wine, and then the sage leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the wine has reduced by half.
5. Add the chicken stock, cream, and Boursin cheese. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Mix until everything is incorporated. You can also add some extra grated Parmesan to the sauce for a more cheesy flavour.
5. Transfer to a casserole dish with the pasta. Mix until combined.
6. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25-35 minutes until bubbly.
7. Garnish with parsley (or fried sage) and enjoy with a nice glass of white wine!