Monthly Archive: November 2011

Retiro Picnic

May 16th

We were supposed to meet Alene & Ethel in the morning, but they needed extra zzzz time so the Dieden clan headed out to take on Madrid once again as a party of five.

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Starting with Atocha, we took in the station from afar, then up close, then inside.

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I hadn’t seen it since the bombings in 2004, so I was curious how different it would look from the first time I saw it (in 2002).

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It felt like a greenhouse because of the section of plant life with the clear glass windows above.  There was even a turtle pond.  And it was all surrounded by terminals.  Weird, but cool.

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There was also some kind of expo going on so while my parents bought train tickets for the next day’s excursion (to Toledo), Laura, Marie and I browsed booths.

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Eventually we got some food to go (from a cafe in the train station) and made our way to Retiro Park for a picnic.

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Along the way we saw the Rose Garden, Palacio de Cristal, and Palacio de Velasquez.

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The roses were seriously a sight to behold.  They were so beautiful…almost fake looking.

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It was hard to stop snapping photos…I wanted to capture every single flower.

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Marie figured out how to take cool special effects on her camera, which occupied us for another 30 minutes.

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Finalmente, it was tortilla time.

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Yum.

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No better way to enjoy lunch.

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I had two mini-sammies, since Laura and Marie got the last two bocadillos.  I think I actually ended up with more.  ;)

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Not too shabby a view, eh?

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The Palacio de Cristal reminds me of where Liesl sang “I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen” in The Sound of Music.  Anyone with me here?

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Post-digestion we toured the rest of the park…from the fountain to the bathroom Teatro de Titulos.

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Struttin’

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Pensive padre.

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Any DG readers out there?

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The walk back home was equally as scenic – Arco de Alcala, Plaza de Cibeles, Banco de Espanya.

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We got to the hotel by 5 and used the next few hours to shower, snack and veg.  We tried (sin exito) to get libros en ingles at VIPS.

Alene and Ethel met us at 6:30 and we all went to the Reina Sofia for the free museum admission (M-F 7 pm – 9pm).  Aside from Guernica and a few Dali pieces, I wasn’t overly thrilled and was glad I didn’t pay to go.  Maybe if I hadn’t been 3 years before I’d have a different opinion, but the general consensus was the same.

Recap: 1st level – nada, 2nd level – decent, 3rd level – closed, 4th level – snooze.

In other words, two free hours is easily enough time to see what you want to see.  We left at 9 and walked to dinner.

Balzac had the best service so far in Spain.

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After dinner we walked home and that’s when my stomach began to tell me that something wasn’t right about la cena.

I ended up going to bed around 2 am. [soooo, fill in the blank]

Oh, and apparently my cramps were getting to be something else, also.  My journal from this day simply says “Too young for a hysterectomy?” at the end.  Sad.

The Monday Flood

The flood actually started Sunday morning, and after four unreturned calls to our landlord we took matters into our own hands and began calling plumbers.  Apparently Sundays aren’t ideal for your pipes to burst because we called every plumber in Santa Monica and nobody returned our calls…until 30 minutes later. 

We finally got one guy to agree to come look at the sink…after putting down a $100 deposit.

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He didn’t arrive until 75 minutes later.  At that point we had several drenched towels and one full a$$ bucket.

He “worked” on the leak for 5 minutes before telling us we needed a new faucet which would cost us $700.  Uhhh, no.

Since we still hadn’t heard from our landlord we were stuck, though.  $700 is an awfully large expense, plus there was a chance our landlord wouldn’t reimburse us since it wasn’t done through their contractors.  In the end, we decided to continue using the bucket and towels until we heard back from the property management. 

Luckily they checked their email over the weekend and notified us that they would be sending over plumbers on Monday “morning” (which really meant noon).

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With no sink, cooking was out of the question.  And since we had to get groceries anyway, dinner was straight from the WF hot bar.  And that, my friends, is what you call the silver lining.

I was feeling like some mega comfort food, so when I saw the quinoa stuffed vegan roast I was all about it.

