September 2013 Food Swap

September Swap
September Swap

It's always so exciting when it's time to start prepping for another Food Swap.  We started prepping for this swap about mid July, when we were getting a HUGE number of cucumbers from our CSA (Angelic Organics).  We don't eat a lot of raw cucumbers, so the natural decision was to make pickles. We don't like the way canned (shelf stable) pickles become less crunchy after processing, so we made fridge pickles.  The pickles we decided to bring to the swap were our second batch of fridge pickles for the summer.  The first time we made pickles this summer (and for our broccoli stem pickles), we used dill weed to make them taste like dill.  This time we used dill seed.  The difference is a deeper, but more subtle dill flavor.  We thought bringing some of these pickles to the swap would be a good idea, because it would give a couple weeks to mature in flavor and be just about perfect for our lucky swap friends to eat right up. We even used the Ball Heritage Collection Pint Jars Kristl won at the last swap!

The other two items we brought were very different from pickles.  We brought homemade organic vanilla marshmallows and curried pumpkin goat cheese dip.  We made marshmallows for the first time earlier this summer with my friend Tracy in North Carolina. (It was part of an all-from-scratch s'mores project, which was really delightful, even though the chocolate making kit's directions didn't make any sense.) They are surprisingly easy to make, especially if you have a good stand mixer.  We used organic corn syrup, because we really try to avoid GMOs in our food, and Kristl used a real vanilla bean to flavor them.  We were, however, up against a lot of other marshmallows at the swap today, so even though they came out perfectly, they didn't go very quickly.

The curried pumpkin goat cheese dip is a recipe we came up with a couple years ago as a last minute dish to bring to a party.  Kristl was like, "Oh pumpkin goat cheese would be like pumpkin cream cheese!" And I said, "Yeah, and if we add curry it'll be nice and savory!" And a delicious fall party dip was born. (I'm pretty sure those aren't the real words we exchanged, but you get the idea.)  It's a ratio of about two to one, cheese to pumpkin, with curry to taste (probably around a tablespoon), a little salt, a little honey, and a little lemon.  I can't really give you a whole lot more direction than that, as I did a lot of mixing things in, tasting, and mixing a little more of honey or curry to taste.  It was our most popular item at the swap, and unfortunately, we only had three 1/4 pint jars to give away, and the sample jar (which we gave to a friend at the end of the day.)

Before I go into what we got, I will say that this swap was really overwhelming.  It was held at the Petersen Garden Project's office, which is pretty similar to other previous swap spaces, if you include the outdoor area.  Unfortunately, it was raining, and the backyard had limited tenting, so a few poor folks were set up outside, but the majority of the 50ish (I'm not actually sure about numbers, sorry) swappers were crammed inside the building. It was pretty chaotic, and you could definitely see some folks were overwhelmed by the atmosphere.  I am the more extroverted between Kristl and I, so I was on deck for the majority of the bartering and squeezing around other swappers to find the people and items I wanted.

One new aspect of this swap was that it had sponsors! Jarlsberg USA and Woolwich Dairy provided abundant (and delicious) cheese samples for swappers, as well as providing cheese to two swappers to create an original recipe with! We volunteered to be one of the lucky swappers, but were too late. We did use goat cheese in one of our swap items anyway! We're curious to see how things work out with future swap sponsors.

Our bounty
Our bounty

We ended up getting a nice collection of items, regardless.  I was heading out of state on business for most of the week, so Kristl wanted to make sure we didn't get too many perishable/sweet things.  The majority of our swap items were in the realm of the savory.  The only thing not pictured is Chris's sprouts, which were lovely, fresh, and our snack on the way home from the swap.  Most of the items are untested at this point, but Kristl  told me the brussel sprout salad was delightful and the brownish saran-wrapped item, a Filipino rice dessert, was a sort of like stickier version of butter mochi (a sticky rice dessert popular in Hawaii which may make an appearance at a future swap).

It's just amazing to me how creative our fellow swappers are and how different the offerings are at every swap.  Kristl and I try to strategize what is best for each swap, what types of dishes will be popular, and what will get us a diverse collection of items to take home.  Sometimes we are spot on (we think August was our best swap to date) and sometimes we make similar items to everyone else.  That's what happened with marshmallows this time around; who knew so many people would think to make them?  We have follow up plans for marshmallows (think chocolate and graham cracker creations), but for the September swap we still managed to walk away with inspiring items and delicious food.

You know we can't post a swap recap without adding at least one tip for swappers. This one's an important one. Be sure to thoroughly label your swap items.This is the first time we received multiple items with absolutely no labeling. I realized after the swap that we hadn't included a date made/use by date on our swap items.

