Unusual flavors of fudge from the April Chicago Food Swap
Breakfast this morning was a homemade whole wheat bagel with cream cheese for JR and two chocolate chip muffins for Zuzu. (Me? Why, I had a lemon buttermilk doughnut, thank you very much.) I packed Zuzu’s lunch box with three homemade Filipino egg rolls — also known as lumpia — and some spinach orzo salad with feta and pine nuts. This kind of weekday feasting can only mean one thing: it’s the day after the Chicago Food Swap.
This past Sunday was the April Chicago Food Swap held at Local Goods Chicago, a charming and eclectic boutique featuring clothes, jewelry, crafts and foods by Chicago-area artisans. Although the space was tight, our gracious host made room for us by re-arranging her store, and we appreciate all her hard work. I know many of our swappers were entranced by Local Goods Chicago’s wares, especially the Chicago-themed ones. If you are looking for a unique birthday, baby, wedding or house gift, you should definitely stop by Local Goods Chicago. Zuzu picked up a ring and headband for herself and I bought a beautiful hand-crocheted blanket for a friend’s new baby.
But, back to the food. As always, the swap offerings were diverse, creative and delicious. On the savory side, there were several varieties of bagels and crackers from first-time swapper Katherine; pepperoni rolls made by Todd; Filipino eggrolls from Pamela — who
scored a huge hit in February with her empanadas — Bolognese sauce from veteran swapper Serena; spinach-orzo salad from Michelle; and some dips and spreads, including spinach pesto, my own pumpkin seed pesto, vegan garden pâté and hummus. It’s always interesting how swap items come in waves. At the February swap there were at least three different kinds of hummus on offer; this time, I was the only one who brought hummus.
Naturally, there were also many decadent sweets. We had two different kinds of fudge; delicate citrus-scented palmiers from Jules and chocolate chip muffins from her sister Melisa; Mexican chocolate pound cake from Nancy — which I really meant to get, darn it! — stunning chocolate espresso tarts from new swapper Sandy; two different varieties of doughnuts from Chef Druck and family; salted caramel sauce; Julie’s tiger butter bark, which looked as good as it tasted; and professional-looking carrot cake cupcakes — those I did get, yum!
As always, we had plenty of food in jars. Pauline brought her global cuisine-inspired hot sauces, like Peri-Peri and Indian green chutney; Erielle made grapefruit-ginger curd; and I saw jams, marmalade and pickled vegetables of all kinds. Something new this time: swappers Melisa and Jules, who aren’t canners themselves, brought back empty jars from previous swaps for people to take home and re-use. What a terrific and eco-friendly idea! Drink syrups are always popular swap items and we had a few goods ones. In addition to my sour cherry syrup, we had date cola and coffee syrup from Nancy and ginger brandy from Meg, which smells divine. I was lucky enough to score a bottle
I am always intrigued by swap items that aren’t to eat right away but rather are designed to help you cook better in the coming weeks. Among the pantry items that I saw were flavored salts including lemon rosemary and Sriracha from swapper Katje. Pauline, who as we know loves all things spicy, was so inspired that she went home and made hot sauce-infused salt that same night. That is the beauty of the Chicago Food Swap in a nutshell. Not only do you come home with loads of delectable goodies, you also come home with new ideas of things to try in your own kitchen.
One of my favorite things about the Chicago Food Swap is how it brings together a diverse crowd of people who share one important trait: a love of making their own food. Like all of our events, this swap drew men, women and kids from all over the Chicago area. These people came together on a beautiful spring Sunday just to trade homemade food with one another. Many of us enjoy cooking for friends and family because it is a way to love and to nurture them. Cooking food to trade with strangers – or even acquaintances – is different. It is a true expression of pride, passion and faith. And from that shared passion and faith, we have built a community.
The May 12 Chicago Food Swap at The Scrumptious Pantry is now completely full. If you still would like to join us at that event, please put your name on the wait list. We always end up opening some spots. Also, stay tuned for updates about future events, including, we hope, our biggest swap yet!
Pumpkin seed pesto has a nutty flavor without nuts.
