Monday, November 24, 2014

November 2014 Chicago Food Swap Recap


The final meeting for 2014 of the Chicago Food Swap took place this past Sunday at Peterson Garden Project‘s Fearless Food Kitchen in the Broadway Armory Field House. Despite freezing temperatures, snow flurries and parking woes, the event was a tremendous success. Everyone left laden down with delicious homemade and homegrown food and a warm feeling of fellowship and community.
Every year at this time, the Chicago Food Swap is visited by the Squash Fairy, otherwise known as Jim Evans from Ready Jam Farms, an organic vegetable farm located in Marengo, IL. For the past three years, at the end of the harvest season, Farmer Jim brings boxes of winter squash and pumpkins to the Chicago Food Swap and is remarkably game about swapping them for anything and everything on offer, from kombucha to quince paste. The swappers who were able to score some squash — and that was just about everyone — felt like they had won the food swap lottery.
squash at the chicago food swap
It being November, and an especially cold November at that, soup was a very popular swap item this month. I think I made a point of trading for every soup that was on offer and am now set for lunch for a week! I came home with Patty’s cauliflower soup, packaged adorably with croutons, Nancy’s White Bean and Swiss Chard Soup, Pamela’s Arroz Caldo (Filipino Chicken Rice Porridge), Leah’s Cowboy Beans made with barbecued brisket, and Middle Eastern Lentil and Rice Soup from a swapper that I cannot remember.
Soup makes a terrific swap item because it is easy and relatively inexpensive to make in large quantities and it travels well in a pint jar or plastic container. Plus, people really enjoy trading for soup because it makes a delightful lunch or dinner in the days following the swap. Also on the savory side were Cathy’s dumplings and Thai-style curry, black bean dip from Jill and Liz’s beet-apple salad.
soup at the chicago food swap
Of course, it would not be a food swap without delicious baked goods! Baker extraordinare Sandy brought pieces of apple slice, which is like apple pie for a crowd, and I just had to score some for my husband. I also saw apple bread, apple turnovers, apple chips and mini apple pies. Tis the season for apple! New swapper Desiree made two different kinds of seasonal cupcakes, at least one was pumpkin, and those were very popular. Sisters Melisa and Jules are notorious for their outrageous baked goods like sticky toffee pudding and chocolate chip banana bread and they brought it all this month.  Longtime swappers Gail and Diane brought gluten-free buns that taste like scrumptious, eggy popovers. With buns like that, who needs wheat?
coffee liqueur chicago food swap
New swapper Colleen brought her family’s famous kolacky, which are a jam-filled cookie traditionally made around the holidays. Colleen was also at the swap demonstrating her unique food storage system, Sweet Stackers, which are trays that you insert into plastic containers in order to fit multiple layers of cookies, bars, candies or other thin items. The food swappers, who are always transporting lots of baked goods, were very interested to hear about Colleen’s product and three swappers won sets of Sweet Stackers to try at home. Thanks so much to Colleen for coming to the Swap!
New swapper Lorraine and her husband brought stunning cinnamon rolls and homemade chocolate lollipops in both Hanukkah and Christmas designs. (I am so appreciative when people remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas.) I was very excited to snag some dreidel-shaped pops for my kids. In the category of “I’ve never seen that at the food swap before,” new swapper Breanne brought maple sugar candy floss. Suffice to say, mine disappeared within minutes of my return home.
chicago food swap
Drinks were popular this time around with new swapper Sarah bringing her cranberry-flavored kombucha and veteran swapper and recipe-tester extraordinaire Gena bringing homemade coffee liqueur. Parents-to-be Tim and Maddy brought their always-popular roasted coffee beans. At least two swappers brought ginger syrup, which is one of my favorite swap items to bring home because I use it to jazz up my sparkling water. There were also plenty of jams, pickles and sauces — always popular swap items.
hot sauce at the chicago food swap
As I mentioned, there will not be a swap in December this year because of the craziness of the holiday season. I do want to take a moment, however, to note that this December marks the third anniversary of the Chicago Food Swap. What an amazing journey it has been! I cannot say enough good things about the people I have met through the swap: their warmth, their openness and, of course, their cooking! It is not an exaggeration to say that founding and running the Chicago Food Swap has changed my life. Huge thanks to my co-founder Vanessa Druckman, all the businesses that have hosted swaps in the past, including the Peterson Garden Project for giving us a permanent home, to our generous sponsors over the years, like Cabot CreameryNielsen-Massey Vanillas and Jarlsberg USA, and all the swappers who come and share their food and their enthusiasm.
The next swap will take place on January 18 at the Fearless Food Kitchen. Registration for the January swap will open on December 21. Happy holidays to all! Hope to see everyone in 2015.

