Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recap of the April Swap and Information about May

This past weekend the Chicago Food Swap returned to The Chopping Block, the spacious and beautiful cooking school located in the iconic Merchandise Mart, for its April swap. And it was an outstanding afternoon of sampling, swapping and shopping.

As I said in my opening remarks to the group, when we are at The Chopping Block, it is like the Cadillac of food swaps: there is plenty of room for everyone, the staff is extraordinarily helpful and swappers even get a 15% discount at The Chopping Block's retail store. (My purchases? A bottle of peppermint extract, hard-to-find Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate chips, a pasta drying rack and one Goo-Goo Cluster. Cha-ching!)

Many swappers were perusing The Chopping Block's class schedule for April and May and I certainly understand why.  Whether you are a novice or experienced cook, there is class at The Chopping Block for you. The classes are extremely informative but most of all, they are fun.

Registration for the April swap took place on the Meal Sharing platform and as a result, we had a large number of new swappers. It was delightful to meet some new people and to see what they had brought to swap.

Someone told me that it seemed like a particularly sweets-heavy swap. I am not sure that I agree, but I did end up bringing home three different kinds of cookies, Diana's Mexican hot chocolate brownies, a stunning strawberry tart made by Mike from Chicago Food Bloggers, strawberry lemonade syrup from Michelle, Andrea's cinnamon buns, and Hope's maple sugar candies, so maybe there were a lot of sweets! Luckily, I also managed to swap for Liz's eggs and butternut squash soup, Anna's ricotta, new swapper Christina's cheese straws, Lissa's red wine vinegar and veteran swapper Christina's whole wheat cinnamon bread.

Among the other creative and delicious offerings I saw were lumpia (Filipino egg rolls), Vietnamese spring rolls, kim chi, Habanero hot sauce, roasted coffee beans from regulars Mike and Maddy, pesto, pickles, scones, Tuscan ribollita soup, two different kinds of dog biscuits (!), wine jelly from my friend Dora, carrot-ginger dressing, drink syrups like rhubarb ginger, and chicken liver pate from a new swapper. So it wasn't all sweets!

In the end, I think the new and returning swappers alike had a great time. Everyone went home with delicious homemade treats for themselves (or their dogs!) and some fun new kitchen tools from The Chopping Block store.

The May swap will take place on May 18 at Green Home Experts in Oak Park. There will be a small fee for the May swap because it will likely be small due to space constraints and I want to discourage last-minute cancellations and no-shows. As long as you cancel with at least one week's notice, however, your fee will be refunded.

As announced previously, the May swap will have a vegan theme. Swapper are encouraged (not required) to bring vegan items to swap. By "vegan" we mean items that contain no animal products. Besides the obvious meat, dairy and eggs, some other products that come from animals are honey, casein and gelatin. For a more complete list check out Vegan Baking. The idea behind this theme is to be welcoming to the vegan members of our community and also to provide those of us who are not vegan with a new cooking challenge. I hope everyone will take it in that spirit!  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Recap of the March Swap and April Registration

This past weekend, on March 9, the Chicago Food Swap met at Free Range Office, a co-working space in the heart of Wicker Park, for a fun and lively swap. With fifty or so attendees, this swap was smaller than the February swap, but the group was diverse and the offerings exciting.

For only the second time in over two years, I charged a fee to register for the swap. My goal in doing so was to reduce the number of last-minute cancellations and no-shows -- critical for smaller swaps like this one -- and to help cover some of my out-of-pocket expenses, like printing and supplies. I know that some swappers resisted this change and I understand their concern. But charging a small fee of $5 significantly reduced the percentage of last-minute cancellations and no-shows. Going forward, some swaps will remain free, typically the larger ones, but some swaps will have a fee associated with them. If you have questions about this change, please feel free to email me.  

All the swappers were charmed by location of the March swap. Located on the second floor of a converted glove factory, Free Range Office is filled with light and unique 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. With plenty of tables and counter space, it was an ideal spot for a food swap.

The crowd was the usual mix of veteran swappers and newcomers. It was a treat to see so many familiar faces. Veteran swapper Chris and her husband Steve brought several offerings, but I was happiest to see that they brought more of the Winter Slaw with Citrus Dressing that I missed last time. Gena brought more of her popular cherry hand pies, pictured above, and some savory galettes, one of which made a great dinner for me last night. Food blogger Christina brought mustard and the beautiful galettes de rois in the top photo.