The April Chicago Food Swap is only a few days away and I am excited to see the returning swappers and meet the first-time swappers. Our host for the April swap is Local Goods Chicago, an adorable boutique on the far north side of the city that features clothes, crafts and housewares from local artisans. The idea of showcasing local, handmade items as Local Goods Chicago does is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the Chicago Food Swap, so I am delighted that we are partnering with this store. Local Goods Chicago also offers classes and events for both kids and adults on topics ranging from card-making to canning demos to book signings and truffle samplings. What a cool place!
Last weekend, I had the terrible realization that the food swap was only one week away and I had not yet finalized what I was going to bring. (What can I say? I’m a planner.) I went through a million ideas in my head based on what I had been cooking lately — caramels? spice mixes? homemade pasta? — but then decided to give myself a challenge. I decided that I would not run out and buy any special ingredients to make my swap offerings. Rather, I decided to use the upcoming swap as an opportunity to force myself use up some of the ingredients in my pantry and freezer.
The first thing I decided to make was sour cherry syrup because I still had four pounds of frozen, pitted sour cherries left over from the summer. I have made sour cherry syrup in the past and it is absolutely delicious with seltzer or in Prosecco as an aperitif. I like this recipe from Indian cooking expert Madhur Jaffrey. The amount of sugar is a little terrifying, but I have tried making it with less sugar and I did not get the syrupy texture that I was looking for.
Next, I decided to make pumpkin seed pesto. I had seen pumpkin seed pesto on a restaurant menu over the summer and was intrigued by the idea. While she can eat pesto made with pine nuts — which are actually a seed, not a nut — Zuzu cannot eat pestos made with tree nuts because of her allergies. So I liked the idea of trying a nut-free pesto. Also, raw pumpkin seeds sell for about half the price of pine nuts, making pumpkin seed pesto a more economical choice.
I had bought some raw (or green) pumpkin seeds from the bulk food area of my local Whole Foods some months ago, but never got around the making the pesto. This is just the kind of thing I do all the time, which is why my pantry is always bursting at the seams. Anyway, using up esoteric items languishing in my cupboard was the whole point of my swap challenge, so pumpkin seed pesto it was!
Happily, the pumpkin seed pesto came out great. I loved the coarse texture and the nutty, unique flavor. This is a pesto that would work well on pasta, but also on grilled chicken or as a sandwich spread. The only problem was that the amount of pumpkin seeds that I had on hand only made three little jars of pesto. Clearly not enough to swap! So I violated my rule and went back to the store for more pumpkin seeds and more basil. Oh well! So
I didn’t live up to the terms of my challenge, but I do have a cool item to swap next Sunday. Looking forward to seeing some of you there.
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
No need to wait for Halloween! Raw, or green, pumpkin seeds are easy to find year-round. Check the bulk foods section of your local grocery store.
Makes 1 ½ cups
1½ cups green pumpkin seeds*
¼ cup plus 2 TB extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
Juice of ½ a lemon
½ cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin seeds with 2 TB of the olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread seeds in a single-layer on a baking sheet and roast until puffed and brown, 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool.
In a food processor, combine pumpkin seeds, garlic, basil leaves, and lemon juice and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse paste. With machine running, slowly add remaining ¼ cup olive oil in a steady stream. Scrape down sides with a rubber spatula. Add the water and pulse to combine until the mixture resembles a chunky paste.
*Raw pumpkin seeds are sometimes called “pepitas.”
Care to join us for a future meeting of the Chicago Food Swap? Registration for our May 12 swap at The Scrumptious Pantry is now open. But hurry! We are already more than half full. (You can always put yourself on the waiting list if you are too late to snag a spot. We always end up taking some people off the waiting list.) We should be announcing future swap dates and locations soon. To stay abreast of the latest developments, be sure to “like” our Facebook page or check out our website.
Clockwise from top left: vanilla glazed, chestnut glazed, buttermilk old-fashioned, chocolate birthday cake, gingerbread stack and chocolate glazed.