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I have seen these in the freezer aisle, but buying the whole thing is a real risk if it’s no good or worse, if it makes my stomach go craaaa-zaayyyy.  So I was way excited to see it at the hot bar.  It’s like a moderately expensive test drive (that’s not quite as pricey as buying the whole thing).  Good news – I loved it. 

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I tossed some brown rice, peas, and tofu stroganoff in as well.  Hearty much?

I had three coconut snowball cookies for dessert.  And chai tea.

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The next day was pretty annoying. 

The workers didn’t come til way later and they had to make several trips to the hardware store in between…

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Basically Monday dragged on and on and on. 

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And since we had no faucet and no water, dishes started to pile up (even though we were essentially doing zero cooking).

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I had peanut butter on bread without even plating it. 

I also had hot cereal (Bob’s Red Mill gluten free mix) made on the stove the previous day and topped with home-made nutbutter, granola, cereal and strawberries

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There were four kinds of cereal (all GF) and my home-made quinoa granola (also GF)…and the winner of all winners…coconut cashew butter

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I owe you the recipe for that one still. 

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Lemme tell you, this was a bangin’ combo.  But the cashew coconut butter is so good, it would make dirt taste good.

Finally the plumbers were done-zo and I could put together a real meal. 

Check out my lunch afternoon sando!

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It was stuffed with holiday leftovers.  There wasn’t a moistmaker, but otherwise it was definitely a Thanksgiving themed sandwich.

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First I added roasted squash which I tossed in Chef AJ’s “Hail to the Kale” salad dressing.

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I smooshed it into the bread, which was pretty easy since it was already semi-mushy and once it was warmed up it was even softer. 

Some kale may have made it’s way onto the bread too.

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The next layer was tempeh bacon.  I went overboard.  It was hard to get the top slice of bread on, but I managed.

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Then I put my palm on top of it and smashed it down.

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Sliced it diagonally.

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And slowly savored every single bite.

Before the sun went down I threw on my running gear and hit the streets.  I felt like I was ridiculously slow, but who cares. 

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Dinner was made of revamped leftovers too.

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I sautéed kale, roasted veggies, and quinoa just until the lettuce wilted.  It was so quick since the vegetables were pre-cooked. 

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I had some coconut cashew butter on toast for dessert.

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Anyone else think that all the leftover meals are better than the initial feast?  I was the lucky recipient of heaps and heaps of roasted veggies from both my first and second Thanksgivings, which has made my recent meals incredibly easy and delicious.  And it doesn’t take much to tweak them into an entirely new dish. 

Snowballs, Kale & Ivy

I woke up Friday with every single finger and toe crossed because the unit was overstaffed by one nurse and I was the first on the list to get a "holiday."  So as long as nobody called in sick, my phone was set to ring between 4 and 5 am with happy news.  I’ve never looked forward to a pre-sunrise call more. 

At 4:45 I got the blessed call and by 4:50 I was back asleep. 

I took full advantage of the free day and slept in, but once I woke up, I set right to work making Friday completely productive.

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I baked cookies and prepped salad dressing

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Both were my contribution to Thanksgiving numero dos. 

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I also let my digestive system rest and thus return to a semi-normal state.  And then I went on a run.  It was a much needed day off.

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These cookies were made up as I went along.  I figured coconut snowballs were appropriate now that Thanksgiving had passed.  Even though it’s not snowing in Los Angeles doesn’t mean I can’t embrace the season, right?  Right.  For the record, I don’t miss snow (or sub-freezing temps) in any way, shape, or form.

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They sorta look like snowballs.  And since I make such a concerted effort to keep this blog PC (<–sarcasm), I figured I should name my holiday treats with something non-secular.  Also, coconut clouds don’t sound as fun.  So snowballs it is!

Coconut Snowball Cookies (vegan)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup coconut butter (I made this by blending 4 cups of coconut flakes in the food processor)
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

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If you don’t have coconut butter, make your own by pulsing coconut in a blender or food processor until it’s no longer dry and flakey.

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It will take a while, but have patience. 

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It took me ~ 4 cups of flakes to yield 1 cup of butter (but if you use shredded coconut it will probably be more like 3 cups). 