Monday, November 3, 2014

October Swap Recap

The Chicago Food Swap had its October event on October 19. It was our second event in our new home, the Peterson Garden Project’s Fearless Food Kitchen. As is so often the case, the offerings reflected the best of the season, from the tail end of backyard garden produce to Halloween-themed treats.
chicago food swap
The October swap was smaller than the September swap had been, but no one minded. Smaller swaps have their charms, most notably a greater opportunity for attendees to converse amid all the browsing, sampling and swapping. This intimate, twenty-five person swap was populated mostly by returning swappers with a handful of newcomers, who were welcomed warmly. One veteran swapper, Chris, even brought his mom who was visiting from out of town and although she had never heard of a food swap before, Mom was very enthusiastic.
chicago food swap
As always, the savory offerings were in high demand. I think every attendee wanted to go home with some of Leigh’s potato and onion pierogi. Soups were also a popular item from Liz’s butternut squash soup to various forms of chili. Lindsay ran out of her carrot top pesto in minutes. I was so anxious to get some that I traded for her sample jar! Cathy brought potstickers that flew off her table. Unfortunately for me, they contained pork so I could not bring them home. Chris’s red lentil dal mix, which promises a healthy vegetarian dinner in twenty minutes, was also a hit. Keli and Gary’s bleu cheese and chive biscuits tasted as good as they sounded and made a great addition to my family’s dinner last night.
chicago food swap
Although it is certainly the end of backyard garden produce season, a few people brought homegrown kale and there were plenty of fragrant herbs on offer as well. Swapper Gena not only brought fresh kale but also kale salad — I gather the kale rather took over her garden this year. Many swappers brought pickles and relishes made with summer vegetables and some got very fancy decorating their jars. New swapper Liat, who teaches canning classes at the Fearless Food Kitchen, brought a wide variety of pickled vegetables to trade.
chicago food swap
The sweets were pretty amazing this time around. New swapper Diane had everyone hoping that she would become a regular with her amazing oatmeal lace cookies, made from her grandmother’s recipe, and peanut butter treats made with Honeycomb cereal. There were several kinds of caramels on offer and I think I came home with a bag of each. Vegan swappers Ian and Alison made some soft chocolate candies that tasted exactly like a gourmet Tootsie Roll. There were fig bars, strawberry rhubarb bars, pecan blondies, and vanilla plum bread from veteran swapper Chris. I even brought some very fancy raspberry mousse cake from a recipe I had been testing. Judging by the response, I think the recipe is a keeper.
chicago food swap
In the category of fall cooking, I saw apple butter and apple pie filling, gingersnaps, and spooky popcorn eyeballs for Halloween. If this swap is any indication, the November swap will be chock full of fall-themed foods!
Speaking of the November swap, it will be held on November 16 and it will be the final swap of the year. (Yes, given the craziness of the holiday season, there will not be a swap in December.) So, if you want to swap again in 2014, the November swap will be your last chance. I have every reason to believe that it will be a large and lively gathering, so won’t you join us? Register for the November swap today! I hope to see many of you there.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Recap of the September Swap


Sunday marked the return of the Chicago Food Swap after a two-month break. The September swap was the first event in the Chicago Food Swap’s new, permanent home, the Fearless Food Kitchen in the Broadway Armory field house. This roomy, light-filled teaching kitchen, operated by the community gardening nonprofit Peterson Garden Project, makes a perfect location for a food swap: its pristine stainless steel counters and rustic farm table provide more than enough space for swappers to set up their wares. I could not be more grateful to have found a home for the food swap at this moment in our history and what a beautiful home it is.



