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Chicago Ideas Week: Cooking with Lifeway Kefir at The Chopping Block

Chicago Ideas Week: Cooking with Lifeway Kefir at The Chopping Block

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a Chicago Ideas Week Lab. Ahhh-mazing. If you haven't heard of CIW, let me give you a little background.

Every year during mid-October the non-profit, Chicago Ideas, hosts a week of inspiring events, categorized by either talks, conversations, or labs. They're all designed to inspire smart, innovative thinking and rally the Chicago community around... IDEAS. The week is intended to promote positive change. You know, encourage us to use that lil brain of ours, be curious, step outside of our comfort zones, and take action within our communities.  

Bravo, Chicago Ideas.  

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I've attended many CIW talks in past years. AND, wayyy back in the day at LB, I was lucky enough to be apart of launching the CIW "Books on the L" initiative. That project was my pride and joy. I saw it grow from a tiny idea scribbled on a post-it note during a brainstorm into the full-fledged program that it eventually became. It was months and months of work, but so, so worth it. 

During CIW I remember our core team would bop in and out of work during the day to distribute books on various CTA train lines, leaving them for curious passengers to pick up, take, and read. After they were done with the book, the intention was for people to re-distribute the books on trains. We wanted to create an organic book sharing community. See ---> curiosity, knowledge sharing, connecting the community of Chicago. YES. All the things that CIW stands for! Ah, those were the days :) It's safe to say CIW holds a special place in my heart.

In fact, with each passing year, I've witnessed CIW evolve and transform - getting stronger and more established. So, with my first CIW lab on the horizon, I could barely contain my excitement. I knew I was in for a good day!

The lab was held at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart. What was on the agenda? Well, for two hours we'd be cooking with Lifeway kefir products. 

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That morning, I entered The Chopping Block and was immediately greeted by the CIW team. I checked in and waited patiently for the cooking class to commence. Lifeway CEO Julie Smolyansky kicked off the session. What a gem. She discussed kefir and it’s healing properties within the gut and throughout the body. She referenced it's “magical” powers. She’s been a believer for a long time. And now, as more and more studies are being conducted to better understand how the bacteria in kefir positively impacts our bodies, it appears to be becoming more mainstream and more well-known. Gut health. Probiotics. You've heard of it. It's a thing! You care for your gut and your entire body feels the benefit. Julie was present throughout the entire cooking lesson, boppin’ into various groups and chattin’ with us. So knowledgeable, so kind! 

Once Julie was finished speaking, she passed the baton to Mario, our Chopping Block cooking instructor. After he discussed a few housekeeping rules and gave a quick overview of the morning, we entered the cooking classroom to begin workin’! We split into groups of 5 at 4 different stations throughout the room. My group was delightful. There were definitely some chefy-foodies in the bunch, but nothing beezy couldn’t hang with :) 

We made three different dishes, which all included Lifeway kefir [either plain kefir or farmer cheese]. 

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The First Dish: Fried Chicken with Tabasco-Honey Butter Sauce

Lifeway plain kefir was used to both marinate the chicken as well be the “glue” to hold onto the flour for frying. We took turns within our group breading and assembling the chicken on a sheet pan. We then relocated to the stovetop to fry it up. Chef Mario later made a big batch of the Tabasco-Honey Butter Sauce for the group to share. 

Now let's be real. I've never fried anything in my apt, nor do I intend to start anytime soon. Oven-baking is more my style. Of the three recipes, this would be the least likely dish I would re-create at home, BUT I think the idea of using kefir as a buttermilk replacement is wonderful. Perhaps this could be modified to using more thinly cut pieces of chicken breast. Keeping in kefir theme, you could then use the plain kefir and flour to create a light crust and quickly brown on the stovetop before finishing off in the oven. Not sure. But I feel like there's potential to modify! 

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The Second Dish: Greek Goddess Kefir Dip with Assorted Crudite

This dish was right up my alley. Chopped veggies! Come on, that just screams beezy b! 

The Greek Goddess dressing was made by using plain kefir, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and an assortment of herbs [basil, parsley, tarragon]. All ingredients were added to a food processor and pulsed until evenly mixed and optimal dip consistency was achieved. Salt and pepper were added to taste. Our group requested additional farmers cheese to help thicken it up. Delicious!

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The Third Dish: Watermelon Tomato Salad with Lifeway Farmers Cheese

Again, yumzo. So crisp and refreshing. This recipe consisted of thinly sliced red onion, wedges of tomatoes, chunks of watermelon, red wine vinegar, basil, and Lifeway Farmer’s cheese. As a group we worked to combine all ingredients in a bowl and tossed until the farmers cheese was evenly distributed throughout the dish. Slighly messy, but oh so delicious. 

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And that's that! The lesson ended with a feast, of course! We sat, chatted and enjoyed the meal we all worked so hard to create together. 

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Chicago Ideas + The Chopping Block + Lifeway Foods —> Wow, what a killer lab. So informative. So delicious. So collaborative.

Thank you bunches. 

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