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.)