One of the highlights of the September swap was the presence of our sponsor, Nielsen-Massey Vanillas. A local company, Nielsen-Massey makes the finest vanilla extract that I have ever used. Ask a professional pastry chef or candy-maker what vanilla he or she uses and I guarantee that the answer will be Nielsen-Massey. Of course, Nielsen-Massey also makes many other flavorings, including those pictured above. At the swap, representatives from Nielsen-Massey brought three different vanillas for the swappers to smell, which was fascinating. (Oh that Tahitian vanilla!) And everyone got to take home a 2 oz. sample of Nielsen-Massey’s signature Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract.  What a great addition to the swap!


Chicago food swap
It was heart-warming to see so many familiar faces at Sunday’s swap, especially after a two-month hiatus, and there were many new faces as well. Plainly folks were ready for decorative gourd season because I saw a lot of pumpkin goodies, from my own pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream and Gena’s pumpkin chocolate mini Bundt cakes to Hope’s gluten-free pumpkin poppers. And if a baked good wasn’t pumpkin-flavored, it was apple flavored, like Emmie’s apple scones and Morgan’s apple cider caramels.
chicago food swap
September being the end of summer canning season, many people had brought food in jars, from jams and jellies to pickles. I brought apricot butter and pickled beets myself. I also saw pickled okra, pickled grape tomatoes, and pickled cherries and a wide variety of really unusual and creative jams. Swapper Christina opted to use some of her homemade jams in these beautiful jam tarts.
chicago food swap
I always say that there is not enough savory stuff at the swap, and Sunday was no exception. But, I noticed at least four swappers offering soup and they were all mobbed with offers, including some from me. I came home with red lentil soup from Laura, vegetarian chili from vegan swapper Betsy and cream of potato and celery soup from veteran swapper Chris. To go with that soup, naturally I had to swap for some sourdough naan! I beat out another swapper for the last of Sandy’s vegetable pasta salad and it made a terrific lunch today.
soup at the chicago food swap
But, of course, the sweets were as popular as always. Jennifer, AKA The Marshmallow Fairy, was back with her amazing flavored confections, made with Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste naturally, and some honey from her own bees. That honey was probably the hottest item at the swap. I was also very impressed with chocolate raspberry macarons brought by a new swapper and could not resist bringing some home, even though Zuzu can’t eat them due to her nut allergy and my husband won’t eat them because of an irrational prejudice against raspberry.
chicago food swap
Among the other offerings were drink syrups, several kinds of hummus, tomatillo sauce, hot sauce, preserved lemons, fresh pasta, compound butter and so much more. The creativity and skill demonstrated by the Chicago Food Swap community never fails to impress. So why not join us for the next swap? It’s happening on October 19 at 2 pm back at the Fearless Food Kitchen. Registration is open. Hope to see many of you there!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Announcing the September Swap


Registration has opened for the September 28 food swap! You can purchase your ticket for $5 on EventBrite. The proceeds from the ticket sales will help to defray the costs of running the swap, including printing and supplies. Any additional proceeds will be donated to Peterson Garden Project as a thank-you for hosting the swap and in recognition of the amazing work they do in our community.

As explained earlier, the site for the September swap, and indeed all of our fall swaps, will be the Fearless Food Kitchen, which is located on the second floor of the Broadway Armory Fieldhouse. This brand-spanking-new space is roomy, filled with light and has plenty of table and counter space to display swap items. We are fortunate indeed to have this new, permanent home for our events. So, I hope that you will join us for our inaugural swap at the Fearless Food Kitchen.