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I continuously scraped the sides down between pulsing and eventually it got wet (like butter).

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I combined this cup of coconut butter with the rest of the wet ingredients (the last 5 in the ingredients list).  In a separate bowl I mixed all the dry ingredients (the first 6 on the ingredients list).

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Then I mixed the wet and dry together. 

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Once combined, I stored the bowl in the fridge for ~10 minutes to get the dough cold and hard (this prevents the cookies from being too soft and flattening out…thereby making them more ball shaped after baking).

Then I scooped large spoonfuls – molded into balls – on a sprayed baking sheet and baked them for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

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The recipe yields 20 cookies.

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They look like snowballs, but I wouldn’t waste them on your enemy.  I’d stuff my own face first. 

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And I did. 

I tried two (as poison control) before packing the rest up to take with me on Saturday.

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As for the kale salad…

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The dressing was the deal maker.  The recipe is straight from Chef AJ’s book, Unprocessed, which she sent me after I oohed and ahhed over the salad last month.

I stored the dressing in the fridge overnight which meant the flavors were all harmoniously blended the next day.  I tasted a few spoonfuls at was completely delighted at the outcome.

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I added it to the kale and tossed it all together right before we hit the road. 

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By the time we arrived at my Great Aunt’s house the dressing had broken down the thick lettuce a bit making the kale softer (aka more texturally palatable).

I thought it was fantastic, but my G-ma didn’t like it one bit. 

First of all, I basically had to threaten her just to get her to try it.  She took maybe 1.5 leaves.  And after she tasted it I asked if she liked it and she emphatically responded "no!"  Oh well, you win some, you lose some. 

I could have eaten the entire bowl myself.  I think the dressing is stellar and I plan on using it as a marinade in (non-kale) future dishes. 

*I do think the salad would have tasted better had it been stored in the fridge, but space was limited and I didn’t want to stress out my Great Aunt. 

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The dinner spread was almost the same size as the dessert spread. 

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But once again, the babies were really the highlight of the day.

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Me & Ivy!!  Ivy was definitely the most coveted…and she is such a happy kiddo too.

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She didn’t even mind getting passed from person to person.

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I also got to see my sister.  Reunited and it feels so goooood.

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The whole family!

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We had to take numerous group photos since her length of stay in the US is a constant wild card.  [shhh, don’t tell my parents]

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My cousin made a valiant effort to get a family photo, but I have about 400 outtakes that are way more hilarious.

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Most of the food was non-vegan, but I did have my own kale salad and my mom’s roasted veggies…followed by some delicious coconut snowball cookies. 

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All tuckered out.

Thanks for the veggies

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Rhetorical question, but how awesome does my plate look??

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I know. 

So my Thursday morning wasn’t the greatest.  Like I mentioned before, I was a zombie when we arrived at Kyle’s parents house late on Wednesday…and even though I slept straight through the night (something I rarely do in my own bed), I still couldn’t seem to get myself up in the morning. 

So I slept in a bit while Kyle had breakfast solo.

Eventually I pried myself from the sheets and stumbled outside for a brisk jog around the neighborhood.  I intended to go for a quick mile, but I got a bit ambitious…and then got a little lost…yadda yadda…football and coffee!!!  My two favorite things.  :)

Soon the rest of the family came over so Kyle and I got to play with our nieces.

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They are the cutest.  

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They dragged us in and out of the toy room six hundred times, but it never got old. 

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I ate half a tub of hummus with baby carrots for brunch.  My stomach was warming up for the main event. 

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Spinach salad (vegan) by Kyle’s sister with raspberries, apples, nuts and the most heavenly home-made mustard seed vinaigrette

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Roasted veggies (vegan) by moi (butternut squash, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and carrots).

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Spicy spinach dip and canned classic cranberry sauce.  I hate when people try to fancy up something as wonderful as canned cranberry sauce.  I want ridges!!! 

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Wild rice salad (vegan) by Kyle’s mom – from Gulfstream Restaurant (recipe coming soon?).