Here are some things to absolutely include on the label:

1. What the item is. 2. Whether it is shelf stable/should be refrigerated/etc. We usually just throw everything we got from a swap in the fridge, because we don't know if something has been properly canned or not (unless it's labeled or the swapper told us otherwise). 3. Date it was made/canned. 4. Estimated "Use By" date. 5. Instructions for use (if necessary).

If you have additional space, you can also include the following:

1. Your name. 2. A way to contact you if there are questions (email, website, Twitter, Facebook, phone number, etc). 3. Ingredients.

The next swap will be held on Sunday, October 6, at 4pm, at the new Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. The swap sold out really quickly, but if you're interested, you can add your name to the wait list! Spots always open up, so there's a good chance you'll still be able to get in. Jill Houk (amazing chef) and Angie Garbot (fabulous photographer) will be at the space at 3pm to sign their new cookbook The Essential Dehydrator. We'll do our best to get there early to see them, since Kristl randomly knows both Jill and Angie.

The November swap will be held at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart on Sunday, November 10, at 3pm. The last swap of the year will be on Saturday, December 7, at 3pm, at Enerspace Chicago. I believe the capacity for both swaps will be relatively large. Be sure to follow Chicago Food Swap on Facebook to be notified when the swap registration opens. Unfortunately, we have conflicts on both of those dates, so the October swap will be our last for the year. Hope y'all don't miss us too much!

August Food Swap Recap

Yesterday we attended our third Chicago Food Swap and I can definitely say that it was our favorite one yet. Our host was Green Home Experts, which is an awesome store that I will make sure stop by whenever I'm in Oak Park. They have all sorts of eco-friendly items for the home, which you know is right up our alley. This time we convinced some friends to come along, which I'm sure added to the fun for us. We also decided to take it easier with our swap items to ensure we wouldn't be in a mad panic right before the swap. I, for one, am an excellent procrastinator AND an overachiever, so the last two swaps were pretty hectic for me. I had it in my head that I wanted to bake all of the things, even though Rachel gently told me it might be too much, and I forged ahead and ended up being super stressed. The swap shouldn't be stressful! So we stuck with things that we had made slowly over the past 4-6 weeks and didn't bring anything that would require last minute baking or cooking. We brought more pineapple-infused vodka, since that was such a hit at the last swap. We also brought cherry-infused vodka, some of our raw fermented strawberry vinegar, and sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter Escape
Sourdough Starter Escape

We picked our friend Jess up around 2:20 and headed to Oak Park. We arrived at 3pm on the dot and went inside; Rachel and Jess found a place to set up our goods while I filled out our nametags and raffle entries (yep, there was a raffle at this swap!). We saw our friend Sarah and her friend Amara, of Eat Chic Chicago, and oh my goodness did their table look amazing! Sarah's a professional chef and Amara is a nutritionist, so they totally brought it (in the form of roasted corn and feta salad, cherry fig infused balsamic vinegar, and peach lavender infused white wine vinegar - we ended up swapping for ALL of their items).

We ended up sharing a table with Chris, of the delicious organic bean sprouts and just-spicy-enough (for me, at least) olive dip. Jess outdid herself by making whole wheat croissants, both with and without chocolate, brown butter rice krispie treats, and vegan granola. Once everyone was set up, Emily ran through the instructions and then we started checking out the goods. I really liked the variety at this swap. I immediately saw a few items I needed to have, as did Rachel. Amazingly, we were able to swap for all of our "must have" items!

Once the actual swapping started, things moved so quickly! Rachel is definitely the most extroverted of the three of us, so she blazed her way into the swapping arena and did the majority of the actual swapping. Jess came and went, getting a taste for how the swapping works (I'd say that the actual swapping is the most nervewracking part for newbies!). I mainly stayed at the table, fielding swap requests. It was all over relatively quickly and I was really pleased with our haul. We came with 14 items and left with 16 (it helped that Sarah and Amara gave us the sample jar of their peach lavender vinegar!). Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

Swap Haul
Swap Haul

Not surprisingly, the sourdough starter was our least popular item. We probably won't be bringing more to future swaps, but if you are in the Chicago area and want to try your hand at using a starter, let me know and I can hook you up with some! Also, for those of you brave souls who swapped for the starter, this is the recipe I used to make the sample bread. That link also has information on how to feed and care for your starter. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention! This time there was a raffle with 6 Heritage Collection Pint Jars from Ball and the Desserts in Jars cookbook. Everyone put their name into a basket and Emily drew a winner towards the end of the swap. Guess what? I won! I've already got my eye on a few recipes to try out for future swaps.