Here is another reason to join us on September 28: a great sponsor! We are delighted to announce that local company, and maker of the finest extracts and vanillas, Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, will be a Table Sponsor at the September swap. A representative from the company will be on hand to answer questions, provide recipes and, yes, give away samples! So that should give you an extra incentive to register.

Registration for the September 28 swap is already 1/3 full so do not delay! Buy your ticket and join us at the end of the month for what will surely be one of the best swaps yet.

July Swap Recap

The Chicago Food Swap returned to Wicker Park, and the funky confines of co-working loft Free Range Office, for its July swap. It was a small but lively gathering peopled mostly by returning swappers with a few new faces scattered here and there.
Located on the second floor of a converted glove factory, Free Range Office is filled with light and many original features. Freelancers, entrepreneurs, creative types, and anyone who is self-employed can rent office space at Free Range Office and access the company’s many amenities. The space is open, features a full kitchen and has plenty of private nooks and crannies for meetings. Free Range Office is also available for events, such as showers and oarties. With plenty of tables and counter space, it is an ideal spot for a food swap, which is why we returned.  Huge thanks to Liane, the owner of Free Range Office for hosting us a second time.
The offerings at the July swap reflected the fact that summer is in full swing in Chicago. Many swappers brought herbs, vegetables and fruit from their backyards and community garden plots. Still other used their homegrown produce to create delicious swap items, such as Christina’s goat cheese polenta tarts with roasted cherry tomatoes. (Reader, I ate one for dinner and it was heaven.)
The season’s abundance was also on display in the many jams, jellies and pickles available for swapping. I saw two kinds of pickled cherries — something we dubbed the “Food in Jars effect” — cucumber pickles, pickled okra, pickled red onions, peach jam, and raspberry jam. I myself brought black raspberry jam, apricot butter and sour cherry syrup — all products of several week’s worth of recipe testing for my food swap cookbook.
Some of the baked goods up for swap also had a seasonal component such as the peach-ginger hand pies (got ‘em), the chocolate zucchini cake, Karen’s adorable cherry pies in a jar and Patty’s yogurt cake with red currants (got one). Others were more timeless but equally delicious, such as new mom Laura’s chamomile cupcakes with honey glaze (got ‘em), Kat’s scones from her grandmother’s recipe, handmade chocolates from new swapper Tala, and shortbread.
While there were a lot of sweets, and I managed to take home many of them, several swappers had creative savory offerings. A new swapper, Lou, brought handmade pasta, which is always exciting to see. Another new swapper brought vegan pot pies made with seitan. Our veteran vegan swappers, Ian and Alison, were rather excited. Another veteran swapper, Pamela, who over time has brought some of the most interesting items I’ve seen, did not disappoint with her spicy squid salad and onion omelet rolls.
Breakfast was covered in the form of granola,  homemade English muffins and Asiago bagels (got ‘em). And for your dipping pleasure: chimichurri, beet tahini dip, carrot ginger dressing, and a North African pepper and eggplant dip that tastes exactly like something I used to eat in France with my Pied-Noir host family.
Summer is a busy time for everyone so the July swap had less than thirty attendees, but a small, intimate swap is always fun. People have more time to chat and the actual swapping is less chaotic. I know I appreciated the low-key vibe.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Announcing the Dates and Location for Fall Swaps


Welcome to our new home! This beautiful new kitchen facility is the Fearless Food Kitchen, a new effort by our friends at the Peterson Garden Project. Located in the Broadway Armory in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, the Fearless Food Kitchen will be a teaching kitchen and event space for the local community and beyond. Peterson Garden Project has also offered the use of the Fearless Food Kitchen once a month for Chicago Food Swap events. And we could not be more excited.


