Browsing Tag

food

chicago cheap ass (24)
Drink, Events, Food,

Bacon AND Beer? Get Excited for the Bacon and Beer Classic

I’m a huge fan of festivals that combine an appreciation of craft beer with small bites for a satisfying experience all around. When those small bites all center around the theme of bacon… I’m in heaven.

The Bacon and Beer Classic happens yearly in New York City, Seattle, Indianapolis and of course… Chicago! You won’t have to wait long, since it’s happening Saturday, October 10 at Soldier Field. Depending on if you prefer your weekend sips earlier or later in the day, you can pick between the “brunch” session (1-4pm) or the evening session (7-10pm).

Bacon and Beer Classic

So what can you expect at the Bacon and Beer Classic? Let’s take a look:

  • 3 hours of drinking and eating craft beer and bacon
  • 48 2-ounce craft beer samples from participating breweries. If that’s not enough, you can purchase 10 more for $5
  • 40 bacon-inspired dishes featuring local Chicago restaurants, like Public House, Haute Sausage and Porkchop
  • Souvenir Bacon & Beer Classic glass
  • Music, games, photo booth, and more!

If you opt for VIP admission, you get in 1 hour early for either session and exclusive access to craft beer that you can’t get with a General Admission ticket. VIP is perfect for a real craft beer aficionado.

Tickets are $59 and $99 for General Admission and VIP and can be purchased on Eventbrite. Use code “CHEERS” for 20% off 🙂 See you there!

chicago cheap ass (5)
Food, Recipes,

Buy A Slow Cooker And Add A Tiny Bit Of Happiness To Your Meaningless Existence

Lunchtime. Yay. Week-old roast beef and mustard on sourdough with stale pita chips. Only 12,774 lunches left on the interminable, slow, plodding path to death we all walk together. Might as well head back to your desk and pretend to work for the rest of the day, stomach grumbling, wearing that same emotionless face you wear every day of your life.

Now, I’m not saying that a slow cooker will relieve the existential dread inherent to a consciousness that is able to grasp how truly insignificant it is in the true scope of things, but, at the very least, you’ll be able to enjoy your lunch more.

Most of you probably know how a slow cooker or crock pot works—you plug it in, throw a bunch of stuff in there, and then go do whatever until it’s done. If you don’t have a crock pot and are in the market, however, it’d probably be best to look for one that’s relatively big, and at least has multiple heat settings and a programmable timer. I’m lucky enough to have access to this Hamilton Beach model that my roommate owns, so I didn’t even have to buy my own, but it’s only 50 bucks, and comes with a probe if you ever want to make some fancy roast beef or London broil. It’s also big enough to accommodate a big ol’ pork shoulder for whenever I want to make barbecue, but get something that’s right for you. You really shouldn’t be paying more than $75 for something with all the bells and whistles that you most likely don’t even need.

This is usually the point at which I give you recipes, which yeah, I’ll do that, but the great thing about slow cookers is you can really just kind of jam whatever you have in there and you’ll normally get something that tastes great. Broccoli rabe, canned tomatoes, crappy wine, bay leaves, and 5 pounds of chicken thighs? Pop that in there for a few hours, serve over pasta, season with salt and pepper, and you have a meal fit for a dinner party attended by more people than your tiny apartment can reasonably fit. Seriously, with the possible exception of mustard greens and collard greens, both of which turn into a gooey mush in a slow cooker, just fill it with things you like, and by the time it’s done, you’ll like the result.

That said, here are some guiding principles. For leaner cuts of meat, like chicken breasts, thighs, or really any other already-sliced meats, keep the timer down around 4ish hours and cook on low. You don’t want to overcook anything in a slow cooker, because believe it or not, they will dry out even if they’ve been swimming in whatever conglomeration of sauces you’ve thrown in there. Conversely, for thicker cuts of meat like pork shoulder or really, anything you’re planning on shredding, you’re going to want to let that cook for a while on low heat, probably around 8 to 12 hours. I usually like searing these cuts first as well, just to add a bit of flavor and textural interest to the final dish.

In terms of usage, again, the slow cooker is a utilitarian tool fit to multitask. I use mine primarily to prepare healthy lunches for the week ahead of time using lean meats and plenty of vegetables. As a sidenote, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms are wonderful flavor sponges and turn out great in any slow cooked dish. Most recently, I threw a pork shoulder in there with Brussels sprouts, long-cut green onions, ginger, soy sauce, and duck sauce, and I was rewarded 12 hours later with not just all my lunches for the week, but also the ability to make irresponsible choices on weeknights without having to worry about fixing my lunch for the next day.