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Turkey, stuffing and potatoes in the warmers and pinecone centerpieces by the girls.  I had my own (vegan) mashed potatoes which I whipped by hand with Earth Balance and almond milk.

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I tried to get all angles of my first plate full…

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Of course I had seconds of the roasted veggies and the spinach salad (so good!!). 

The very wild rice salad had a surprising zing to the dressing.  It was acidic, which was a great contrast to all the other heavy, hearty flavors.  All the ingredients were chopped so fine that they blended together really well, too; and I even enjoyed the red onions! 

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The most exciting part of the night was when we learned that the kids table was getting a new member.  Not sure the girls understand the concept of getting another sibling quite yet…their focus is limited to princess stories and cake pops. 

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After dessert and more football Kyle and I packed up our leftovers and headed home. 

I have no idea how, but both Kyle and I were ready for seconds when we got home.

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I started with vegan mashed potatoes, which I re-buttered and re-heated, then moved on to the wild rice salad and roasted veggies.

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Basically I had another Thanksgiving dinner.  At 9 pm.

Sadly, this delicious feast backfired in a huge way.  I slept horribly, I felt miserable, and I had no motivation to pack any food for work the next day.  There’s nothing worse than planning a meal when you are uncomfortably stuffed at the time. 

Good thing this holiday only comes once a year, right?  Oh wait.  I’m doing it all again this weekend with my family.  Oof. 

Who did you spend this Thursday with?  Anyone having round two over the weekend??

Readers request: how to roast veggies

Recently, I got an email from a reader (hi Elaine!) with some vegetarian cooking related questions.  I figured rather than respond via email, I’d answer in a post (in case others are wondering too).  Since there are quite a few questions though, I am going to go through them one at a time.  And so continues the “readers request” post series.

Elaine: I’m not the most confident-in-the-kitchen girl, especially when it comes to veggies.  I love veggies, but since moving out on my own, I usually go for frozen instead because I’m not sure how to cook fresh stuff.  I hate the way frozen veggies taste and I’ve seen that you do roasted veggies a lot; so first, what kind of veggies can you roast?  And how do you roast them? I think this would help me out a lot to have roasted veg on hand for meals.

Let me preface this by reminding all y’all that I’m no culinary expert, but I do think I roast veggies with enough regularity that I have the process down.  As far as I’m concerned, roasting vegetables is probably the best thing about the winter months.

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But vegetables are definitely not the only food that can be roasted.  Fruit, nuts, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas…you get the idea…anything and everything!  It’s all fair game for the oven.  So there’s the answer to your first question.

Next issue is knowing how to do it.  There seems to be a bit of intimidation when it comes to the oven.  The only way to get over your fear is to use it, and continue to use it. 

My poor neighbors in NYC probably wanted to kill me for how often I set off the fire alarm, but those itty bitty apartments were not built for domestic people at all. 

Since Elaine specifically mentioned vegetables, that’s what I’m going to show, but know that the same method applies to anything else you want to roast. 

Here are some veggies that are great for roasting:

  • root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, beets, etc.)
  • tubers (potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, sunchoke, etc.)
  • winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, spaghetti, delicata, etc.)
  • summer squash (zucchini, yellow squash, etc.)
  • bulbs (onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, etc.)
  • tomato (ok this is actually a fruit)
  • greens (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, string beans, kale, etc.)
  • eggplant, bell peppers, cauliflower, corn, okra

And that’s just off the top of my head!  Rather than go through each and every vegetable, I’ll show you the most time consuming one. 

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If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball you can roast squash, you can roast anything.  [I bet it’s not too often you hear a Dodgeball reference, huh?]

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In order to simplify this (because it’s not complicated), I will give you 3 steps to go by.  Always.

  1. Oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Toss food in olive oil and salt.
  3. Cook for 30 minutes.

The only variation is the time.  30 minutes is usually the minimum I go with, but some things are quicker to roast and will only need half an hour. 

