Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Strawberry Recipes

Thanks to everyone who watched me on Fox 32's "Good Day Chicago" this morning where I shared my ideas on how to use a flat of strawberries in five days or less. For more detailed instructions on the recipes I described, follow the links below:

Strawberry Vanilla Syrup

Strawberry Maple Granola with Oven-Dried Strawberries

Strawberry Mango Fruit Leather

Don't forget to sign up for the July 18 Chicago Food Swap!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Announcing the July Swap with Villa Gabriella Organic

The next Chicago Food Swap will take place on Saturday July 18 at 2 pm. Registration is now open! Please note the change in the day of the week. While our events are typically on Sundays, the Broadway Armory Field House is closed on Sunday through the summer so we will be meeting on a Saturday in July and August.

I am delighted to announce our sponsor for July: Villa Gabriella Organic. Villa Gabriella imports outstanding certified organic olive oil and Balsamic vinegar from small, artisanal producers in the heart of Tuscany. At the July swap, participants will have a chance to taste Villa Gabriella's products are learn how to best to showcase a fine olive oil -- think finishing a dish, not cooking -- and aged Balsamic vinegar in your summer cooking.

Hope to see everyone at the July swap! With summer gardening and farmers market season in full swing, the offerings should be especially delicious.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

April 2015 Swap Recap

The Chicago Food Swap‘s April event had a very special guest: food preservation expert Cathy Barrow of the blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen. Cathy is touring the country promoting her new, award-winning cookbook Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry and stopped by the Chicago Food Swap to sign some books and, yes, swap with us.
Cathy had sent ahead some jars from her pantry so she could join in the actual swapping. What a thrill for the attendees to trade with a food preservation celebrity! I swapped some of my coffee meringues for a jar of Cathy’s raspberry sauce which, I am told, is delicious swirled into vanilla ice cream. Needless to say, Cathy’s book is stunning and I am very pleased to have my own signed copy.
Perhaps because of Cathy’s presence, turnout for the April swap was especially high. It was wonderful to see many returning veteran swappers but also new faces, some of whom had recently moved to Chicago or had heard about the Chicago Food Swap from friends or through the Peterson Garden Project. I think all of the first-time swappers had a blast and many promised to come back. I will hold them to it!
It is a food swap truth that each swap seems to have a theme that is usually impossible to predict. Sometimes there seems to be pesto everywhere or five kinds of hummus. More than one person remarked that the April swap seemed to have an abundance of chick pea dishes. Who can say why? All I know is, I brought home some of Lori’s chick pea and feta salad and it made an awfully tasty lunch.
Other than the healthy chick pea salad, vegan asparagus soup from Leigh and some truly creative pineapple-goat-cheese guacamole from Elyse, I was very naughty and swapped for sweets upon sweets, from Betsy’s vegan cinnamon rolls to Connie’s beautifully decorated chocolate-covered pretzels to Katie’s lemon sugar cookies. Not to mention the caramels, the apple strudel and Leena’s galub jamun.
Although not a sweet, Sandy’s pimento cheese spread, of which I got two jars, could also not be called health food. But it sure is delicious! I have no excuse for my naughtiness — my children were not even with me. But they were sure happy when I got home.
Again, perhaps because of Cathy Barrow’s presence, there seemed to be quite a lot of food in jars at this swap. I saw many pretty jams, jellies and pickles on display. I suspect some of the home food preservation junkies are clearing out last year’s leftovers to make room ahead of the spring and summer preserving season.
Indeed, by the time the Chicago Food Swap meets again, on June 14, there should be local rhubarb, strawberries and asparagus at the farmers markets. Although June seems a long way off, registration for the June swap is now open.