If you want to get fancy and get some roast beef going, heat some oil in a pan until it screams, then throw a big cut of beef on there to sear it on all sides. I prefer top blade or top round roasts, but use your favorite. This’ll work for brisket too. Once the meat is seared, grab some of those small red potatoes, chop some leeks into slices, and quarter a few onions. Toss all that with salt and pepper, and spread them across the bottom of your slow cooker. Put your roast on top of that and pop the lid on. Skewer the roast with the probe, and set the slow cooker to stop cooking when the roast reaches 120 degrees in the middle, making it perfectly rare. Invite your friends over because the unbearable lightness of being is best shared, and carve them all a few slices before topping with some horseradish. The onions, leeks and potatoes will absorb the roast’s juices, making them soft and unctuous, so make sure to stiff your friends on those and hoard them for yourself.

Again, the whole point of the slow cooker is to be able to take a bunch of random stuff out of your fridge, put it in the cooker, wait, and suddenly have a whole bunch of food that, yeah, is actually surprisingly okay. And while it may not solve the problem of finding meaning in a life we all know could end at any moment, well hey, what do you expect? It’s just a slow cooker, and I’m just a blogger. At least it’ll make meal time a little better.

This post contains affiliate links.

chicago cheap ass (5)
Events, Life,

How to Survive a Chicago Summer Festival (in Style)

Fellow Chicagoans… Festival season is upon us (click here for a pretty definitive list)! I’m a huge fan of music festivals like Lollapalooza, and have a few I plan to attend this year (Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and Piqniq).

The Top 5 Chicago Summer Festival Necessities

Chicago Summer Festivals

1. Camelback. The Camelback (or whatever off-brand strikes your fancy) is the quintessential music festival foundation piece. It’s important both because it holds the rest of the items on this list AND provides a steady stream of water once filled up. I usually work at the water filling stations when I volunteer at music festivals and those lines get long. Plan accordingly, and make hydration easy since it’s usually pretty hot and you’ll be moving around a lot.

Chicago Summer Festivals

2. Solar Phone Charger. A regular external battery charger is fine, but has limited recharges. Music festivals are notorious battery sucks. You don’t want to be in the position of trying to meet up with someone as your phone’s battery is in the dreaded red zone. If you’re willing to splurge, give the Panasonic Solar Charger a try. It’s $70 and good for multiple recharges. You could make up the cost by asking friends for a beer in exchange for using your nifty device. 😉

Bonus Tip: Knowing that phone connections can be a little jank, set a predetermined meeting spot if you lose your festi-besties (I just wanted to use that word).

Chicago Summer Festivals

3. Snacks! Festival food is always expensive, and never nutritious. Look at the guidelines provided by the venue for the festival you’re planning to attend to see if outside food is allowed. If so (score!), I would suggest a mix of fruit (healthy! refreshing!) and calorically-dense snacks like granola bars since you’re going to get hungry after moving around and being out in the sun all day.

Chicago Summer Festivals

4. Rain Jacket. The reason I suggest a rain jacket over an umbrella is because it’s easier to move around in and to store (in your Camelback). With Chicago summer festivals, the weather can change on a dime. It’s much more enjoyable to come to a festival prepared than to get drenched in a downpour (lookin’ at your Lollapalooza, basically every year). Make sure you’re also wearing shoes that can brave the elements – I always wince when I see a girl wearing sandals that inevitable cause blisters.

Bonus Tip: Your phone needs a rain jacket, too! Bring a plastic bag just in case.

Chicago Summer Festivals

5. Sun Protection. Even more likely than rain is SUN. Pack a travel-sized bottle of sunscreen, and wear a hat or sunglasses. You don’t want to be in pain for day two of a multi-day festival (or at work after a weekend of being in the sun all day).

Chicago Summer Festivals

6. Tickets, Credit Card, and ID. Let’s talk about the absolute worst thing you can do yourself when getting caught up in Chicago summer festival preparations – FORGET THE TICKETS. This has probably happened to everyone at some point and it’s the worst feeling to arrive at your destination and not be able to get in. On the fringes are forgetting your ID (no booze!) and a credit card/debit card/cash (No food! No cab afterwards!).