We've come up with a few more tips for swappers (in no particular order)! Check out our recap of the June swap for more swap tips.

1. Try not to overdo it. As mentioned previously, I went a little overboard at the previous two swaps we attended. Food swaps should be fun events. If you're going to make something that's really time consuming, flesh out the rest of your swap offerings with some easier items.

2. Wear something eye-catching. Our friend Jess wore a t-shirt the color of a brand new tennis ball to the swap and it made it SO easy to point her out to other swappers who were looking for her.

3. Realize what you're willing to spend. The swap itself is free and how much money you put into your swap items is completely up to you. Some people put time and money into creating labels and getting cute jars, some people put their stuff in a Ziploc and label it with a Sharpie. Some people will use a lot of fancy, high end ingredients, others won't. All of those options are totally valid for your swap items, just be aware that not everyone is going to choose the option you choose.

The next swap will be on September 15 at the Peterson Garden Project in Ravenswood Manor. Registration opens on August 18. The October swap will be on October 6 at the Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. (Please note, the September and October locations have switched since our June recap went up.) The November swap will be on November 10 at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart.

If you want to read more recaps of the swap, you can find some here, here, and here.

June 2013 Food Swap Recap

All set to start swapping!

All set to start swapping!

This past Sunday was Chicago Food Swap's June swap. We had an awesome time at our first swap in April, but we had to miss the smaller swap in May because of Mother's Day events. (Read about our first swap here.) We were excited to return to swapping because we had gotten to try so many interesting things the first time around. This time the swap was located in a large gallery space in Goose Island, right near Kendall College. Previous, swaps had been limited to 35-45 swappers because of size limitations at the swap sites, but this time there was no limit. Around 90 people signed up for the swap, which honestly would have been pretty overwhelming, but it didn't seem like that many actually showed up.

L to R: Pineapple-infused Vodka, Cheddar Crackers, Broccoli Stalk Quick Pickles, Biscoff Muddy Buddies, and Salted Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

For our part, we brought five different items: pineapple-infused vodka, broccoli stem quick pickles, cheese crackers (homemade Cheez-Its), salted brown butter chocolate chip cookies, and Biscoff muddy buddies. The vodka was the runaway hit (and, of course, it was the item we had the least of), followed closely by the pickles. Sadly, one of our jars of pickles was taken before the swap officially began. (Before the official swapping happens, everyone goes around to look at everyone else's items, figuring out what they'd like to swap for. Generally during this time people leave their tables unattended. I think because the size of this swap was so large, it was harder to keep on eye on things. In the future, we will be sure to always keep one person at our table while the other one is out perusing the goods.)

There were a lot of great things at this swap. We saw pesto, sandcastle cakes (so cute!) caramels, lots of jams and curds, breads, spice blends, lime ginger beer, fresh strawberries, mulberries, lettuces, and herbs, crackers, sugar cookies, brittle, and a ton of stuff I'm forgetting. We saw some people from the April swap who've been reading our blog (hi Julie and Jo!) and met a lot of new people. It was neat when first-timers asked us questions about how the swap worked. We just love the sense of community the food swap creates!

Food swap bounty
Food swap bounty

Now, on to the bounty. We brought 18 items to trade, and ended up with the amazing bounty below: I do not literally have all these delicious items in front of me, but I will do my best. We have fresh homemade pasta, sea salt caramels, locally foraged mulberries, pickled jalapenos, mustard, mango curd, peach whiskey curd (subtle, yet satisfying), orange gelatin, dehydrated strawberries, rhubarb chutney, pesto (which went home with our friend Erin who was visiting and helping us swap), and a couple more shelf stable jars of goodness which I do not remember because I have not seen them every time I opened the fridge since Sunday. All good stuff. So far we have tried the pasta (delicious), the caramels (there's only one left), the mango and whiskey curd (perfect for a breakfast toast topping), orange gelatin (different than I expected, but it totally grew on us and all of a sudden it was gone!), fresh strawberries(not pictured because they didn't make it home), dehydrated strawberries (so far eaten like so many potato chips, and way more tasty), and the mulberries (which went into a mulberry lime ice cream topping last night). All wins for us so far! It was definitely a different collection of items from last time, which makes me think that every food swap will be vibrant and exciting! The big ticket items were infused alcohols and extracts, canned/pickled items, and jams/chutneys/dips. Fresh fruits and vegetables were a nice touch, and we were lucky to get get some things we could eat right away.