Tracey, who is famous for her buckeyes, brought Magic Mushroom Powder and some chocolate-peanut butter bars, but some folks (ahem!) missed the buckeyes. There were roasted coffee beans and bright pink beet hummus from Maddy and her husband, who have been to every swap this year so far. Culinary instructor Susan brought some fabulous cinnamon rolls and a South Asian rice pilaf. As usual, the veterans swappers mixed it up with tried-and-true favorites and some brand-new offerings.

Michelle, one of the most experienced swappers, ended up coming at the last minute with her daughter and brought vegan granola to specifically to trade with Ian, who was coming for the second time. Ian expressed to me his gratitude to folks who made an effort to make vegan items and label them as such. I was pleased that I could swap my pizza dough for his tangy red onions. I was so inspired by talking to Ian about vegan cooking that I am planning a vegan theme for the May swap!

The new swappers are always nervous, but in fact, they all brought amazing items.  I was happy to swap for first-timer Jason's pimento cheese biscuits. Yum! And the group that brought the lumpia? Amazing! Hanne, another newcomer, brought the most beautiful sugar flowers I have ever seen. Jenny and her friend were first-time swappers who set up next to me and I was very happy to trade for two of their Gooey Blackberry Butter Bars. The name alone was worth it! Andrea, another first-time swapper, brought flour she milled herself.

There were even a few folks who drove quite a ways to attend. Marie, who is the founder of the St. Louis Food Swap, drove up from Missouri to swap her whole wheat boules. Veteran swappers Tara and Danielle came from Indiana with their very tolerant husbands and thank goodness they did! Tara's duck and turkey eggs were the hottest item there, and Danielle's St. Patrick's Day-themed Irish soda bread, toffee and whiskey-flavored cupcakes were pretty popular too.

There were so many more amazing items that I can't even list them all. In addition to everything I've mentioned here, I saw jams and marmalade, delicious baked goods, unusual items like turmeric milk, homemade bath salts and more. It was truly overwhelming. My thanks to everyone who came and to our gracious host, Liane, from Free Range Office.

Everyone was asking about the April swap and I am delighted to say that we will be returning to The Chopping Block on April 6. The swap will begin at 3 pm. This will be a large swap because The Chopping Block kindly gives us two of their kitchens to use, and it is free to register. Registration for the April swap is now live.

The Chicago Food Swap is trying something new this month and using the MealSharing.com's platform for registration. The benefit of this platform is that it allows us to create profiles, review one another's food swap items, and message each other -- like for a recipe -- in between events. You will have to create a profile on Meal Sharing and, yes, you will be asked for a credit card. There will not be a charge to your card for this event. If this is nonetheless a concern for you, please email Emily or reach out to her on Facebook

Hope to see everyone in April!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Recap of the February Swap

Many swap items had a Valentine's Day theme.

The Chicago Food Swap held its February swap this past weekend, on February 8, at the kitchens of All Natural Chicago Catering, a local catering company specializing in healthy, freshly made food for corporate and private events. Husband and wife owners Tess and Mickey -- he's the chef -- were incredibly gracious hosts and everyone loved their funky loft kitchen and event space. If you are looking for a caterer for your next office breakfast or lunch or for a special event, definitely check out All Natural Chicago's menu of delicious, healthy options. 

Roast your own coffee beans? Why not? Swappers Mike and Maddie do.
Despite falling snow and slippery roads, the swappers trekked to the Near West side of Chicago to trade their delicious and creative homemade foods. As usual, the crowd was a mix of experienced swappers -- many of whom stepped up to help with set-up, photography and general trouble-shooting -- and newcomers.

Because the bad weather made many people late, we did not start swapping until forty-five minutes after the swap started, which gave the people extra time to mingle, sample and talk. I always get a little thrill when I overhear snippets of conversations about recipes, cooking techniques and ingredients. These moments of shared knowledge and passion are the heart of this dynamic, diverse community. And I do mean diverse: there were swappers there from all over the Chicago area, ranging in age from fifteen to seventy, vegans and carnivores, all brought together by a shared love of homemade food.

Buckeyes are a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate-peanut confection
It being almost Valentine's Day, the candy-makers were out in full force. I saw caramels adorably packaged in brown paper cones, gorgeous Neapolitan marshmallows, several kinds of fudge, homemade buckeyes (got some!) and Mounds bars, candied citrus peel, caramel and chocolate sauces and English toffee. Will any of these confections last until Valentine's Day? Given the rate at which my buckeyes are disappearing, I doubt it.