Here’s a checklist for you to save (it looks lovely on a Pinterest board) so you don’t forget the essentials!

Chicago Summer Festival

What else is a necessity for you when attending any of the Chicago summer festivals?

All Photo Credits: Amazon.com

chicago cheap ass (9)
Food,

Salads in the Loop – AND A GIVEAWAY

This article has been several weeks in the making. I contacted several restaurants and chains with locations in the Loop (and River North, hereafter referred to simply as “the Loop”), and all of them gave me an opportunity to try their products for free in exchange for an honest review of their salads and their establishments as a whole. After finalizing details, I went in and did my testing.

Finally, it’s time to give you an unbiased opinion on where you should be getting salads in the Loop.

Protein Bar

Salads in the Loop

Protein Bar is a favorite of many of my fit friends. With 11 Chicago locations (with exponential growth planned for the next few years), it’s not hard to find one close to work. I love that Protein Bar was the brain child of a man who wanted to do better by himself health-wise… you know you’re in good hands when that’s the genesis story of the restaurant you’re visiting.

Taste:What I like about Protein Bar is it’s “flavor profiles” that can be executed in many different forms. I’m talking about taking the same taste you’d find in an asian salad (what I got, pictured below), to a wrap, to a quinoa bowl. The salad composition is what sets Protein Bar apart from anything else on this list. Each bite contains a taste of every ingredient. It’s a perfectly chopped and blended salad. Make sure to ask for your dressing on the side – these salads are big enough for more than one meal depending on your appetite.

Salads in the Loop

Nutrition: Depending on what you’ve set your macros to (they don’t call it Protein Bar for nothing), there are multiple tasty ways to hit them. They have an extremely customizable nutrition calculator to support those goals. Salads will typically set you back around 500 calories.

Price: On the affordability scale, Protein Bar isn’t the cheapest place to get a salad in the Loop, but it’s certainly one of the highest quality salads you can get from a fast casual concept. If you’re planning on being a regular, you’d better download their loyalty app, which gives you $8 after every $88 spent (and a free smoothie on your birthday). They tend to send offers via email as well.

Freshii

Freshii is the type of chain that has cracked the code to creating an association between their brand and healthy living. I walked into the River North location pleasantly overtaken by a refreshing feeling. It’s hard to put into words, but I know you’ll feel the same when you check it out.

Salads in the Loop

Taste/Nutrition: There’s a soft spot in my heart for any salad that compliments a good cilantro-lime dressing. I got the Fiesta Salad and loved every bite. While Just Salad and Protein Bar have mastered the art of the chopped salad, Freshii has mastered the art of a fresh taste in every bite. I also tried their Kefir, which is kind of like frozen yogurt, but more nutritious. Finally, I sampled one of their green juices. It was an incredibly healthy lunch and I loved every bite! Their nutrition information isn’t quite as user-friendly as others on this list, but does exist online.

Affordability: Think along the same lines as Protein Bar.

Just Salad

Salads in the Loop

Courtesy of Just Salad team.

Just Salad is a recent Chicago addition, after finding success initially in New York. They opened with a bang, offering $1 salads and wraps on their first day. I scoped out the line and it was around the block. I decided to wait to try Just Salad in a more manageable setting.

Taste: As with many other salad providers on this list, you can opt to create your own salad creation, but should definitely give their mixes a try. These guys are salad artists. Like Protein Bar, they chop up the salad very well and you can taste all of the flavors in one bite. I got the buffalo chicken salad and several jealous stares from coworkers.

Salads in the Loop

Nutrition: Salads clock in at about 350 calories (including protein) and go up from there based on the dressing. I got a simple lemon dressing that only added 5 calories and still tasted amazing. The salads are well balanced in terms of protein to veggie ratio. Use their comprehensive and interactive nutrition calculator to drill down the specifics.

Affordability: Just Salad isn’t cheap, but they have a great special worth mentioning. Buy a reusable bowl for $1, and every time you bring it back, you get free two “Essential” toppings (veggies, fruit, grains, etc) or one free cheese topping. If you’re a regular, this will definitely add up! I think it’s an interesting take on a loyalty program that takes the environment into consideration. They also have an app to offer additional savings for loyal customers.