In the meantime, the Chicago Food Swap will be having an informal meet-up at the Peterson Garden Project’s Plant and Bake Sale Fundraiser from 1-3 pm on May 16. This sale is one of Peterson Garden Project’s biggest fundraisers of the year and it is a great way to support their mission of teaching Chicagoans to grow and cook their own food. Shop for your garden plants and indulge in some tasty treats with your swap friends!
We also need people to donate canned or baked goods to the fundraiser.  The Peterson Garden Project staff will take care of packaging and pricing the items. All you need to do is drop it off. Here’s what we’re looking for:
  • something that is stable at room temperature (refrigeration is not an option)
  • any quantity is helpful- 5 dozen or more earns you a BIG HUG!
  • something that can be packaged individually or in pairs (ex. brownies, cookies, slices of quick bread, muffins, macarons, rice krispie treats, etc.)
  • gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, or vegan options are welcome!
  • savory baked goods are welcome as well (bread, scones, etc.)
Here’s how to donate:
Send an email to swap veteran Christina Bello-, and include the following:
  • Your name and contact info
  • Name of baked good item
  • quantity
  • List of ingredients (for signage)
  • Preferred drop off day (Thurs, Fri, or Sat) *drop-off location is 4642 N. Francisco Ave
Thanks so much for supporting Peterson Garden Project which does so much to support the Chicago Food Swap. See you in May or back at the swap on June 14.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Announcing the April 2015 Swap with Special Guest Mrs. Wheelbarrow!

I am extremely excited to announce that we will have a special guest for the April 19 swap: Cathy Barrow of the award-winning food blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen. Prior to the swap, from 11 am to 1 pm, Cathy will be teaching a class at the Fearless Food Kitchen on how to cure your own bacon in just seven days. The class is $25 and you can register for it through the Peterson Garden Project website.

Following the class, Cathy will be signing copies of her stunning new cookbook, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, and she will stick around for the first part of the swap itself to sign more books and meet the swappers.  I am more than a little star-struck at the thought of meeting Cathy, who is a food blogging rock star, and I know that this is going to be a Chicago Food Swap event to remember. Registration for the April 19 swap is now open, so sign up today and take advantage of this unique opportunity to meet one of the food world’s home food preservation experts.
See you at the swap!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Recap of the March Swap at The Chopping Block

What a difference a month makes! While we all had to trudge through a blizzard to make it to the February swap, it was sunny and mild in downtown Chicago the day of the March Chicago Food Swap. For this event, we returned to The Chopping Block, Chicago’s premier recreational cooking school, located in the iconic Merchandise Mart. This was the fourth time that The Chopping Block had hosted a swap and every time is a delight. The demonstration kitchens are beautiful; the staff is beyond welcoming and no one can resist picking up a new kitchen gadget or hard-to-source ingredient from the retail store.

To the extent that the March swap had a theme, it was alcohol. One swapper, Leigh, told me that if February was the meat swap, March was the booze swap. Perhaps it was because of St. Patrick’s Day? Among the boozy offerings were this Apple Pie Moonshine, coffee liqueur and homemade Irish cream. I’m proud to report that I only came home with one tipple.

The St. Patrick’s Day theme extended to more family-friendly offerings as well, from Irish soda bread to corned beef and cabbage. Another theme that I noticed was pie, or should I say Pi? The day before the swap was March 14 after all.
Savory items continue to be popular, which makes me extremely happy. I should be all set for lunches this week between Lori’s broccoli quiche, Pamela’s chicken pot pie, Chris’s vegan tamale pie, Leigh’s actual tamales, new swapper Maren’s white bean and turkey sausage soup, Patty’s carrot soup and a chicken chipotle soup whose origin I forget. Although my allergies and quirky home kitchen rules prevented me from trading for them, the shrimp and pork rillettes from new swapper Julene were incredibly impressive.

Luckily, I did manage to bring home some sweets to pacify my children. My friend Gena and her daughter Ella brought melted butter-chocolate chip-dried cherry cookies that served as a special dessert for my whole family on Sunday night. And thanks to Maria for her homemade chocolate bars! Those I am saving for myself. I also saw shamrock cookies from Lori, chocolate-covered nuts from new swapper Courtney, and sweet pies from both Pamela and Chris. One of my offerings this time around was a homemade version of Nutella that was quite popular. So sweets remain food swap favorites.

All in all, the March swap was a lively gathering of new friends and old, all of whom were basking in the suddenly mild spring weather. Can spring produce, farmers’ markets and canning season be far behind?

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.