Thursday 7 December 2023

In My Kitchen - December 2023

December brings us the joy of cherries, jacaranda trees in bloom and lighter evenings leading up to the summer solstice.  It is also when I feel the need to wrap everything up for the year.  I had a busy November with a big work event, a day in Geelong with my parents and Sylvia, swimming at the beach and pool, a visit to the Victoria Market, fun at an axe-throwing centre (wholesome zen fun not murderous rage fun), and lots of cooking.  December started with the rained-out cancellation of a carols service but I got to a school concert with Sylvia who wanted to see a friend perform.  I also got quite bad eczema, which seemed to flare up with stress.  And of course Christmas looms on the horizon.

November finished with the end of my contract.  So I have tied up loose ends in my workplace and now have some time to sort out some things around the house before a trip to Europe in the new year.  There are many blog posts I would like to write before the end of the year.  I finally got my Vegemite post up to celebrate its 100th birthday but I can't see myself having time and energy for as many posts as I would like.

Meals have been somewhat hit and miss but we had some great dishes.  Above is a successful Ramen Noodle Salad that Sylvia made on a balmy evening while I was out at dinner.  The salad left in the bowl was the leftovers so you can see that it made a lot.  I can see it in our lives again if the summer is as warm as is predicted.

It was really nice to be given this Aboriginal designed notebook at the end of the work event that I had worked hard to make a success.  The presentations were really interesting and the people were so warm and compassionate that the event was an absolute pleasure, despite a few timing hiccups. I was glad of the opportunity to be involved.

After my sourdough starter died last year, I am relieved to have kept it alive this year with bread, pizza, focaccia and flatbreads.  This loaf of sourdough bread was an especially good one that rose well, had a good slash and sung as it came out of the oven.

We went to the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick and bought some fun pasta and some dried porcini mushrooms.  The shells were great for the mac and cheese dumplings but I think the alphabet pasta and porcini are still in the pantry.

We have been making this tomato and chickpea orzo quite a lot lately.  We tried it with a tiny pasta (a bit like couscous) and it was such amazingly good comfort food.

This Vegetable yaki udon stirfry looked really good in a Woolworths magazine but it didn't live up to its promise.  I liked the toasted sesame seeds on it but the flavours of 2 tbsp kecap manis, 2 tbsp mirin, 1 tbsp sesame oil with garlic and chilli flakes weren't as amazing as they sounded.  Update, I have found the October 2023 magazine and now been able to list the flavours so I might try them again another time.

Sylvia made a vegan Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese one night.  It involved roasting and blending butternut squash, red pepper, carrots and onions then blending them with tahini, coconut cream, nutritional yeast flakes and seasonings.  This made a sauce to stir through macaroni with plenty of sauce leftover to use as a dip.  I liked it but Sylvia was not keen on the overwhelming pumpkin taste and how thick it was.  It could have been watered down a bit for the pasta but the consistency was great for the dip.

We worked together to make a roast dinner on a weekend.  It was so so so very good.  It was a delicious plate of Vegan Nut Roast, Hasselback Roast Potatoes with Brie, Roast Carrots, Cauliflower Cheese, Peas and Mushroom Gravy.  It took about 3 hours from start to finish, though not all was preparation time.  But it was so worth it.  And we had lots of great leftovers.

I grew up with lots of Apple sponge (pudding) and thought a cobbler was similar.  Sylvia found a recipe for a Peach Cobbler which was amazing.  I don't often cook peaches but when I do they are so wonderfully juice, melt-in-the-mouth and delicious.  While a sponge pudding is a warm sponge cake sitting on stewed fruit, the cobbler was more of a mosaic of peaches and "cake" mixed together.  There were lots of leftovers.  It was great warm or cold.  Sylvia loved it so much she made it again one night when she had the urge to bake in the small hours after midnight!  I was pretty excited to wake up to this rare treat.

Sylvia tried a Roasted butternut squash sage risotto.  I was delighted because I love a pumpkin risotto like this one.  She enjoyed it but the squash/pumpkin was not quite as smooth and luscious as roasted pumpkin can be.  I am very happy to have risottos on our dinner ideas again after so long without them.

The butternut squash risotto required white wine.  As we rarely have alcohol in the house (or my life), we bought a Edenvale non-alcoholic Sauvignon Blanc.  It made me think that non-alcoholic wines have come a long way in the last few years.  Around the same time we also tried some excellent Belvoir Farm non-alcoholic Peach Belinis.

I was quite impressed when Sylvia made some crispy chilli honey halloumi bites while I wasn't about.  They were very tasty.  It made me proud of her when she kept the leftover dipping and crumb mixture to make fritters.  She added some leftover halloumi, sundried tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms to make fritters.  I served them with some baked beans and vegies to make a nice dinner.