Cosi

Salads in the Loop

Taste: Of all the featured salads, the least amount of love went into my Cosi salad. As Cosi isn’t primarily about salads, I guess I can’t be too sour about it. And they were extremely busy even when I went in after the lunch rush. The adobo lime chicken salad didn’t have anything wrong with it, it just wasn’t as special as some of the others listed.

Nutrition: Salads ring in around 400 calories or more, but come with a side of bread. Probably not the best place to go for a healthy balanced meal. I want to go back and try one of their sandwiches or bowls and review them again. But for this scope of this article, I’ll let my review stand.

Affordability: Cosi offers a loyalty program that offers you a free meal after your 10th visit. Otherwise it’s similar pricing to any aforementioned salad restaurant on this list.

Farmer’s Fridge

I will admit to a slight bias when it comes to Farmer’s Fridge, but only because I used to work for them. That’s right, their earliest social media marketing came with help from yours truly. But as you can probably guess by now, I don’t promote any brands I can’t get behind. Farmer’s Fridge is an awesome and unique concept – it’s a salad vending machine. This is where I usually lose people. Yes. The salads are refrigerated. And replaced on a daily basis. The leftovers are donated to food pantries.

Salads in the Loop

From: Farmer’s Fridge Facebook

Taste: Farmer’s Fridge salads are arranged in layers to keep as fresh as possible throughout the day. Once you shake in the dressing and distribute the different parts, prepare yourself for a flavor blast. All the ingredients are fresh and organic, so you can enjoy your salad guilt-free (is a salad every guilty, though?). The Cheater has one of my favorite flavor profiles, but look out for their monthly special salads to keep it interesting!

Nutrition: Starting this week, each salad has updated nutritional labels! A good feature is that most salads separate dressing nutrition facts from the rest of the nutritional information, so you can weigh using theirs (you should, it’s delicious) versus your own if you’re on a super low-calorie diet. Plus, as previously mentioned, only high-quality ingredients go into each jar.

Affordability: A regular salad will cost $6-8, a protein add-on is another $2. After 6pm, all salads are $1 off, and Farmer’s Fridge tends to offer promotions over their social media channels and through their email newsletter. You can return the mason jar it comes in to the kiosk, or upcycle it. I use mine to hold jewelry, tea bags, trail mix, and granola bars.

The above represents just a sampling of the places to get salads in the Loop. I think the major takeaway is that you should try a few and pick your favorite to rack up some loyalty points. Or stay in touch with the brands that tend to offer special promotions over their own channels!

Finally, Farmer’s Fridge has generously offered a free salad as a giveaway! Enter below if you’re a Chicago resident (can’t get them anywhere else… for now), and I’ll announce the winner by June 15!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

chicago cheap ass (3)
Drink, Food, Recipes,

Cooking Tips For City Living: Sell All Your Possessions And Buy A Wok

no comment
I see you.

I see you watching the Food Network on weeknights, laughing every time someone forgets an ingredient on Chopped. I hear you mutter to yourself “I could do better” in between bites of reheated Chinese take-out. I feel it when you roll your eyes at Rachel Ray, Alton Brown, and at Bobby Flay, wondering why they’re famous and you’re not. Then you finish your microwaved meal and continue picking Dorito crumbs out of your belly button, just like you do every day.

No more.

Today, we embark on an adventure. Throw away your microwave. Clean out your freezer. Set your “instant” foods ablaze and never look upon them again. Today, my friends, we cook.

And hell, it’s not as hard as you think.

If you live in the city (of course you do, why would you be reading this otherwise), you most likely have a few, but not many, cooking vessels and implements for stovetop use. Maybe a skillet and a few pots.

You don’t need them.

No, friends, the only tool you will need to boil, sauté, steam, and deep fry is a wok. I recommend ones made by The Wok Shop in San Francisco—I own one, and I couldn’t be happier.

When choosing a wok, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The most important thing is to get something light, preferably made from carbon steel. You want something that will get hot fast, and be manageable enough to toss over the heat. Oh, and also, if you have an electric or induction stove, you’ll need a flat bottomed wok. Otherwise you’ll be forced to balance the wok on its end while you cook and that just sounds like the most terrible thing. If you’re cooking with gas, you can get either a flat bottom wok, or a normal round-bottomed one and mount it on a wok ring.

You’ll also want a wok with some texture to it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the whole point of a wok is that parts of it get super-hot, while parts stay relatively cool. The texture on the sides of the wok allows you to push cooked food up to the cooler sides of the wok to avoid burning while other food cooks near the bottom.