I want to encourage all our readers to seek out food swaps in their area. There were a couple of people from Ames, IA at this swap, but there's no need to go that far. All it takes is about 10+ people with well-made items to make a swap a success. If you are signed up to swap or you are planning to do so, here are some tips from us 2x swap veterans. (These are in no particular order.)

1. Vary your stock: There is literally no minimum or maximum to the number of things you can bring to a food swap. You can totally bring seven heads of lettuce from your garden or two bags of banana chips from your dehydrator. We have found, however, that bringing a few different types of things gets you a variety of items in return. Our first time, we had four different items, this time it was five. We had a few things (like pineapple vodka) that were there to be exchanged for something we really wanted, and a few things that were easy to make (brown butter sea salt chocolate chip cookies) and swapped for items from people with a sweet tooth. If you bring variety, you will receive variety in return.

2. Go as a team: If you have a friend, partner or family member who is also interested in food and is willing to help you barter for delicious items, definitely bring them to this. Even if you have wildly different tastes, you can split up the swap items and go for it on your own. Kristl and I have found it helpful for one of us to stay at our table while the other goes swapping. That way, if anyone comes to us, we can swap with them, and if we want anything in particular, the other person can go directly to that table with items to swap. 

3. Say no if you want to: It's bartering, so you really don't have to agree to every swap. If you aren't seeing a resolution of an offer where all parties involved will go away happy, say no and see if the person is willing to switch things up to get what you have. There are no rules other than be respectful and be kind. Your swapping strategy is up to you.

4. Bring samples: It goes without saying that folks are going to want to know what they are getting themselves into with a swap item. If you are canning a batch of jam, make a half pint jar just for folks to sample. If you are bringing a baked good, chop some of it up and having it sitting on your swap table. Samples are the key to good swapping, because if you are bringing good food to swap, people will know when they taste it.

5. List ingredients: We are in the age of allergies and sensitivities, so it is vital that people know what is in the items you are giving to them. You do not need to go so far as to list ingredients on each container, but on your swap sheet for each item, everything should be fully disclosed.

6. Tag your stuff: We haven't gone so far as to put our website on our swap items (mostly because we are awesome at putting things together at the last minute), but that will be our next step. If you want to be an established swapper, put your name on your stuff. If you have an email or a website, slap it on there. If people really like your items, they may ask you for the recipe or want to see more. At the very least, they will remember that Amy's hot pickled peppers belonged to you, Amy, and then they will want to see what you come up with next.

7. Have fun and be nice:  It's a fun thing. It's not supposed to be stressful or dramatic. You don't need to make people feel bad if you are allergic to their bacon peanut butter. You don't need to make people feel bad if they are allergic to your tomato sauce. Be honest, be kind, and have fun! It's a magical thing to leave the house with stuff you made, and come home with a basket full of items you never even expected. Embrace the magic and we'll see you at the next Chicago food swap.

If you are totally geeking out and want to hear other accounts of how the swap went down, find another account of the June swap here.

And for those of you eager to swap, the dates and locations for the next three swaps have already been posted:

  • August 4 at Green Home Experts in Oak Park. We will return to the site of last August's swap. At this time of year, expect lots of homegrown produce as well as the usual array of prepared foods. Registration for the August swap will open on July 7.
  • September 15 at The Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. This soon-to-be-opened spice store in the bustling Lincoln Sqaure neighborhood will be host for the September swap. We can't wait to check out their new space!
  • October 6 at Peterson Garden Project in Ravenswood Manor. Let us hope for a nice day so we can use both the indoor and outdoor space at Peterson Garden Project's education center, site of last December's swap.

Good luck and we'll hopefully see you swapping in August!

P.S. We didn't link to a recipe for pineapple-infused vodka, but the basic idea is get candied pineapple, chop it up, cover it with mid-grade vodka, let it sit in the fridge for at least a week, but up to a month or more, shaking it every couple days. Drain the pineapple out, taste to see if it needs more sugar, otherwise it's ready for mixing. I like it with ginger syrup and sparkling water. (I do not recommend using bottom shelf vodka for infusing, as it still tastes like bottom shelf vodka after you've infused it.) 

Our First Chicago Food Swap (and a Recipe!)

Ever since we started dating, Kristl and I connected deeply on the subject of food. We love to eat together, eat out, cook, bake, and talk (endlessly) about food and all things related. Kristl follows something like 5-8 food podcasts, I have a blog with my friend Tracy about our cooking exploits. We make things from scratch, we watch food documentaries. It's clearly a shared interest. Because of this shared interest, a huge portion of our shared past times are (you guessed it) food related. Recently, we were able to take our passion for making cool and interesting things from scratch and share it with a bunch of other people who like to make cool and interesting things from scratch at the Chicago Food Swap.

