Halloween candy cookies

By now you’re probably tired of Halloween candy. Somehow we always end up with piles of it in the pantry (mostly due to the marked down prices the days after). This recipe is a great way to repurpose candy if you still have some leftover from the holiday.

For Halloween we picked up Reese’s Dark Chocolate Miniature Peanut Butter Cups and Reese’s Pieces. After eating them for the past couple of weeks, I’m sick of them. I used to be excited to have one once in awhile, but now I sort of just want them out of my kitchen. So, I decided to add them to chocolate chip cookies!

For the recipe I used Martha Stewart’s Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. In place of the two cups of chocolate chips I used,

-1 cup of chopped Reese’s cups
-1/2 cup Reese’s Pieces
-1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
-1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

These turned out great. Let me know if you come up with any other good combinations!

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Vegan Haven offers vegan-shopping oasis

Located on the corner of NE 55th St. and University Way NE in the University District is what many vegan Seattleites refer to as the “vegan triangle.” Comprised of three local, vegan-friendly businesses, the area draws many vegetarians and vegans.

Wayward Vegan Café serves vegan breakfast all day, with their biscuits and gravy combinations popular among customers. Pizza Pi, the United States’ first vegan pizzeria, cooks up pizza with vegan cheese and faux meat.

Vegan Haven, Washington’s only 100 percent vegan grocery store completes the triangle. The store is a rarity because of the specialty items sold. Many products sold at Vegan Haven are difficult to find anywhere else in the area.

Established in 2005 by three friends, the store was sold to the nonprofit Pigs Peace Sanctuary within a year. Located in Stanwood, Wash., the sanctuary takes care of over 200 pigs that have been rescued from dire situations.

Rainbow of Vegenaise; the largest selection I’ve seen in one store.

Besides the products sold, Vegan Haven is unique because of its rare business model. All profits go to the sanctuary.

Doh Driver, the store’s manager, is the only paid employee. The rest of the staff is made up of about 25 volunteers. To work at Vegan Haven, volunteers must be vegan. Driver volunteered at the store for a year before she was made manager. She says volunteers typically work three to four hours a week.

The products offered at Vegan Haven are what set it apart. All items are vegan, with many gluten and other allergen-free items as well. The store offers all sorts of pantry items, frozen meals and refrigerated products.

75 percent of the products sold at Vegan Haven are ordered through United Natural Foods, Inc., a national organic and natural food distributer. The remaining 25 percent comes from direct ordering, in which the manager contacts the suppliers and companies one on one.

Shoppers concerned about the locality of items are in luck. Many items at Vegan Haven are produced in the Pacific Northwest.

“I try to focus on local and regional items. Some of them are pretty big companies, and I still go through my main distributer for those, like Purely Decadent Ice Creams and Tofurkey, and Field Roast even,” said Driver, “but the direct ordering is where I get a lot of the smaller, local, or specifically vegan items even if they’re not local.”

Meeting Deb Perelman, aka Smitten Kitchen

On Thursday I had the pleasure of meeting Deb Perelman, writer of the food blog Smitten Kitchen. It’s one of my favorite food blogs, and the one I’ve followed most consistently over the years. Her recipes are spot-on. There’s no other way to describe them. I consider them the best of the best. If I’m ever uncertain about where to look for a recipe, I go to Smitten Kitchen. For something like pie crust, or  mac and cheese, she has the best recipes. They work flawlessly and there’s never anything stale about them. You can tell that she’s passionate about good tasting food.

Another thing I love about Deb is that her recipes are exciting. They’re consistent and they’re standbys, but they’re also experimental at times. Like this bacon, egg and leek breakfast risotto, banana bread crepe cake with butterscotch or these whole wheat raspberry ricotta scones. I could go on…

When I heard that a Smitten Kitchen cookbook was coming out I was overjoyed. It’s nice to be able to find her recipes with a few keystrokes, but there’s something about pulling a cookbook from a bookshelf that makes cooking more of an experience. To promote the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb has been traveling the west coast on a book tour.

I initially learned that Deb would be in Seattle at Book Larder in Fremont on Wednesday. Being a ticketed event, it was sold out by the time I heard about it. Their website explained that the store would open for additional guests for a book signing after the event. I planned to go, but ended up choosing not to. I was skeptical about waiting in line, and was sad I wouldn’t be able to hear her speak. At the last minute, I found out that an additional book tour stop had been added at the University Bookstore for the following morning.

On Thursday morning I was excited to get to the event. Stacks of the cookbook sat near the registers at the bookstore. After buying my copy, I headed up the stairs to the event area. It was packed! For such a last minute event, I was happy to see it busy. The University Bookstore staff arranged a table of coffee and breakfast items from recipes in the book. I got a few things and waited for the talk to start.

When Deb got there the Q&A started! She answered questions about her cooking style, inspiration, and things like how to best utilize a small kitchen.

On her inspiration for the site she said,

“I’ve always liked to cook and I’ve always liked to tinker and fiddle, but I didn’t get very serious about it. I think like a lot of young people I liked to bake and do things that won favors and influenced people, which baking has a tendency to do.