You shouldn’t pay more than 40 bucks for a nice big wok, and you really can use it for pretty much any kitchen task you can think of. You can scramble eggs in it, cook pasta in it, deep fry in it, steam vegetables in it, or, of course, make yourself a stir fry.

Oh, but you don’t have any shelf space! Where are you going to put this gigantic wok? Aw, jeez. Sorry, guys. My bad. Go return it.

Or you could just hammer a nail into your drywall above your stove and hang the wok from there. Woks actually look really good hung up in a kitchen, and despite their size, will be both out of the way and readily available there.

So you have your wok! Time to start cooking!

Hah, just kidding. Nah, you’re not ready yet. And neither is your wok. You gotta season it first. The Wok Shop has a pretty great video guide for a few different ways you can season your wok, but if you’re pressed for time or just don’t want to watch a video, here’s how I seasoned mine.

First, you’re gonna want to wash the wok thoroughly with hot soapy water, and then dry it by setting it on high heat on your stove until all the moisture evaporates.

While this is happening, chop a whole bunch of scallions, and mince a big ol’ handful each of ginger and garlic. Open a door or window. Things are about to get really smoky.

Keep the wok on the stove, and turn the heat all the way up if you haven’t already. You want the wok to be screaming hot. You’ll know you’re ready for the next step by flicking some water at the wok. If the wok hisses loudly at you like an angry cat, you can move on.

Take the wok off the heat and pop a couple tablespoons of a neutral fat (canola or vegetable works here, but traditionalists like to use lard) in the wok and toss it around so that it coats the bottom and sides. Throw the scallions, ginger, and garlic in there.

Burn the fuck out of them.

I’m serious. Burning these elements until they are carbon-black will release an enzyme that will keep the food you cook in the wok from tasting ever-so-slightly of, uh, metal. While you stir-fry, make sure you get the oil and aromatics up to the sides of the wok.

Continue tossing until the color of the wok starts to change. You’re looking for just a slight tinge of yellow or orange in most cases. The wok will also start to look a bit glossy. Again, make sure that this change happens on the bottom as well as on the sides of the wok. Discard the burning hot oil by throwing it at the invaders trying to scale your castle walls, or alternatively, by waiting a few minutes for it to cool and dumping the aromatics and burnt oil into the sink.

Wash your wok with hot water, and use a paper towel or brush to knock away any burnt-on residue. You’re done!

Your wok is still new, though, and boiling water in it, or cooking with heavy acids like lemons or vinegar will damage the coating, so wait on that until the wok gets a nice, broken in brownish black hue around the bottom and sides.

Luckily, the recipe I’m about to share with you is perfect for a new wok. It’s healthy, quick, and perfect for getting rid of random stuff in your fridge. It doesn’t taste half bad either.

Simple Shirataki Stir-Fry (serves 1)

1 package Shirataki Noodles
1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
1 Jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 Onion, diced
1/2lb Pork Loin, cut into cubes
Garlic
Ginger
Red Pepper Flakes
Soy Sauce
Sambal
Peanut Oil

Before we begin, a note on shirataki noodles. These are inexpensive, super low calorie noodles made from a Japanese yam that are packed with fiber and take very well to surrounding flavors. You can buy them at Jewel—they usually run around a buck or two per pack. They come (usually) packed in a liquid, and will need to be drained and thoroughly washed in order to remove the earthy, briny, and fishy odor of the liquid.

Here’s how this is going to work. Right now, before you even start reading the rest of this recipe, you’re going to season your meat with salt and pepper and cube it, dice your vegetables, and mince your garlic and ginger, okay? Because this is going to get real fast real quick. Once you turn the heat on under your wok, there’s no going back. Ready? Okay. Let’s get started.

When cooking with a wok, dishes are enhanced by flavoring the oils used to stir-fry ingredients. Traditionally, this is achieved by throwing a clove of minced garlic into the oil with some red pepper flakes and a healthy amount of minced ginger. Turn the heat all the way up under your wok, and coat it with peanut oil. Before the wok gets too hot, wipe the oil up and around the pan with a paper towel, removing the excess oil and spreading it up to the sides. Throw the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in there and toss with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Make sure your door is still open.

