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!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 2014 Swap at Sur La Table

The June Chicago Food Swap will take place in June 29 at 3 pm. I am very excited to announce that our host for the June swap is the Sur La Table store at 900 N. Michigan Ave. I'm certain that everyone is familiar with Sur La Table, one of the premier kitchenware stores in the country.

In addition to having an enormous selection of cookware, kitchen tools, small appliances, cutlery and tableware, Sur La Table stores also offer many different cooking classes. Ali Banks, who is the resident chef at the spacious 900 N. Michigan store reached out to me about hosting a swap at the store and I was thrilled at the idea of collaborating with such a prestigious partner. Sur La Table will be offering a small discount to all the swappers on the day of the swap so leave plenty of time for shopping!

For those of you not familiar with 900 N. Michigan, it is a large shopping mall at the north end of Michigan Avenue. The mall and the Sur La Table store will be open at the time of the swap, so expect crowds. Parking in that part of Chicago can be challenging or expensive if you park in a garage. Consider taking the El or carpooling with other swappers.

For the June swap, we will have the use of the in-store kitchen as well as the open space in front of the store. This should allow us to accommodate up to seventy swappers. Because of the nature of this space, however, no alcoholic beverages will be permitted, so please leave the home brews at home. Fortunately, with summer upon us, there are some many wonderful seasonal ingredients with which is make your swap items.

Registration for the June swap is now open on Eventbrite. Because of the large size of this swap, it is free to register. I suspect that we will sell out so be sure to snag your ticket early. See everyone there!

Monday, May 19, 2014

May Swap at Green Home Experts Recap

The Chicago Food Swap had its May event this past Sunday, May 18, at Green Home Experts, a “green” lifestyle boutique in Oak Park. This was the third time that owner Maria Moran opened her store’s doors to the Chicago Food Swap and, just as before, it was a perfect location for a swap.
On a sunny spring afternoon, Maria’s garden center was a huge draw and all the swappers took advantage of the generous swapper discount to stock up on Ball jars, sustainable cooking utensils and gardening supplies. The swap was small and intimate, which suited the somewhat tight quarters at Green Home Experts, but everyone agreed that the smaller size allowed the group to talk more and get to know one another better.
One of the other fun things about May’s swap was the number of amazing raffle prizes and giveaways for the swappers. Each of the first fifteen swappers who arrived received a strawberry huller courtesy of OXO.  With most of the Chicago-area farmers markets opening next weekend and strawberries being in season, I suspect that those hullers will be getting a workout. Ulysses Press also sent us a set of vegan cookbooks as a raffle prize. Teen swapper and baker extraordinaire Emmie won those.
jams at the chicago food swap
For the first time in its two-plus year history, the Chicago Food Swap had a theme for the swap and that theme was, in fact, vegan. I was inspired by some of our passionate vegan swappers who proved to the rest of us that vegan foods of all kinds, even baked goods, could taste delicious. A few months ago, veteran swapper, and vegan, Ian had expressed to me his concern that there are not always a lot of vegan items for him to choose from when he comes to the swap and asked if I would mind if he started a vegan swap. I replied that I would not mind at all, but that one of the things that I liked best about the Chicago Food Swap is that it breaks down some of those silos we tend to put ourselves into. I was reluctant to  lose that community-building aspect of the Swap, so I proposed to Ian that we try a vegan-themed swap and see how it went. For the May swap, then, we encouraged, but not required, swappers to bring vegan items.
From the diverse array of offerings at our first vegan-themed swap, I would say it was a success. There were definitely some non-vegan items, like Tara’s duck eggs, which were as popular as always. But because many of the swappers in attendance are not actually vegans, those items found enthusiastic homes. And many swappers — both vegan and non-vegans — brought vegan items, which made for an interesting and out-of-the-ordinary mix. I definitely saw fewer sweets and baked goods than usual, which perhaps is a good thing. Many swappers, myself included, often find themselves coming home with way more desserts than intended. So it was good that the vegan swap forced us to make and trade for healthier items.
food swap items
So, not all the vegan items were healthy!
Some swappers really embraced the vegan theme and made their own vegan staples, like tofu and seitan. Mom-and-daughter team Laura and Emmie also made a smoky, vegan bacon substitute out of mushrooms. I thought it tasted great and was excited to get some. I brought hummus and white bean dip, both made with ramps, as good vegan sources of protein. Diana who writes for Chicago Foodie Girl brought vegan chili and I also saw some quinoa salad.
There were also a lot of jams and pickles, foods that are naturally vegan. Swapper Jill brought a cool array of dehydrated fruits and vegetables. First-time swapper Dantee brought two kinds of chia pudding – those chia seeds are everywhere these days! There were also all kinds of great pantry items like saffron salt from Ian and Alison and several kinds of mustard. New swappers Cathy and her husband Kevin brought cucumber and rhubarb sangria which, no surprise there, proved to be very popular.
chicago food swap
But did I mention the baked goods? There were plenty of sweet treats of both the vegan and non-vegan variety. I indulged in some of Sandy’s carrot cake and it was worth every calorie. The blueberry crumb cake from Leah was also popular. I was impressed with first-time swapper Lydia’s vegan snickerdoodles and other folks had brought different kinds of vegan cookies, quick breads and even vegan fudge. So creative! Swappers Gary and Keli brought some different kinds of focaccia that were very popular as well.
chicago food swap
And then, as the swap was winding down, reporter Monica Eng from WBEZ, the Chicago NPR station, arrived to interview some of the swappers. I met Monica, who is the co-host of a greatfood podcast called Chewing the Fat, at the IACP conference back in March — and by “met,” I mean “accosted in a hallway.” When I told her that I was the founder of the Chicago Food Swap, she said that the Swap was on her story list, so I encouraged her to come to an upcoming swap. It was a huge thrill for me that Monica came and got to hear from the swappers about why they love the swap so much. Monica also enjoyed browsing at Green Home Experts and even picked up a few things for her garden!
chicago food swap
The next Chicago Food Swap is tentatively scheduled for June 29. More details to once everything is finalized. In July, the Chicago Food Swap will return to Free Range Office, a funky co-working space in the heart of Wicker Park and site of the successful March swap. I am taking August OFF, so if you want to swap, save the dates for June and July.

Have you come to the Chicago Food Swap yet? If not, why not?

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'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!