Wednesday, September 5, 2012

August Chicago Food Swap Recap & a Mayo-Free Chicken Salad Recipe

There was a lot of “food in jars” at the August Chicago Food Swap with Marisa McClellan

This recap of the August Chicago Food Swap originally appeared on co-founder Emily's blog, West of the Loop.

This past Sunday was the fourth Chicago Food Swap and we had a record thirty-plus swappers. Perhaps word has spread about how fun and inspiring these food swaps are. Perhaps it was the presence of celebrity food blogger Marisa McClellan from Food in Jars who was there to meet the swappers and sign copies of her new cookbook. Perhaps it was simply the growing awareness nationwide of the food swap movement. Whatever the reason, this food swap was — dare I say it? — our biggest and best one yet.

The host for this swap was Oak Park’s own Green Home Experts, a unique store dedicated to helping people live a more sustainable lifestyle with eco-friendly kitchen products, items for green home renovation projects, and even a large garden center. I have been teaching a series of canning classes at GHE this summer — the last class on salsa will be in late September, so keep your eye out! — and love the idea of home food preservation as part of a more environmentally sensitive lifestyle. The swap too fits into the idea of eating locally and seasonally and so Maria, the owner of GHE, was excited to host us. She and her staff were extremely gracious and welcoming as our swappers took over her store.

A word of thanks also to Ball Canning and Recipes, makers of those iconic glass jars that the swappers use in spades. They kindly send us a sheaf of coupons for free jars to give away and a beautiful decorative gallon jar as a raffle prize. Veteran swapper Jules W. was the lucky winner.

As has been the case for the past few months, the August swap was a mix of regulars, like Nancy and Melisa, who have been at three out of our four swaps, and newcomers like Kelly, who drive two hours to swap with us. I am delighted to see so many repeat swappers because it helps create a sense of community — the regulars remember one another and everyone begins to get a reputation for their cooking prowess. But at the same time, it is thrilling that new people are finding us out there on the Internet and signing up. It does take some courage to sign up for your first food swap, especially if you don’t know anyone: What if no one wants my stuff? What if no one talks to me? Luckily, our swappers are a friendly, welcoming group and everyone’s offerings are always appreciated. The truth is, you don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool foodie to participate in a food swap. As long as you can make one yummy thing, be it homemade cookies or a fresh salsa, someone will be happy to swap with you.

The August swap had the usual assortment of homemade jams and preserves and toothsome baked goods. I was lucky enough to score some of Stephanie’s super-doughy chocolate chip cookies, which were a huge hit with my family, and Jules’s sinful sticky toffee cake. I also picked up some homemade vanilla extract from first-time swapper Kristyn because I was seduced for the adorable bottle it was in. I can’t wait to bake with it.  But we also had some new offerings, like tons of fabulous granolas, and more homegrown items than ever before. Kasandra brought huge bunches of kale from her garden; Kelly brought pints of jalapeño peppers and Cheryl has one precious pint of Juliet cherry tomatoes, which I pounced on. In honor of our special guest, Marisa McClellan, several people, including me, made recipes from her new cookbook. I had several jars of Marisa’s pickled jalapeño peppers to trade.  I was excited to swap one of my jars to Chris for her barbeque sauce, which was a highly coveted item.

Mayonnaise-free chicken salad made with Greek yogurt dressing and pickled red grapes.

I was also lucky enough to trade some of my tart cherry pie filling — made with sour cherries that one of my canning students brought me all the way from Door County — for one of Nancy’s jars of pickled red grapes. These grapes, of which Nancy cleverly offered samples for the uninitiated, were a revelation: sweet with just a hint of zing from the vinegar. I couldn’t wait to use them. My first thought was chicken salad. But, since my husband has a profound aversion to mayonnaise, I knew I had to be creative with the dressing. I hit upon Greek yogurt as a base for the dressing to provide some creaminess and also tanginess. I thinned out the yogurt with lemon juice, olive oil and some of the pickle brine to add sweetness.
The resulting dish was absolutely delicious and would make an elegant lunch for company or a light dinner on a hot day. For the meat, you can use leftover chicken, supermarket rotisserie chicken or roast a couple of chicken breasts, as I did. And if you don’t have any pickled grapes?  Well, you can substitute another sweet pickle. But I urge you to give the pickled grape recipe a try. It’s very easy and there is no canning since the grapes are a refrigerator pickle.

Yogurt-Curry Chicken Salad with Pickled Grapes
2 bone-in chicken breasts
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. sweet curry powder
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 cup pickled red grapes with brine
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub chicken breasts with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast in over for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Once the breasts are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and discard. Shred the meat into bite-size pieces and set aside. (Don’t forget to wrap the bones in foil and freeze for making chicken stock.) Toast the walnut pieces in a dry skillet over medium heat just until fragrant. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice and Greek yogurt. Add curry powder, salt and pepper and a generous splash of pickle brine. Slowly whisk in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Add chicken, walnuts and grapes to bowl and toss to combine. Serve chicken salad over greens or in a salad.

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