Test to make sure the oil is hot using the same water method as when you seasoned the wok, then throw the pork in there. Make sure to toss and stir often so that it cooks evenly. As soon as the outside is cooked move the pork to the sides of the wok and throw the noodles and veggies into the middle. Toss the veggies and noodles together—you want the veggies cooked to the point where their flavors are brought out in the oil while still retaining their crunch and brightness. When the pork firms up and starts to brown in the wok as you toss it with the rest of the ingredients, you’re done. Pour the stir fry out onto a plate, and dress with sambal (a hot chili paste available in the international section of the grocery store) and soy sauce to taste.

Dig in!

Hah, no, kidding again. Your wok needs some love first. Run some warm water in your sink and wipe off all the stuck on food with a brush or wet paper towel after the wok has cooled off enough to touch. Put the wok back on the flame to dry. This will prevent rust, and should be done right after cooking.

Now you can eat.

I know, you’re full, and you don’t want to think about wok maintenance, but here are some quick rules for you to ignore. Don’t use soap on the wok. Warm water and a paper towel or brush should be enough to loosen any stuck food. The more you use the wok, the more seasoned it will be. In essence, be good to the wok, and the wok will be good to you. It really is impossible to ruin your wok. Even if the seasoning deteriorates, all you have to do is scrub with steel wool, wash with soap, and re-season. It’s as loyal as your family dog, except you can also make delicious food in it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some marauders scaling my apartment complex so I have to go heat up some peanut oil.

chicago cheap ass (7)
Food,

Chicago Chef Week: Save or Splurge?

You can’t be a true Chicagoan without knowing the majesty of Chicago Restaurant Week. It’s a week full of excuses to eat at some of Chicago’s finest dining establishments with multiple-course prix-fixe menus that will set you back $22 for lunch, and $33 or $44 for dinner.

First off… what the heck is Chicago Chef Week?

I asked their social media team.

I had actually not heard of it prior to a one-off email from Opentable. But it seems to take a very similar approach, though is run by a different organization, than Chicago Restaurant Week. There are not quite as many restaurant participants, but that’s part of the strategy. They proactively reach out to chef-driven restaurants and allow submissions as well. Pricing is just slightly different – $22 for lunch at select restaurants, $44 for a four course dinner at all participating restaurants. There tends to be one choice with the prix-fixe menus – not as many substitutions or choices within the courses (as in Chicago Restaurant Week). For 2015, Chicago Chef Week runs April 19-24.

Some deals are more worth it than others. So what should you do – Save or Splurge? A general rule of thumb is that if you can find the items on their Chicago Chef Week menu on their regular menu, it’s a great deal. I’m not even going to try to persuade or dissuade you from any of the 70+ participating restaurants, but I will give you a game plan. The common theme among my picks is this – you should check out all of these restaurants, but plan it around other current events and specials, not just Chicago Chef Week.

Best bets for Chicago Chef Week

Piccolo Sogno Due lunch - Chicago Chef Week

From: https://www.facebook.com/PiccoloSognoDue
Lunch at Piccolo Sogno Due

I’ll definitely be checking out Piccolo Sogno Due for lunch. Three courses for $22 and just a few blocks from the office? Sold. They had a special Chicago Restaurant Week menu as well so this kind of thing is right up their alley. Plus, they offer a lot of different choices so I know my dining mate and I will both get what we want without compromise.

I also want to go to RPM steak for dinner, since they would usually be way outside of my price range. They both offer wine pairings with dinner so you can get an idea of how much the dinner will set you back. RPM Steak’s menu would set you back $47 without the garlic bread if you ordered the least expensive items. I initially wanted to go to RPM Italian, but don’t see a lot of crossover between the items on their Chicago Chef Week menu and their normal menu. If I’m going to RPM Italian, I want to have the best possible experience, so I’ll wait on this one.

From Japonais' Marketing Team

From Japonais’ Marketing Team

I used to work at Groupon, and Japonais was on the first floor of the building. It’s usually on the pricier side. If you’re a sushi lover, here’s your chance to experience a four course dinner by Iron Chef Marimoto for just $44. Without dessert and ordering the lowest-priced options on this prix-fixe would set you back $45.

Blackbird Chicago Chef Week

Used with permission from Blackbird’s marketing team

Blackbird is only offering lunch, but it’s the same as their regular prix-fixe menu which is usually $25… a $3 savings. No BS here, it’s worth a spend.

