A Virtual Ingredient Swap Is the Best Kind of Chain Letter. (We Did One, So We Know.)
At the beginning of quarantine a year ago, pretty much every editor on the Kitchn team received the same chain email with the subject line “Recipe Exchange: Quarantine Edition!” (I personally received it from five different senders.)
The instructions were as follows: Send one recipe to the recipient listed in slot #1. Replace the name in slot #1 with the name in slot #2 . Put your own name in the second slot. Copy and paste the email and send to 20 friends. (Side note: What adult has 20 friends who they’d feel comfortable enough to send a chain letter to?) According to chain letter math, if all went according to plan, you’d end up with 36 new recipes in your inbox.
While this kind of chain letter is the butt of many jokes, the pandemic timing of this one made it feel different. I’m not ashamed to admit that I did participate. (Last April was BLEAK, guys. And yes, it was tough coming up with 20 friends!) To all the chain-mail haters: If sending my neighbor’s son’s girlfriend my favorite granola recipe brought me and someone else even an ounce of joy, sue me!
That was 12 long months ago — and we’re still not out of the weeds. So, when brainstorming a way to bring some joy to the Kitchn team and zhush up our pantries a little, I decided to coordinate a staff ingredient exchange (sans the whole emailing fifth cousins/dubious math part).
It was simple: I’d see who wanted to play and then I’d give everyone a person. A Secret Santa, if you will — only for shelf-stable ingredients. (A Pantry Fairy?) Everyone was asked to send one ingredient to their person. And then we did a little show and tell on Zoom. See? Simple.
How to Coordinate an Ingredient Swap
- Obtain willing participants.
- Set a price limit! (Ours was $15.)
- Match everyone up using a random name generator.
- Centralize addresses, dietary preferences, and allergies all in one place.
- Go forth and swap ingredients.
Here’s what we all sent — and received!
1. Fly by Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp
Amelia Rampe (Studio Food Editor), sent Ariel Knutson (Features Director) Fly by Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp. It was basically an act of pure selflessness. “I’m allergic to mushrooms and soy, and I had a jar, so I figured I might as well send it to someone who can enjoy it,” said Amelia. So far, Arie has tossed a few spoonfuls with green beans and even drizzled some over vanilla ice cream!
Buy: Sichuan Chili Crisp, $15 for 6 ounces at Fly By Jing
2. Burlap & Barrel Black Urfa Chili
Arie sent me (Lauren Masur, Lifestyle Editor) a jar of Burlap & Barrel’s Black Urfa Chili. I’d heard her rave about this smoky spice before and was super excited to sprinkle it on everything. (Arie recommended grain bowls, eggs, hummus, and roasted veggies to start.) I’ve been roasted by Kitchn commenters for having a lame spice selection, so this upped my game.
Buy: Black Urfa Chili, $8.99 for 1.8 ounces at Burlap & Barrel
3. Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
Maldon Sea Salt Flakes are part of the holy salt trinity recommended in our grocery edition of Kitchn Essentials, so I knew I had to send a box to Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm (Tools Editor). She did what any smart person would do: Sprinkled some over freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
Buy: Maldon Sea Salt Flakes, $7.97 for 8.5 ounces
4. Spicewalla Za’atar
Riddley sent Lauren Kodiak (Managing Editor) a tin of za’atar from Spicewalla. Upon receiving it, Lauren promptly made a batch of hummus (Smitten Kitchen’s recipe is her go-to) and sprinkled a generous pinch of za’atar over the top. She also plans to add it on roasted cauliflower and chickpeas, and swirl it into yogurt for topping grain bowls.
Buy: Za’atar, $9.05 for 4.2 ounces at Spicewalla
5. New York Shuk Kafe Hawaij
When picking an ingredient to give to Kitchn’s resident cookie columnist, Jesse Szewczyk, Lauren Kodiak chose to send Kafe Hawaij — a Middle Eastern spice blend of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and clove — from New York Shuk. “I think it would be fun to see him work it into a cookie, no?” Well, that’s exactly what Jesse plans to do with it: “I’m going to add it to a spice cookie batter — like a ginger snap,” he says.
Buy: Kafe Hawaij, $9.95 for 1.6 ounces at New York Shuk
6. Black Cocoa Powder
Jesse picked black cocoa to send to Meghan Splawn (Food Editor) “because it is one of the most fun baking ingredients I can think of and I know Meghan loves to bake.” Jesse says it adds a rich flavor to chocolate cakes and a striking black color. “Think of the rich chocolate flavor Oreos have — that’s black cocoa!” Meghan plans to make Jesse’s Flourless Chocolate Brownie Cookie recipe with it.
More info: Black Cocoa Powder from Jelly Bean
7. Supernatural Sprinkles
If Jesse is Kitchn’s Cookie King, Meghan is Kitchn’s Sprinkle Queen. I wasn’t shocked at all when she sent Kelli Foster (Food Editor) a two-pack of her favorite sprinkles from Supernatural. Kelli plans to make a cake, solely so she can douse it with these sprinkles.
