Saturday, February 21, 2015

February 2015 Swap Recap

Last Sunday, February 15, was the February meeting of the Chicago Food Swap As I trudged through the snow, wind howling around me, on my way to the Fearless Food Kitchen in the Broadway Armory Field House, I suddenly remembered that the 2014 February Chicago Food Swap took place in similarly bad weather. Note to self: perhaps skip February next year?
chicago food swap
But then again, February will always be cold and blustery in Chicago. We can stay inside and hibernate or we can persevere, refusing to let the chill keep us away from friends and the things we love. For the brave souls who ventured out to the February 2015 Chicago Food Swap, the food and fellowship they found at the Fearless Food Kitchen made the journey worth every frozen, snowy step.
We welcomed back many returning swappers, including some who were returning after long absences, and greeted a handful of first-time swappers.  Several people noticed that there seemed to be fewer sweets on offer than usual. In fact, I struggled to find a treat to bring home to my kids to make up for my absence all afternoon. No cupcakes? No cookies?
chicago food swap
Luckily, a couple of new swappers brought soft, chewy homemade caramels and returning swapper Lori brought gooey cinnamon rolls dripping with icing, both of which I managed to snag. Whew! I also saw some beautiful truffles from another new swapper, which I missed sadly, and there were two kinds of flavored popcorn, but that might have been all for the sweets. Such a departure from the typical swap!
chicago food swap
So, what did people bring? Savory items, of course! Things like tamales, soups, tofu, dips, granola, almond milk, savory baked goods like buns and muffins, and salads. Plenty of canners brought food in jars from Meyer lemon marmalade to sweet pickle relish to caramelized pickled onions. There were pantry items galore from flavored salts and spice mixes to mustards to vinegar and crystallized ginger. There was even booze in the form of cranberry vodka and strawberry basil rum.
chicago food swap
But the most surprising trend seemed to be toward meat.  From new swapper Chris’s ham-and-cheese bread, to veteran swapper Lori’s smoked drum sticks to charcuterie expert Giuseppe’s sausages, made from a family recipe. What an interesting development!
chicago food swap
As I announced at the swap, next month will offer something different: the March Chicago Food Swap will take place at The Chopping Block, Chicago’s premier recreational cooking school located in the Merchandise Mart. This will be CFS’s third time at The Chopping Block and these swaps are always so much funThe Chopping Block has a beautiful space and the staff are the most gracious hosts. Swappers even get a 10% discount at the retail store on the day of the swap! That’s dangerous.
So sign up for the March 15 swap at The Chopping Block. Registration is now open. We will not beware of the Ides of March and while we will be around a lot of sharp knives, I am confident that no one will end up like Julius Caesar.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Valentine's Day Gift Ideas

Did you catch founder Emily Paster on WCIU's "You & Me This Morning" talking about easy, homemade Valentine's Day gift ideas? If you are visiting this site for the first time, welcome! You can  register for the February 15 Chicago Food Swap here.

If you would like the recipes that Emily demonstrated during her segment, here they are! Enjoy making homemade treats for all of your Valentines!

Valentine’s Chocolate-Drizzled Popcorn Mix

2 TB vegetable or coconut oil
⅓ cup popcorn kernels
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 TB butter
1 tsp. salt
Assorted sweet and salty toppings, such as dried fruit, nuts, small candies, citrus zest, candied ginger, and crushed pretzel sticks

Heat oil over medium-high heat in heavy-bottomed pot and add popcorn kernelsCover pot with a lid leaving a small crack for steam to escape. Listen for popping and remove pot from heat as soon as popping stops or slows to a few seconds between pops. (An adult should handle this step.)
Spread popcorn in an even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.
Melt butter and chocolate in a double-boiler set over simmering water OR a heavy-bottomed pot over a very low flame. Stir to combine. Remove from heat as soon as the chocolate is melted and watch for scorching.
Scrape chocolate mixture into a quart-size plastic bag and squeeze the chocolate into one corner of the bag.
Cut off the very tip of the corner of the bag containing the chocolate.
Gently squeeze the bag to pipe the melted chocolate over the popcorn -- an older kid can do this with supervision.
While the chocolate is still warm, sprinkle the chosen toppings over the popcorn.
Chill the tray of popcorn in the fridge until the chocolate is set.
If desired, gently pack the popcorn mixture into jars -- a funnel helps here -- and decorate.

Cranberry Vodka

Makes one pint or two eight-ounce bottles

2 1/2 cups whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
One lime
2-3 cups 80-proof vodka

Place the cranberries in a clean, quart-sized Mason jar. Crush or pop some of the cranberries to release their juices.
Cut just the peel, not the white pith, from the lime in long strips using a vegetable peeler and add to the cranberries.
Cover with at least two cups of vodka or more if there is room. Allow the mixture to steep in the refrigerator for several days, shaking it several times a day.
When the infusion is ready, strain out the cranberries and lime zest using a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Squeeze the fruit in the cheesecloth to extract as much liquid as possible. 
Pour the infused vodka into pretty glass bottles for swapping and label.