From: ttps://www.facebook.com/ceres.table/ The $22 dinner special

From: https://www.facebook.com/ceres.table/
The $22 dinner special

Ceres Table is an Italian restaurant in Lakeview that I waited to check out until my parents owed me a birthday dinner so I could try out their full menu without reservation. They have a $22 3 course dinner deal running most days. There’s also a $40 prix-fixe menu special that’s on going in honor of their Bib Gourmand. Without seeing their exact menu, I’d say your Chicago Chef Week time is better spent checking out a place that rarely has any specials.

A10 Chicago Chef Week

Used with permission from A10’s marketing team

A10 is another Bib Gourmand restaurant that’s privy to running deals. In fact, they currently have a Groupon deal live for $69 for two people, drinks included. Save your Chicago Chef Week experience for another restaurant and enjoy this one with the Groupon.

Bread & Wine seems like a good bet for dinner, but a better deal is their current Gilt City promotion – dinner for 2 for $55. Word on the street is that Gilt City is offering 25% off right now with code APRIL25.

I just went to an event at Mariano’s featuring chef John Coletta of Quartino. This dude can make cauliflower exciting – you won’t believe what he can do to pasta. Quartino specializes in Italian tapa-sized plates meant to be shared. So one of the best chef week specials may be their dinner menu, which gives you options off of the regular menu and is meant to be shared. That’s right – $44 for two people. You can buy $44 worth of wine to make up for it if you’d like.

I can’t end this article without mentioning Publican Quality Meats, because Chicago is obsessed with it. I just watched The Layover (an Anthony Bourdain production), which drew special attention to Publican in it’s Chicago episode. Price wise – this place is affordable on a regular day depending on what you’re buying. If their menu includes a charcuterie board, an entree, and dessert… it’s probably worth it for the full experience.

Not all of the menus are live yet, so I’ll update this post with more information as I receive it, if it’s especially pertinent.

Are you starting to get excited about Chicago Chef Week? Reserve a table on Opentable. You can also get more information and up-to-date menus on Chicago Chef Week’s website.

Which restaurants will you be checking out during Chicago Chef Week?

chicago cheap ass (1)
Food,

Free Food: 6 Chicago Email Newsletters to Follow

There are a lot of opportunities for free and cheap food in Chicago. An easy way to find out about these opportunities is by following Chicago Cheap Ass on Facebook for of-the-moment updates. You could also refer to this definitive guide of Chicago email newsletters to have free food delivered straight to your inbox. No spam here, people.

1. Corner Bakery Cafe

Corner Bakery Cafe chicago email newsletter

A recent email promotion from Corner Bakery Cafe

I’ll admit that Corner Bakery Cafe is not a place I often seek out on my own, but often consume at networking events and office parties. There are tons of different types of things to eat, they readily post nutrition information, and they offer free coupons all the time. Recently I’ve gotten coupons for free soup, free pastries, and even a free meal. Click here to sign up for their Chicago email newsletter.

2. Noodles & Company

Noodles & Company

A recent email promotion from Noodles & Company

Noodles is one of those places I can’t justify going to on a regular basis because I’m pretty accomplished at making pasta dishes for myself. I know that pasta is a high-margin dish at any restaurant and I wouldn’t be much of a Chicago Cheap Ass if that was how I spent my money while dining out. That being said, getting an email from Noodles is always a delight because more often than not they have coupons for free or BOGO noodle bowls (sometimes other entrees are included as well). Click here to sign up for their Chicago email newsletter.

3. Panera

Panera Bread

A recent email promotion from Panera

Panera skimps more on the freebies than Noodles & Company and Corner Bakery, but just today I got an email that said I can get free coffee the entire month by using MyPanera card. Every once in awhile, they’ll give away coupons of soup and sandwich combos or free baked goods. Definitely worth it if you like their food at all (and are close enough to one of their locations). Click here to sign up for the MyPanera card and loyalty program.

4. Au Bon Pain

Au Bon Pain

A recent email promotion from Au Bon Pain

ABP’s email newsletter is cool, because right off the bat you get a free reusable coffee cup. On top of that, they send out dollar-off coupons regularly, and always have freebies like cookies or drinks to give away. If you work close to one (ABP is primarily in the Loop and River North-ish), you’re going to want to click here to sign up for the Au Bon Pain Chicago email newsletter.