Starting in September, the Chicago Food Swap will be meeting monthly at the Fearless Food Kitchen. As you can see, the kitchen will accommodate a large number of swappers with plenty of table and counter space to display all those toothsome swap items. With abundant light from the overhead skylights, a brick fireplace in the corner and the El tracks right outside the window, the Fearless Food Kitchen is loaded with charm and character. Having a permanent home will bring a new measure of stability to the Chicago Food Swap and for that, Emily is extremely grateful.

Also starting in September, there will be a $5 registration fee to participate in the Chicago Food Swap. The proceeds from this fee will be used first to cover any costs of running the swap, such as printing and supplies. Emily will donate remaining proceeds to Peterson Garden Project in recognition of its support and for letting us use this wonderful space. If you have any concerns or questions about this change, please feel free to ask Emily.



Without further ado, here are the dates for the fall swaps. All swaps start at 2 pm.

  • September 28
  • October 19
  • November 16
It is not clear at this time whether there will be a swap in December. Stay tuned for more information on that.

Meanwhile, there are still spots in the July 20 swap at Free Range Office. Register today

June Swap Recap

For a foodie event, there is hardly a more prestigious location than Sur La Table, the beloved kitchenwares emporium. So when Ali Banks, the resident chef at Chicago’s swanky Sur La Table store on Michigan Avenue, reached out to me about hosting a food swap in her kitchen, I was falling over myself to say yes.
While Michigan Avenue is inevitably choked with tourists at this time of year and parking in that neighborhood costs a million dollars a minute, how could I resist holding a swap in Sur La Table’s stunning demonstration kitchen surrounded by all the ingredients, gadgets and tools that a food-lover could want?
chicago food swap
So it was that a group of dedicated cooks and food-swappers fought the traffic on a summer Sunday — parking God only knows where — and lugged bags full of homemade and homegrown goodies past designer boutiques up to the third floor of 900 North Michigan where the Sur La Table is located.
Some of the swappers were seasoned veterans, happy to reconnect with old friends. Others were newcomers, having only recently heard about the Chicago Food Swap from a piece on Chicago’s NPR station by food writer Monica Eng.  All, however, were excited about being in the stunning teaching kitchen and taking advantage of the generous discount that Ali had offered the swappers to shop Sur La Table‘s summer sale.
chicago food swap
With summer in full swing, there was plenty of garden produce, like kale, collard greens, and fragrant fresh herbs, on offer. Plus there were many items perfect for summer cooking and eating like cold soups, spice rubs, mint syrup for cocktails and peach hibiscus sangria.
As always, sweets and baked goods were very popular, including such indulgences as Dulce de Leche macarons, chocolate pistachio bark, Nutella banana bread, chocolate peanut butter truffles and Linsey’s amazing chocolate cake.
chicago food swap
Some swappers, however, heeded my possibly self-interested advice about bringing something savory and I was able to come home with plenty of delicious items to simplify my meals for this week, including skirt steak knishes (one of the best things I have ever gotten from a swap), mini-quiches, granola, and parmesan-pepper bread. For anyone looking for heat, there was spicy cheese straws and Sriracha-Lime popcorn on offer.
chicago food swap
Jams, salsas and pickles were prevalent as always. Having run through all the pickles I put up last year, and not having had time to make more myself, I was happy to trade for Alice’s bread-and-butter pickles and Patty’s spicy tomatillo salsa. I am a sucker for anything with tomatillos.  Peter,AKA The Cooking Cop, brought this bacon jam — not for me, alas — and swapper Linsey brought mustard and lemon curd in adorable European-style glass jars.
chicago food swap
After the swap was over, all the swappers headed over to the store to  put their discount to good use. It was just too hard to resist!
chicago food swap
Huge thanks to Chef Ali Banks for inviting us to her kitchen. Sur La Table was a terrific place for a swap and everyone who came enjoyed it tremendously. For its next event, the Chicago Food Swap will be returning to Free Range Office, the co-working loft in the heart of Wicker Park.Registration is open for the July swap, which will take place on July 20. There will not be a swap in August so July 20 will be your last chance to swap before the fall. Sign up today!