Unlike baking, with cooking you can tweak things as you go.  The length of time you roast your vegetables depends on how “done” you like them.  It could be anywhere form 30 minutes to 1 hour.  If you like them a little crunchy, then they will be on the shorter end of the spectrum, but if you like them softer and more blackened, then leave them in longer.  As long as you don’t forget about them entirely, you won’t mess them up. [And even if you do – oh well – I’m pretty sure everyone has done it at some point]

Now is the photo tutorial part.  Remember, there may be other techniques, but this is my method of madness

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Wash the squash.

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Chop the squash where the neck meets the bulbous part.

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Slice the rest of the neck in 3/4 – 1 inch circular sections.

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One by one, trim the edges of the skin off the rounds.

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Cut the squash into similarly sized chunks (about 3/4 – 1 inch cubed) and place on a cooking sheet (you can spray it if you want, but once they are all chopped up I toss them in oil in the same pan so I don’t dirty a separate bowl).

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Drizzle oil on the squash and toss it until everything has been sufficiently covered in oil.  Then add salt. 

Don’t forget about the rest of the squash though.

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Next, cut through the bulbous base.

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It’s easier to do this than the neck portion of the squash because this part is hollow. 

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Scoop out the seeds (set aside if you want to roast them as well).

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Lightly coat each half in oil, inside and out, and set face down on a baking sheet.

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If you have patience, you could trim the skin off this part of the squash and chop it up too, but (in my opinion) it takes far longer than it’s worth.

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Leaving this part of the squash together gives you more options on how to use it later.  You can use the halves as bowls and stuff them…you could scoop out the squash and puree it…or you could just eat it roasted like the other cubed parts…either way.

I know some sources say to toss or flip the veggies after ~15-20 minutes, but I rarely do this.  I just leave them be and once 30 minutes has passed I check on them to see how brown they are looking.  Thirty minutes is my golden standard.  I truly don’t even think about them until the timer dings at the half hour mark. 

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The smaller they are, the faster they cook, so 30 mins may be perfect if you chop ‘em into little bites.

Personally, I like my veggies on the more bronzed side.  Not charred, but very done. 

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I can tell when the chunks of squash are done because they get brown, but the way I test the done-ness of the whole squash is by stabbing the skin.  If it pierces through (into the flesh) easily, it’s done [you can see the knife marks in the photo above].

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Both the cubed squash and the halved squash took 35 minutes on 375. 

Here are some extra pointers:

  • If you like bronzed veggies like I do, crank the oven up to broil for the last 2 minutes.  It’s an easy way to add color and crisp.  Just be sure to set the timer because some ovens are really powerful and even a few minutes will cause some serious browning. 
  • If you are roasting several different types of vegetables you can still use the same baking sheet, just don’t over-pack them.  The vegetables can touch, but they shouldn’t pile up on top of each other.  This may seem obvious, but if you’re roasting a lot of vegetables, use multiple baking sheets.  If you’re roasting things with very different cooking times (like potatoes and brussels sprouts) you can put them on different baking sheets and stagger the timing – or you can chop the item that takes longer (potatoes) into smaller pieces so it’s cooking time is on par with the other item(s).
  • The variations for seasonings are endless.  I only mentioned olive oil and salt, but that’s because I like having the option to use the vegetables in different dishes after they are roasted.  If you want to change things up though, fresh (or dried) herbs can be nice ways to add some pizzazz (some great combos include potatoes with rosemary, carrots with thyme, and/or winter squash with sage). 
  • Paprika and cayenne are great on eggplant.
  • Other oils worth trying out are coconut or canola.  Coconut oil on squash and carrots makes my mouth water just typing this (it’s crazy delicious).  Canola oil has a lighter flavor than olive oil and is great with greens. 
  • A little lemon juice or orange zest gives a bit of zing to both veggie and proteins (tempeh/tofu), too. 
  • Soy sauce and sesame are also great ways to add flavor, but they definitely steer a dish in the Asian direction.

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And that’s it!  Roasted vegetables are great as a side dish or a main dish – perhaps over some quinoa, rice, or another whole grain.  And once you’ve mastered vegetables, you can try your hand at tofu and other plant-based foods. 

Hopefully this was helpful and will encourage you to give roasting a shot.