Raspberry Truffles

Makes three dozen truffles

1 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet or semisweet chocolate with at least 60% cocoa solids
Two teaspoons Chambord (or other raspberry liqueur)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
Cocoa powder for dusting

Bring the cream to a boil over medium heat. Turn down heat and keep warm
Finely chop the chocolate and place the pieces into a heat-proof glass bowl.
Pour the warm cream over the chocolate and stir vigorously to combine. It is imperative that the mixture be completely smooth. (If the cream was not warm enough to melt the chocolate completely, place the bowl in the microwave and heat in ten-second increments until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.) Add the Chambord and softened butter.
Cover the bowl and refrigerate until the mixture is firm, about two hours.
Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a melon baller or two teaspoons, scoop round teaspoons of ganache onto the prepared baking sheets. You should be able to get at least three dozen.
Using your hands, roll the scoops of ganache into smooth balls. (They do not need to be perfectly round.)
Dust the truffles with a light coating of cocoa powder. (A baker’s dusting wand is helpful for this step.)
Store the truffles in the refrigerator until ready to serve. (Allow to come to room temperature before eating.) 

Package the truffles by the dozen in a treat bag, or for a fancier presentation, place each truffle in an individual paper or foil candy cup and place a dozen in a treat box. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Recap of the January Swap and February Registration

The Chicago Food Swap started its fourth year off with a bang at the January food swap. A few timely mentions in the local press, such as the Chicago Reader and the Check Please Planner, brought a wave of new swappers who mixed right in with the returning veterans. And there was plenty of delicious food all around.
challenge butter
One of the highlights of the January swap was the presence of our terrific sponsor: Challenge Butter. Challenge Butter is the West Coast’s best-selling brand of butter and now it is widely available in Chicago. Two swappers, Michelle and Kristina, used Challenge Butter to create original swap items, including pineapple curd, salted caramel sauce and green tea whoopie pies. I tried all three and they were uniformly delicious.
Every attendee got to go home with a handy Challenge Butter reusable shopping bag — the kind that fits easily in your purse for when you are out and about — an adorable Challenge Dairy cow squeeze toy and, best of all, a coupon to try Challenge Butter for free. Thanks to Challenge Butter for your support and welcome to Chicago!
chicago food swap
Maybe it was just me, but I noticed fewer sweets than usual at this month’s swap. I think everyone has finally listened to my advice that savory items do well. New swapper Teri and her teen daughter Lucy brought several kinds of soup and an Ottolenghi rice salad, which made them very popular indeed. Vegan swapper Betsy was back with soup as well, including an amazing Brazilian stew that I cannot wait to try. Second-time swapper Lori is known for her sweets, like peppermint fudge, but even she brought a saffron potato soup that will make a very nice dinner for me this week.
chicago food swap
Savory baked goods were also popular. New swapper Benny brought several kinds of homemade bread, which will go very nicely with all that soup. Veteran swapper, and vegan. Alison, had several delicious items, one of which, a rosemary flatbread, was too good to pass up. The Kostyo siblings brought an English muffin toasting bread that was full of nooks and crannies.
Food blogger Christina brought a Yugoslavian cheese, egg and spinach pie that was so rich and yummy. I scored one and my husband and I are going to come to blows over who gets to eat it.
chicago food swap
Due to the season, there were fewer foods in jars than usual. But recipe-tester extraordinaire Gena did bring some pickled fennel that I happen to know is outstanding. (It’s from my recipe.) And I spied some trendy fermented foods, including Celeste’s kim chi and Christina’s miso dressing.
Drinks were also quite popular with new swapper Ruth offering multiple kinds of homemade wine. Danielle, a veteran swapper, brought a hibiscus syrup that people were going crazy for. Alison brought a super-trendy shrub and Mike of the Chicago Food Bloggers had an amazing cinnamon syrup that everyone wanted for their coffee.
All that savory food aside, there were plenty of baked goods and sweets to go around. In addition to the sweets already mentioned, new swapper Mia brought adorable miniature apple pies and homemade marshmallows. New swapper Katie had several kinds of quick breads, including a scrumptious lemon blueberry, and Gena brought cinnamon swirl banana bread in an effort to use up the bananas stashed in her freezer. (I do that too with brown bananas.) Elyse, a relatively new but very enthusiastic swapper, had homemade peppermint patties, which I was not quick enough to get, more’s the pity.

In short, the January swap was a great way to kick off the Chicago Food Swap’s fourth year. We are excited to return to the Fearless Food Kitchen in just a few weeks for the February 15 swap. Registration is now open, so won’t you please join us?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Edible Gift Ideas

Thank you for visiting the Chicago Food Swap website! Did you see our founder Emily Paster on Fox 32's Good Day Chicago talking about edible gift ideas for the holidays? If so, here is more information about the projects Emily mentioned on the show.
  • For fruit vinegars, combine 1 pint of crushed fruit with 2 cups white wine vinegar in a glass bowl or jar. Cover and store in a dark, cool place for up to four weeks. Strain out the fruit and discard the solids. Pour the flavored vinegar into a pretty glass bottle and decorate with a label or hanging tag. This recipe will yield two 12-ounce bottles.
  • For homemade vanilla extract, split open eight vanilla beans and place in a pint-sized glass jar. Cover with 16 ounces of your favorite alcohol, such as vodka, rum or bourbon. Allow to sit in a cool, dark place for four weeks. Strain the vanilla extract into a pretty bottle and label well. Use in baking. (If you want to give the vanilla extract sooner that that, just label it with the date you made it and tell the recipient to wait until four weeks after that date to use it.) This recipe will yield four 4-oz bottles. 
  • For herb salt, combine 1/4 cup chopped woody herbs, such as rosemary, thyme or sage, with one cup kosher salt in your food processor. Process until well-combined. Place in a pretty glass jar and decorate with a ribbon or label. This recipe will yield two 8-oz jars. 
If you would like to join us for the next Chicago Food Swap event, it will take place on January 18. You can register here. To stay abreast of all Chicago Food Swap events, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or sign up for our mailing list: 

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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!