The March issue of Saveur was dedicated to exploring all things doughnut. And why not? Deep-fried dough is a food that is common to almost all
cultures. Cakes fried in oil is even mentioned in the Bible as worthy of a sacred offering. In earlier times, when oil was costly, fried foods were reserved for special occasions. Now, of course, there’s a doughnut shop on every corner.
Doughnuts may be ubiquitous in America, but good doughnuts are actually quite hard to find. Personally, I think most mass-produced doughnuts are a waste of calories. I hate the way that a doughnut from Dunkin’ Doughnuts leaves an artificial aftertaste and a weird coating on the inside of my mouth. But a good doughnut? Those are treasures worth seeking out.
During the summer months, we don’t have to look far. The homemade doughnuts at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings have a national following. Families wait in line patiently to buy their choice of plain, powdered sugar or cinnamon. No fancy flavors or glazes here! Just old-fashioned cake doughnuts made by volunteers in the basement of the neighboring church. And the taste is heaven.
But the doughnuts from the Oak Park Farmers Market are a summertime phenomenon only. What is a Chicago-area doughnut-lover to do during the long, cold months of winter? In its special doughnut issue, Saveur listed several doughnut shops in Chicago that are, in the parlance of the Michelin Guides vaut-le-voyage (AKA worth the trip). One of them, the teeny tiny Doughnut Vault, around the corner from the Merchandise Mart, had been on my radar screen for month. Embarrassed that a national magazine had highlighted a Chicago food landmark before I had had a chance to try it, I decided that the time had come for me to make it to the Doughnut Vault and see what all the fuss was about.
Here’s why I didn’t want to go to the Doughnut Vault: by the time the Doughnut Vault opens at 8 am (9:30 on Saturdays), the line is already snaking down the street and around the corner. And there’s no showing up after the morning rush. The proprietors make the doughnuts fresh every morning and when they run out — always before noon — they close. (Naturally, the Doughnut Vault has a Twitter account and it is updated throughout the morning to let their fans know as they start to sell out of each variety.) Here’s why I did want to go to the Doughnut Vault: the proprietors make the doughnuts fresh every morning and they have creative flavors like chestnut-glazed, gingerbread and birthday cake.
The Doughnut Vault is the size of a walk-in closet.
This past week, my kids were on Spring Break, so I figured it was a good time to brave the lines at the Doughnut Vault. (Yes, technically it was also Passover, but the truth is, the kids and I don’t actually observe the full eight-day prohibition on wheat and leavened foods.) Rather than fight rush-hour traffic to be there at 8 am, we decided to wait for Saturday. We timed it to arrive right at the 9:30 opening…and the line we found snaked around the corner.
Luckily, my kids decided that waiting in line for doughnuts was a fun adventure. Although most of the people in line were twenty-somethings hipsters, we were not the only family. There was a mom ahead of us with her toddler who at one point left the line so her son could use the potty seat that she had brought in her car. That seems like a lot of effort for doughnuts. Forty-five minutes, and many rounds of “20 Questions” later, we squeezed into the walk-in closet-sized Doughnut Vault. The space literally used to house a bank vault.
The first question that the friendly young man behind the counter at the Doughnut Vault will ask you is if you are ordering more than five doughnuts. This is so he knows whether to start a box or a bag. My feeling was, even though there were only three of us eating doughnuts — my husband does actually keep Passover — after waiting 45 minutes, we were going to try all the doughnuts. So we went for a box. The pressure to order quickly given the enormous line, is intense so it helps to know what you want going in.
The Doughnut Vault has a small roster of regular flavors and daily specials. The regular flavors include three kinds of glazed: vanilla, chocolate and chestnut. There are also cake doughnuts, like the Buttermilk Old-Fashioned, Birthday Cake and the very appealing Gingerbread Stack, which is three small gingerbread doughnuts coated in cinnamon sugar. Also on offer is a jelly doughnut – the jelly flavor changes frequently — and a daily special like lemon poppyseed or carrot cake.
JR’s got the goods!