5. Lettuce Entertain You – Beatrix and Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Lettuce Entertain You

Recent text club promotions from Lettuce Entertain You

Lettuce Entertain You is the first member of this list to operate primarily in Chicago (with some outliers in the suburbs and other neighboring states). They have their own loyalty program that costs money to join (it’s worth it, but I’ll come back to that in another blog post), but also text clubs that don’t require you to be a member of the loyalty program to use. If you like free tapas, you should sign up for Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba’s program by clicking here and finding the “Text Club” option on the sidebar.  If free coffee, fresh-squeezed juice, and bakery items are more your style, click here for Beatrix’s text club.

6. Spring Rewards

I wrote a post about Spring Rewards and you should check that out for some of the best free food possibilities under the sun. Pairing their loyalty program with a Groupon offer at a participating restaurant means you can dine fine on a budget.

I know I said “definitive” guide at the beginning of this post, but I plan on coming back and updating as I discover more great Chicago email newsletters to follow.

If there’s a Chicago email newsletter you receive that Chicago Cheap Asses would love, let us know in the comments!

chicago cheap ass (3)
Food, Recipes,

Work Salads – An affordably healthy lunch

This post isn’t specific to Chicago, but when I started this blog, I told people I wanted to incorporate tips for money saving in general. This one also happens to revolve around health.

About 2 months ago, a coworker and I decided to try an experiment. We’re both fairly health-conscious and recognized a need to offset holiday over-indulgences. Seemingly simultaneously, we decided to each buy and prepare a set rotation of salad ingredients. Here’s what we decided upon and split up:

Produce

  • Peppers
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Onion or Scallions
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Carrots (shredded)
  • Avocado

Protein

  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Cheese (we choose feta, although occasionally I use mozzarella)
  • Almonds

Extras

  • Craisins
  • Salad Dressing

Obviously, what you pick is based on taste preferences. My coworker and I luckily like the same things on our salads. Sometimes we rotate items week over week to keep it interesting.

Other solid ingredient suggestions:

  • Beans (Black, Garbanzo, Lentils)
  • Kale or Brussel Sprouts for additional green superfood powers
  • Quinoa to add some carbohydrates
  • Different types of cheese to rotate flavors
  • Different types of nuts (though use sparingly as they pack a lot of calories)

The produce and meat we buy have to be replaced/refilled on a weekly basis. The rest of our supplies last two weeks to one month.

If you work in the Loop, you can easily spend $10 a day on lunch. On average, I probably spend about $10 each week or less replacing what’s been used. Since produce goes bad quickly, you should try to partner up with a coworker who likes salads and can be content eating them everyday. That’s the hard part. But once you get started, you’ll save money and lose pounds.

What other ingredients do you use to keep your salads interesting? Let me know in the comments.

chicago cheap ass (4)
Food,

Spring Rewards – Chicago’s New Restaurant Loyalty Program

There’s little more annoying than having to keep track of endless cards, apps, etc. just to rack up points at your favorite businesses. My purse simply doesn’t have room for physical representations of all the businesses I frequent. But what if I told you that you could start racking up loyalty points at hundreds of Chicago’s favorite restaurants simply using your credit card?

Spring Rewards

Select different loyalty programs to join in a list segmented alphabetically and by neighborhood.

Spring Rewards is an awesome concept that allows you to connect your credit card to their program to track purchases and earn points. Some restaurants give welcome incentives like $5 or $10 credited back after your first meal with them as a Spring user. Others offer Groupon-esque deals where you pay a certain amount of money (say $5) for a certain amount credited back to you ($15 for example) upon purchase. The caveat – these deals tend to expire quickly after purchase so have a plan in place for when to use them.

Spring Rewards deal

An example of a deal you can purchase from Spring Rewards

As a relatively new company, Spring isn’t perfect. I’ve had to contact them on more than one occasion about a purchase not counting towards loyalty points or credits on my account. As they’re working out the kinks, you have to be proactive about making sure credits are applied. On the flip side, I’m pleasantly surprised when I get a text message from a place I didn’t realize was a part of Spring, and my purchase counts toward future rewards.

PRO TIP: A lot of these businesses (Hutch, Geja’s Cafe, Rockit Ranch, to name a few…) have Groupon offers than run simultaneous to the limited-time Spring offers. You can easily use both at the same time to double-dip for discounts.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to Spring Reward’s website and sign up with the credit card you use most for dining. You’ll be glad you did.

Have you used Spring Rewards? Tell me about your experience in the comments.