But I didn’t get much more serious about cooking until I was an adult, and I, like many adults got tired of eating out all the time, or just ordering food in, or just throwing together a grilled cheese sandwich. And that was when I kind of really kind of tapped into this excitement I always had about cooking, and sort of fussing, and I remember when I started, very early on, realizing that as somebody who loved to cook and knew how I liked food I felt frustrated that I didn’t have these go-to recipes for things.

Let’s say you’re like, man I could really go for some whole wheat pancakes today. But does anyone ever say that? They’re like, no, I could really go for some creme brulee french toast today. And then to not even know how to make it, and then to have to go through this roulette where you Google, and then you’re like, well, that might work. And then you make it, and it takes an hour, and the recipe’s okay. And it’s not great, and you’ve just wasted your time, and your energy and your money on this roulette and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to create a space where hopefully things could be your go-to recipe for things, or at least my go-to recipes.”

After the Q&A we had the chance to have our books signed by Deb. She was so warm and nice to talk to. I mentioned I’d been a reader for years, and told her how much I love the site. I also let her know that I had made her pancetta, white bean and chard pot pies the night before. To make them vegetarian I used Morning Star veggie bacon in place of the pancetta. It was so much fun to talk with Deb herself about it.

Seeing Deb talk and meeting her was an amazing experience. It’s so rare that we get the opportunity to meet people that have inspired us.

Dumplings, potstickers, and wontons

Dumplings are one of the best vehicles for food. They’re small, and full of flavor. There are so many ingredients you can use to fill them.

Gyoza wrappers are an easy way to make dumplings at home. You can find them at most larger stores, such as Fred Meyer, or at Asian grocery stores. They come in round, or square shapes. At stores in Seattle they usually look something like this.

From there, you’re free to fill them with just about anything.

When I want to make more of an Indian-spiced potsticker, I prepare a filling with red lentils or yellow split peas as the base. From there you can add spices and other flavor boosting ingredients. I like to mix frozen peas into the hot lentil mixture, along with garlic and curry powder. Last time I also added smoked serrano chili powder, parmesan cheese, and lemon zest to the mixture. This recipe is a variation of this golden potstickers recipe.

For a vegetarian wonton soup, it’s easy to bring the ingredients together. I like to think about what flavor I want to focus on. In the past I made a filling with finely diced tofu, vegetables, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sriracha. A similar recipe can be found here. This is great with a gingery vegetable broth, which you can make by simmering ginger slices in broth.

I also love a more mild wonton dish, like this plump pea dumpling recipe. Here the dumplings can be pan-fried and served over cooked yellow split peas, or cooked in no-chicken broth for wonton soup.

Gyoza wrappers aren’t limited to Asian dishes. You can make Italian ravioli and tortellini with them! In this butternut squash tortellini with brown butter sauce recipe the wrappers are used to envelope a creamy squash and ricotta cheese filling. They’re topped with a brown butter sauce containing fresh sage leaves, walnuts, parmesan, and dried cranberries.

Wonton wrappers can be used to hold just about any filling, and can be prepared in so many ways. They can even be used in desserts, such as in these Nutella banana gyoza dumplings. The options here are endless.

Ingredient spotlight: Blue Chair end-of-summer plum jam and smoked serrano chili powder

This week at Williams-Sonoma I bought ‘end-of-summer’ plum jam by Blue Chair Fruit, a jam and marmalade company based in Oakland, Calif. I also picked up a jar of the Williams-Sonoma brand  smoked serrano chili powder.

These are both really interesting ingredients. The plum jam is fresh and authentic tasting. It only has a few ingredients, plums, sugar, and lemon juice. Lately I’ve been eating it on toast, but there are so many ways you could use it. I would love to make these crescent jam and cheese cookies with it. It would also be delicious on a fresh waffle…

With the smoked serrano chili powder I’m excited to find ways to highlight it in a dish. A few days ago I made roasted kidney beans  using my past recipe, with the serrano chili powder and cumin as my spices. The chili is smoky, similar to canned adobo chilis. It’s also a little spicy, which I love. I want to try adding some to this Smoky Braised Mexican Pumpkin recipe. I think it would also be interesting in a dry rub for this bbq tofu.

Fall Time Dishes

The fall chill is setting in and I’m excited to start making tasty, warming dinners. With the clocks turning an hour back this weekend, it’ll be even darker at night too. There’s something about cooking seasonal foods during the cold months that makes it easier to get through.

Here is a list of autumn-flavored meals and foods that I’m looking forward to making this week,

Pancetta, white bean, and chard pot pies: I would scratch the pancetta, or use Morning Star bacon instead to make this vegetarian. It’s also a pretty time consuming recipe, so I’ll have to plan it for a weekend.

Pumpkin curry with chickpeas: I have a little sugar pie pumpkin I want to cook, this would be delicious for it.

Dijon-braised brussels sprouts: These just look delicious. I really like mustard lately.

All Day Apple Butter: I’ve been craving apple butter for weeks now, ever since I went apple picking at Jones Creek Farms in Sedro Wooley. The apples I collected there are long gone, but I picked up some more at the store.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars: No explanation needed.