Fougasse from Colin: a French version of foccacia
The bakers had also been busy. There was an amazing assortment of cookies -- many with a Valentine theme -- brownies, biscotti, doughnut holes, vegan cinnamon rolls from new swapper Ian, quick breads, muffins, adorable cherry hand pies from Genevieve and Kelly's no-bake Biscoff bars. Swapper Colin brought some of this amazing artisanal bread again; I was lucky enough to score one of his loaves of sun-dried tomato fougasse, which is like a French version of foccacia. One swapper apparently had brought blue cheese biscuits - I wished I had seen those!

Fabulous varieties of handmade pasta
Fortunately, there were plenty of savory items to balance out all the sweets. Some first-time swappers brought a beautiful assortment of homemade pastas. (I brought two bags of my homemade pappardelle but I felt a little sheepish seeing all the different varieties that the real pasta-makers had brought.) Several people brought soup which, given the weather, was very smart. One new swapper made a delicious Indian-spiced chickpea dish and I also noticed several different kinds of grains, from rice to quinoa.Swapper Genevieve made some people very happy with her broccoli frittatas.

When coming to a swap, it is always a good idea to look for some shelf-stable or pantry items to bring home in addition to all the delicious treats that need to be consumed in a day or two. Among the shelf-stable offerings were flavored salts and sugars, plenty of jams, marmalade and pickles, mustard, and roasted coffee beans from swapping couple Mike and Maddie.. You could also stock your refrigerator with drink syrups, compound butter and for the adults, distilled whiskey and Meyer limoncello (from me). And swapper Serena really thought outside the box with her organic moisturizing body spray - just the thing to get us through this winter.

Drink syrups are one of my favorite swap items
It was really a terrific swap, as you can tell from the photos, and I hope that everyone who braved the weather to attend felt that it was worthwhile. For those who were unable to come due to bad roads, we certainly understand and you were missed.

Tickets for the March 9 swap went on sale today and are already going fast. Our host for the March swap is Free Range Office, a cool co-working space in the heart of Wicker Park. This will be a smaller event due to space constraints so do not wait to register! There will be a small fee of $5 to register for the March swap. This fee is intended to discourage last-minute cancellations and no-shows and will help defray some of the swap's costs, such as printing and supplies. If you have questions or feedback about the fee, please contact Emily.  Hope to see many of you there!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Our founder, Emily Paster, appeared on the Heritage Radio Network program No Chefs Allowed on Monday January 20, 2014 to discuss the ins and outs of food swapping. Click here to listen a podcast of the show.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Recap of the January Swap & Upcoming Events

Thanks to everyone who came out to the January food swap, which will took place on January 12 and was hosted by Mac & Cheese Productions. Everyone enjoyed this smaller, more intimate event and the offerings were as amazing as usual! Huge thanks to our generous gift bag sponsors, Argo Tea, Cabot Creamery and the Savory Spice Shop. Everyone was blown away by the great swag! Congratulations to Maddie and Mike who took home the raffle prize, a Ball FreshTECH Automatic Jam and Jelly Maker.

Emily will be distributing recipes from the swap to all attendees next week. If you attended the January swap and would like to have your recipe included, please email it to Emily as soon as possible. To read more about the January swap, be sure to check out the recap on swapper Kelly's blog.

Argo Tea, a Chicago-based company that sells delicious teas and healthy food, recently supported the Chicago Food Swap with a contribution to the gift bags for the January swap. Right now, Emily is partnering with Argo Tea on her blog, West of the Loop, to give away two $50 Argo Tea gift certificates. Just leave a comment on the post to enter. In addition, you can find a coupon for a free oatmeal with purchase of a signature drink at any Argo Tea cafe. That's a great offer! Be sure to check it out and show some love for our sponsors.  