We ended up getting a Buttermilk Old-Fashioned, all three varieties of glazed, a Gingerbread Stack and the day’s special, a Double Chocolate Birthday Cake. I thought all three cake doughnuts were excellent. Zuzu had the Double Chocolate Birthday Cake and she won the prize for the best order. Holy cow, that was a good doughnut! But the Buttermilk Old-Fashioned and the Gingerbread Stack were also scrumptious — light with a cake-like crumb. I was less enamored of the glazed doughnuts — although the flavor of the chestnut glaze was delicious — but the truth is, I don’t like the texture of yeasty doughnuts as much. My kids are glazed doughnuts fans and they declared the Doughnut Vault’s glazed to be “the best ever.”
But were the doughnuts worth a special trip downtown and a 45-minute wait? In the end, the drive and the wait were not actually the price we had to pay to get the doughnuts. The drive and the line were part of the experience. The kids and I thought the whole thing was a lark, a hilarious food adventure that resulted in a delicious box of doughnuts. I’m not sure the taste of the doughnuts alone, while excellent, is worth the effort. But taking the experience as a whole — our activity for a Saturday morning during a long Spring Break spent mostly at home — it was a lot of fun. And I am extremely excited that my kids share my belief that going someplace just to taste a special food is a worthwhile way to spend a morning.
The Doughnut Vault is located at 401 1/2 Franklin St, at the corner of Franklin and Kinzie. The store opens at 8 am during the week and 9:30 on Saturday. If you want doughnuts, best get there early! Doughnuts cost $2 or $3 a piece depending on the variety. The Doughnut Vault also sells coffee and water is available for free. Cash only.
I can’t wait to start canning again!
It’s almost April, so according to the calendar, it must be spring, even if the weather tells us otherwise. We spent part of our spring break in upstate New York visiting family and going from Chicago to Ithaca, NY in late March is like The Journey in Search of Even Crappier Weather. And, believe me, we found what we were looking for: even crappier weather.
For cooks, this time of year is the doldrums: the time between the gorgeous winter citrus and the first few crops of spring. I’m waiting with baited breath for my local market to start displaying asparagus and rhubarb and ramps and fava beans. In the meantime, I am thinking about all the canning I am going to do once the warm weather finally hits and my beloved Oak Park Farmers’ Market opens for business in May.
I have been receiving lots of requests lately for canning lessons, so I am plainly not the only one dreaming of summer. If you are interested in booking a private canning lesson for yourself — or to give to someone as a gift, which lots of people do — you can find all the details here. I am also available for group lessons or demonstrations at local businesses. If you have always wanted to learn the ins and outs of water-bath canning, but were intimidated to give it a try, please contact me! I love to show people how easy it is to preserve your favorite fruits and vegetables and spread the love of canning.
My desire to start canning has only been increased by the release of Ball’s new blue glass canning jars, the limited-edition Heritage Collection Pint Jars. The jars commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Ball brothers’ Perfect Mason Jar. Introduced in 1913 — which is the same year that my house was built — the “Perfect Mason” revolutionized the home canning process by providing canners with matching jars, lids and bands in a single unit. The Ball Heritage Collection Pint Jars feature a vintage-inspired blue tint, period-correct logo and anniversary embossment. They can be used as you would any pint-sized jar, but trust me, you’re going to want to save these beauties for your best pickles.
I just love the vintage look of these jars and they are extremely collectible. The limited-edition jars will be available this year only and will not be reproduced. They’re available for purchase at www.FreshPreservingStore.com. And, I have one case of these gorgeous jars to give away to a West of the Loop reader. Not just any case, I should add: one
of the first 100 cases manufactured — complete with certificate of authenticity.
Ball Heritage Collections Pint Jars
To enter the giveaway for one of the first 100 cases of Ball’s new blue Heritage Collection pint jars, leave a comment to this post telling me what you would use the jars for — and it does not have to be canning! I love it when people use Mason jars to drink from, as vases, to store food and in all kinds of other creative ways. So don’t be discouraged if you are not a canner.
You can earn additional entries to the giveaway in the following ways:
- Follow West of the Loop on Twitter
- Tweet about this giveaway with a link back to this post
- Share the link to this post on Facebook
- Follow me on Pinterest
- Follow me on Instagram
- Book a canning lesson with me!