We signed up for the food swap as soon as we figured out it existed, because we knew we would love it. These swaps are very popular and there is usually an extensive waiting list for each meeting. Up to this point, the swaps have been running every other month and 30-50 people are able to attend, depending on the size of the venue. Local businesses have been gracious enough to host the swap, so the location changes for each event.

Kristl and I spent probably three weeks dreaming about all the things we could make, including infused salts, sugars, alcohols, homemade cheez-its, cookies, cakes, pies, various canned and fermented goods, really the sky was our limit. We are unlikely to admit this in public, but we always try to win. Shhh. As we got closer to the swap and got real about what our busy schedule would allow us time to make (including the added wrench in the works that I was going to be traveling for work the week preceding the swap), and we decided on 4 items: sriracha salt, lemon rosemary salt, candied nuts, and salted caramel sauce (check out the recipe below).  They were all really pretty (and delicious) but we didn't remember to take a picture of what we brought.  Whoops. We're still figuring out this blogging thing.

We were unfortunately late to the swap because of the Assyrian New Years parade in Edgewater (weirdly, I didn't have that one on the calendar), so I can't report to you what it looks like from the very beginning. However, the swap organizers were nice enough to let us snag a table in the back of Local Goods Chicago and we were able to browse for about 5 minutes before the swapping began. Each swapper has a sheet for each of their products with a name, list of ingredients, and other relevant information.  It also has 6-8 lines where other swappers can bid on the product with one (or two) of their own. For example, someone looking to score one of our sriracha salts wrote down her name and then offered to trade a jar of applesauce for it. If we thought applesauce was worth it for the salt, once trading began, we could locate the other swapper and make good on the deal. This part of the process is really fun.

Kristl and I divided and conquered. Sometimes I stayed by our goods and fielded trades from other swappers and sometimes Kristl would stay and I would take a jar and go find someone with something we wanted. Most trades were pretty equal and towards the end people were really trying to just not take their own products home with them. For first time swappers and for missing a great deal of the browsing/bidding portion of the event, I think we did a really good job of getting a great variety of items.

Well? What did we get? So we had brought about 15 items and we got roughly that amount in return:

I can't believe this is the only picture we took that day!
I can't believe this is the only picture we took that day!
  1. Garlic butter
  2. Pumpkin seed pesto
  3. Applesauce
  4. Apple butter
  5. Date Cola syrup
  6. Dill pickles
  7. Grapefruit ginger curd
  8. Pizza rolls
  9. Salted caramel chocolate cupcakes
  10. Lumpia (meat)
  11. Lumpia (sweet)
  12. Quick bread with spinach and feta
  13. Banana bread fudge
  14. Spicy Pepper Sauce
  15. Pear Ginger Cashew Conserve

Wow. And doesn't even scratch the surface of what was available. Part of the beauty of the swap is that we didn't want everything and not everyone wanted our stuff. You get to decide what you want, and you can always say no.  We will definitely be back, and we will bring weirder more elaborate things.  You can bank on that.  

Kristl's Salted Caramel Sauce

Slightly adapted from The Kitchn - Makes 3 cups

2 cups organic cream

1-1/2 cups organic sugar

1/2 cup filtered water

1/4 cup organic salted butter, cubed

1 tsp sea salt

Warm the cream in a saucepan to about 100°F (if you don't have a candy thermometer, don't fret!). The cream shouldn't boil, just be kept warm.

Over high heat, mix the sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepot until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, but watch the pot like a hawk. The sugar will bubble and then you will see streaks of golden amber. These amber streaks will very quickly become darker streaks, at which point you should lift the pan and swirl it carefully. Put it back on the heat and watch it carefully until it smokes. When you see the first tendril of smoke rising from the caramel, remove the pot from the heat.

Carefully pour in the warm cream and whisk vigorously with a long-handled whisk. The mixture will bubble and expand a lot, so be very careful. Nobody wants a caramel burn! Whisk in the butter and salt, then return to medium heat until the sauce reduces to your preferred consistency.

Let the caramel sauce cool and then pour it into jars. Usually we pour it into a quart jar, but for the swap, we used three half-pint jars and it fit perfectly. Supposedly it'll last at least two weeks in the fridge. I've never had it last more than 2 days. ;)

Note: Sometimes when I've made this it takes a little coaxing to get the cream to incorporate into the caramel sauce. When this happens to me, I turn the heat on medium-low and just keep whisking until it incorporates. (Sadly, I'm not enough of a caramel expert to get perfect results every time. Not YET anyway.)