Upcoming Events:
  • Sunday January 19 at 2 pm -- the Northshore Chicago Food Swap will be holding their second swap in Evanston. Perfect for those located on the North Shore or who missed the January 12 swap! You can register here.
  • Saturday February 8 at 2 pm -- Registration is now open for the next Chicago Food Swap which will take place at 2 pm on February 8 at All Natural Chicago Catering. All Natural Chicago is a new local catering company that specializes in healthy and flavorful cuisine. All Natural Chicago provides breakfasts and lunches for corporate gatherings as well as parties and other special events. Owners Tess and Micky are very excited to welcome our group to their cool loft space. The February 8 swap is 2/3 full, so do not wait to register! As always, we will keep a waitlist once all the spots are full.  
Other upcoming events include a culinary tour of Devon Ave, another swap at The Chopping Block, a swap and open house on an organic farm outside of the city and more. Stay tuned for more information on these events and more swaps! Emily is busy working on finalizing more 2014 dates but we need locations. If you know of a location for a swap that can accommodate at least 50 swappers with tables, please let Emily know. Some of our best locations have come from swapper suggestions. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy 2014!

As the Chicago Food Swap enters its third year, Emily would like to thank all of the swappers for their creativity, enthusiasm and support. Look forward to big things in 2014, including cooking classes, culinary tours, lectures, potlucks and themed swaps. (Unlike our general swaps, which will remain free and open to all, some of these special events may have a small fee associated with them.) Would you be interested in connecting with other members of the Chicago Food Swap community at these kind of food-related events? Do you have particular expertise that you are willing to share? What other kinds of events would you like to see? Be sure to reach out to us with any ideas or feedback!

The January food swap will take place on January 12 and will be hosted by Mac & Cheese Productions. This event is smaller than a typical swap and intended for experienced food swappers. To register you must have attended a previous Chicago Food Swap event or be accompanied by an experienced swapper. This is not intended to exclude people but simply to give members of the CFS community a chance to connect in a more intimate setting. Each attendee will take home a gift bag featuring products from great food brands like Argo Tea, Cabot Creamery and the Savory Spice Shop. There will also be a great raffle prize from our friends at Ball Jars! Registration is $10 and is already half full, so don't delay! Hope to see you there.

The February swap will take place on February 8 and will be free and open to the public. Registration for the February swap will open on January 13.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Recap of the December Swap

Swapper Susan's amazing sugar cookies
 Last Saturday was the second anniversary Chicago Food Swap. It’s amazing how this community has grown in such a short time. From the dozen or so swappers at that first event in December 2011, the Chicago Food Swap has grown to a community of several hundred people with events that regularly draw eighty or ninety.  Each swap, it seems, is a mix of seasoned regulars who greet one another with enthusiasm and slightly nervous newcomers, who have no idea what a treat they are in for. Although I do this every month, I am still amazed every time at the diversity and creativity of the swappers’ items and every time, I go home inspired and grateful. I also go home with an armful of delicious food!

So festive!
This Saturday was no exception. The December swap took place at Enerspace Chicago, a co-working loft with an open floor plan and a terrific view of downtown Chicago. Our host for the event was Joelen Tan, a culinary educator and blogger who holds her terrific cooking classes at Enerspace on Saturdays. Joelen was a wonderful host because not only she did prepare items to swap, she also made hot appetizers to serve the group! The swappers definitely enjoyed that.

Crackers made with Cabot Coop cheeses
Our sponsor for the December swap was Cabot Creamery Cooperative, a wonderful dairy cooperative in New England that makes exceptional cheeses, butter, sour cream and yogurt. I have praised Cabot for their outstanding dairy products and sustainable farming practices on my blog, West of the Loop. Just over a year ago, I got to attend an amazing food blogger lunch featuring Cabot products at my favorite Oak Park restaurant Marion Street Cheese Market. I have also featured Cabot cheese in some of my recipes, including this one for grown-up grilled cheese and this one for Cheddar Cauliflower Gratin.

Needless to say, I was delighted to have Cabot on board as a sponsor for the Chicago Food Swap. Cabot sent some of their products to two lucky swappers, who are also bloggers, to create an original swap item. Kelly used Cabot butter and sour cream to make an amazing peppermint fudge, which I got a piece of, and Alison used Cabot cheeses to make delicious flavored crackers. One lucky swapper also walked away with a Cabot Creamery gift box worth $75. That is a lot of cheese!

The next Chicago Food Swap will be on January 12 hosted by Mac & Cheese Productions. This small, forty-person swap is open only to those who have attended at least three previous Chicago Food Swap events. This is not intended to exclude people, but rather to give some of the long-standing members of the community a chance to connect in a more intimate setting.

If you can't wait until 2014, this coming Saturday, December 14, is the first meeting of the Northshore Chicago Food Swap, an offshoot of this group that will hold events on the North Shore.  But swappers from all over are welcome to attend.

The Chicago Food Swap will be back in February with a free, open-to-all swap!