Comments and entries must be received by midnight CDT on April 4. I will select a winner at random. Good luck! And be sure to stay tuned to Ball’s Facebook and Pinterest pages for more information on these and other limited-edition products.
Full disclosure time: I received one case of the Heritage Collection jars (a $10 value) at no cost and was offered an additional case to give away. I have not received any additional compensation and all opinions expressed are my own
Fresh herbs and dried barberries add flavor and color to this salad of bulgur and roasted cauliflower.
When I saw Gail Simmons, of Food and Wine and Top Chef fame, at the International Home and Housewares Show a few weeks ago, she demonstrated a recipe for yogurt-marinated chicken with harissa, which is the North African version of hot sauce. She mentioned that she had created the recipe for an article about how to use all those condiments that people buy for one recipe and then sit unused in the back of the fridge until they start to look like a 7th grade science experiment.
I think many of us can relate to the phenomenon Gail is talking about. Who hasn’t spent $10 on a fancy jar of something for a dinner party recipe and then had no idea how to use the rest of the jar? I call it the Harissa Effect. And as you might imagine, I have fallen victim to the Harissa Effect many times — although ironically, I always seem to use up my jars of harissa itself. My husband will spread it on anything. As we speak, the whole top shelf of my fridge is occupied by sauces and relishes and other condiments that I either don’t know what to do with — miso paste, anyone — or have forgotten about entirely. What I should really do is force myself to use all the open jars up before buying any new jars. But that’s never going to happen.
For my participation in the Tasting Jerusalem virtual cooking club, I plunked down $12 for a 6 oz. package of barberries and the proceeded to use 3 tablespoons of them. This has Harissa Effect written all over it, right? But I am so taken with the sweet-tart flavor and ruby red color of the barberries that I am determined to find other ways to use them. I scoff at raisins in couscous or salad — too sweet! — but I would be highly amenable to adding barberries to almost any such dish. They add sweetness and astringency at the same time, to say nothing of the a pop of color. So, when I found myself with both cooked bulgur and roasted cauliflower the other night and came up with the idea of combining them in a salad, adding the barberries was a no-brainer.
I must confess that I am unusually proud of this recipe because I think it is more original than my usual. I am not a professionally trained chef nor am I a risk-taker in the kitchen. Although I am confident in my abilities, I mostly stick with combinations that are familiar to me, or ones that I know will work. This recipe, however, was a stab in the dark. I thought the cauliflower and mint would work because I had seen that combination at Girl and the Goat a few years ago. I knew that the cauliflower and bulgur would provide earthiness and nuttiness but that the dish would need sweetness and acid, hence the barberries. Somehow, by trusting my instincts, I came up with this pretty, well-balanced and unusual dish. It was so delicious that I was sad there was no one at home to taste it besides me. Now that I know it’s a winner, I can’t wait to make this dish for company. And in so doing, chip away at my lifetime supply of barberries.
Bulgar with Roasted Cauliflower, Mint and Barberries
This recipe serves two as a side dish. Feel free to double it for larger groups. If you don’t have a lifetime supply of barberries on hand, you could substitute dried cranberries.
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 TB extra-virgin olive oil
3 TB sugar
3 TB dried barberries
1/3 cup bulgur wheat
1 TB chopped fresh mint, tightly packed
2 TB chopped flat-leaf parsley
Juice and zest of half a lemon
Pinch Baharat (optional)*
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425. Toss cauliflower with 1 TB of the olive oil, salt and pepper on baking sheet. Roast cauliflower for 25 minutes until brown and tender. Meanwhile, make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and 3 TB of water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the barberries to the syrup and soak for ten minutes. Drain and reserve. To prepare the bulgur, bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Add the bulgur, remove from heat and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes. Drain.
When the cauliflower is roasted, chop it into small
pieces. Combine the cauliflower and bulgur in a large bowl. Add the fresh herbs and the drained barberries. Add the lemon zest. Squirt lemon juice over the salad and drizzle the remaining TB of olive oil on top. Toss to combine. Season well with salt and pepper and the Baharat if using. Serve room temperature or cold.
*Baharat is a Arabian spice mix.