Buy: Supernatural Sprinkles Variety Pack, $13.99 for two 3-ounce jars
8. Primal Kitchen Salad Dressing
Last summer, on assignment to figure out the best bottled salad dressing, Kelli fell in love with this shortcut. She sent over a bottle from Primal Kitchen to Nicole Rufus (Assistant Food Editor) to spread the good word. Apparently she had impeccable timing: “My roommate asked me how to make homemade salad dressing, and when I explained how, she slowly closed my door and said ‘No, that’s too much work.’ I know we will put this to good use!” said Nicole.
Buy: Primal Kitchen Lemon Turmeric Vinaigrette, $5.99 for 8 ounces at Thrive Market
9. Dried Hibiscus Flowers
Nicole sent Lisa Freedman (Lifestyle Director) a pound of dried hibiscus flowers. Look at all of them! Nicole recommends boiling them down into a simple syrup to use in drinks. “They also make the best tea,” she says. And guess what? Lisa says she’s right!
Buy: Hibiscus Flor de Jamaica, $7.90 for 16 ounces
10. Cheddar Cheese Powder
To the surprise of absolutely no one, cheese-lover Lisa sent Patty Catalano (Contributor) a pound of cheddar cheese powder. “I normally would have sent actual cheese, but the rules of the game required the ingredient to be shelf-stable … so the next best thing was cheese dust!” says Lisa. Patty dove right in and made a batch of cheesy popcorn with her kids. She also plans to use it to make mac and cheese, but says she’s going to skip Lisa’s idea of just dunking her tongue right into the bag.
Buy: Cheddar Cheese Powder, $7.99 for 16 ounces at Nuts.com
11. Old-Fashioned Speckled White Grits
Patty wracked her brain to figure out what to send to our Editor-in-Chief, Faith Durand. “I decided to go with a classic Southern staple that might be harder for Faith to get locally in Ohio.” Upon receiving, Faith admitted that she’s not an expert in grits, so Patty recommended making classic cheese grits or shrimp and grits to start.
Buy: Old Fashioned Speckled White Grits, $6.79 for 2 pounds at Logan Turnpike Mill
12. Prospect Jam Co. Black Currant Preserves
Faith sent Grace Elkus (Deputy Food Director) jam from Prospect Jam Co., a local company in Cincinnati. Because Grace is also based in Cinci right now, the package was hand-delivered by an employee! The flavor? Black Currant with Bergamot & Dark Chocolate. Grace plans on following the company’s directions and trying it paired with creamy cheeses, cheesecake, and chocolate ice cream.
Buy: Black Currant Preserves, $12 for 10 ounces at Prospect Jam Co.
13. King Arthur Baking Co. The Works Bread Topping
Grace knows how much Christine Gallary (Food Editor-at-Large) loves baking sourdough, so she chose an ingredient that would take the experience to the next level. “I’m still baking quarantine sourdough, but haven’t been very creative with my loaves. This was such an easy way to add flavor — I just coated the outside with this seed and spice mixture and baked.”
Look at her loaf!
“I think it would also be awesome on bagels or even on avocado toast,” says Christine.
Buy: The Works Bread Topping, $8.95 for 8 ounces at King Arthur Baking Company
14. Lars Own Belgian Pearl Sugar
Christine sent Nina Elder (Executive Food Director) this fancy finishing sugar. “Pearl sugar adds a nice sweet crunch to Belgian waffles, chouquettes, and even the tops of panettone (because the white, pearl-like pieces don’t melt). It’s also easy to pick up with your fingers and sprinkle, making it great for kids’ baking projects like muffins or cookies!” says Christine. When Nina upgrades to a new waffle maker, she’s going to break this stuff out.
Buy: Lars Own Belgian Pearl Sugar, $6 for 8 ounces at Sur la Table
15. Red Boat Spiced Garum Salt
Sheela Prakash (Senior Contributing Food Editor) has excellent taste — she even has a column called Taste Makers to prove it. But that didn’t phase Nina, who sent her Spiced Garum Salt from Red Boat. “I love all things anchovy, so I became an immediate fan girl of this salt blend made with dried anchovy, orange zest, fennel and coriander seed, black pepper, garlic, dried herbs, and chili flakes,” says Sheela. “It’s savory, spicy, salty, and sweet all at the same time. I’ve been loving sprinkling it on roasted veggies and using it as a crust for pan-seared salmon.”
Buy: Red Boat Spiced Garum Salt, $10.95 for 4 ounces at Red Boat Fish Sauce
16. Acquerello Carnaroli Rice
To complete the chain, Sheela sent Amelia a canister of Acquerello Carnaroli Rice, which, as the packaging suggests, is “the ultimate rice.” She also included this sweet note:
Amelia says, “I’m excited to make all the risotto things with it. And fried risotto balls.”
More info: Acquerello Carnaroli Rice
What would you send in an ingredient swap?