Soaking noodles is not always straightforward. These rice noodles seemed too long for my bowl so I used a square baking dish that was about the right size.  .And when a few noodles  were sticking out I used my tofu press.  It amused me how these kitchen items were never made for soaking noodles but did the job very well.

The reason I had the noodles soaking was to make Char Kuay Teow.  It was mainly based on the Woo Heng recipe but also influenced by the seasonings in Eat What Tonight and One Green Planet, plus I really liked JackieM's idea of cooking in a mixture of 2 tbsp besan and 3 tbsp water to give the stirfry the taste of a whisked egg cooked through  it.  My version was a beginners mess of soggy noodles because I just didn't move quickly enough and was thinking through what I was doing as I went.  Next time I will be more prepared to they aren't cooked too long.

Sylvia is loves Boursin garlic and herb flavoured creamy cheese.  It isn't often in our regular supermarket so it a treat when we find it.  She made a great meal of Spinach and sun-dried tomato boursin orzo bake.  She added mushrooms and jarred jalepenos and left out the cream.  Most ingredients are baked together in broth until the orzo is cooked and then mixed together with some spinach and parmesan.

One of the really satisfying dishes we made for dinner recently were these Sheet Pan Vegan Breakfast Burritos.  Sylvia and I both worked on this meal because it has a few components.  She loved it all wrapped up in a burrito whereas I preferred it as a burrito bowl.  It had roasted potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and mushrooms.  I made the tofu scramble on the stovetop but would like to try it in the oven, and I added a favourite kidney bean stew.  I added tortillas, spinach, grated cheese and yoghurt to my bowl.  It was delicious.

Christmas at our place has been more restrained this year than last year.  So far there are less movies, carols and decorations but we have to visit the Christmas section every time we go to the supermarket.  This Whittakers candy cane block of milk chocolate called to us with the colourful packaging.  It was irresistibly good but one was enough.

I could not resist this Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Love A-Fair ice cream when it was on special.  It was so good that it didn't last long.  Then I read this fascinating article on Tips and Advice on ice cream from a dietician.  I should not have been surprised to see Ben and Jerry's described as ice cream in name but "more like confectionery in a dessert tub".  The picture of the label is like a pile of confectionery.  I loved this chocolate and salted caramel ice-cream but, like the article says, it is a rare treat.

I found a K-Mart gift card that I had from years ago and finally used it.  I bought us two books - Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Gamus and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, plus some new pasta bowls.  In the photo but not included in the voucher purchases is a large cup for Sylvia's tea (green tea, honey and apple juice) and some cans of Bubly flavoured sparkling water that we were given for free for a promotion.  It was nice enough but the flavours are all additives.

We also had a drive to USA Foods in Moorabbin, a long way over the other side of town.  Sylvia wanted to check out the Christmas food - there was some "candy" and gifts but seemed to be more leftover Thanksgiving bits and pieces.  It makes me think I will never understand the USA approach to Christmas.

As always we were tempted.  The Guacamole Takis said they were mild but I found them very spicy.  I am looking forward to trying the can of chipotle corn chowder, which is also claims to be mild.  Sylvia was as fascinated by Squeezy cheese as I was horrified.  The TGIF Mac and Cheese party bites were pretty bland.  The chocolate Eggos (toaster waffles) were delicious.  And the "How the Grinch Stole Kisses" are Hershey's chocolate kisses with a cute package and cute wrappers. Great for Grinch fans.

And finally I was very excited to find a Votes for Women tea towel featuring 9 amazing pioneers of women in Australian federal politics.  It would be great to feel proud as I dry the dishes but I confess I have put it away because I can't bear to wipe  Penny Wong's face on my dishes.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event. If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to visit more kitchens and her gorgeous hand drawn festive header.


  1. You really made an amazing number of interesting meals this month! Too bad your American store is such a disappointment. The range of Christmas foods in our stores is in fact stunning.
    best, mae at

  2. What a busy and delicious month you've had. I love the look of the ramen salad. The cooking gene is strong in your family - Sylvia is such a good cook, and you too, of course! Fun fact - those Belvoir drinks are produced not far from us and did you know it's pronounced Beaver and not Bel-vwar?! English names are so funny!

  3. hasselback potatoes! cauli cheese! yummo. Thanks for being part of IMK this year Johanna. Always a pleasure to see you here. Love that tea towel! I'm afraid i really dislike commercial ice cream. We do have a proper gelati place near us and it's like chalk and cheese - theirs is so delicious! I know they're not exactly the same product... Anyways have a great festive season and a fab trip O/S in the new year. cheers sherry x


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