Each Sunday I dread the idea of starting another work week and preparing the same boring food. I’d rather just go to Protein Bar and get a delicious salad, but that’s an easy way to quickly drain your bank account. When I came across this recipe on the Ambitious Kitchen (http://www.ambitiouskitchen.com) I was so thrilled to find something new I could prep for the entire week: Crunchy Cashew Thai Quinoa Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing. Bonus: it’s gluten free AND vegan.
For the salad:
¾ cup uncooked quinoa
1-2 cups shredded red cabbage
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
1 cup shredded or sliced carrots
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup diced green onions
½ cup cashew halves or peanuts (I like both for texture and saltiness)
1 cup edamame or garbanzo beans
Fresh lime, for a bit of tang
For the dressing:
¼ cup all natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
3 tablespoon soy sauce, gluten-free if desired
1 tablespoon honey (use agave if vegan)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon olive oil
Sriracha for spice
Water to thin, if necessary
Start with making the dressing, it’s better to let this sit and allow the ingredients to blend. The prep can take some time so I chopped while the quinoa was boiling.
To make the dressing: Blend the peanut butter and honey or agave to a medium microwave safe bowl then heat in microwave for 20-30 seconds. Next, add your fresh grated ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, and oils. Stir until the mixture is creamy and blended. If you want a thinner dressing, slowly add water or more oil.
I’ve never cooked quinoa before so this was new to me but its similar to making cous cous.Start by rinsing quinoa with cold water in mesh strainer, if this is difficult don’t worry – it’s not crucial. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil. The water to quinoa ratio is very important for the texture. Then add in quinoa and bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa has absorbed all of the water. Remove from heat and fluff quinoa with fork; place in large bowl and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. This will yield a little over 2 cups of quinoa.
Once the quinoa is cooled add your dressing. Add as little or as much as you would like.
Finally, fold in your vegetables. Sprinkle cashews and/or peanuts then squeeze a bit of lime for zing and Sriracha for spice.
This recipe gave me exactly five lunches, with all the protein and vitamins it’s a great solution to a new lunch to rotate into your routine.
Protein Bar is one of my favorite healthy fast-casual concept restaurants in Chicago. I love them so much that I featured them in my roundup article about where to get salads in the loop. I recently ran into Protein Bar’s Brand Manager Teddy at the Social Media Day event, who invited me to take a spin class at Flywheel a few weeks out. Protein Bar recently struck up this partnership, as the brands both target a similar demographic and they both promote healthy lifestyles.
So while I’ve never been to Flywheel before, I have taken my fair share of spin classes. I used to work out at David Barton Gym on a daily basis when I worked at Groupon. Spin was a critical part of my cardio days, even when training for races, because it’s awesome cross-training. What I love about spin is:
– Cardio with resistance and elements of HIIT so you’re burning hundreds of calories
– The instructor tells me what to do. I don’t have to think, I just have to show up
– It’s fun! Spinning to a loud, uplifting beat is an awesome way to spend my lunch break
– I’m tired but energized when all is said and done
Anyways, David Barton Gym did a great job with their spin program, but Flywheel specializes in spin. They’re able to produce a much better product, because it’s all they do.
So what makes Flywheel different from your typical spin classes?
– They have special shoes that click into the pedals. At David Barton Gym, my feet sometimes felt weird because they weren’t specially-designed for spin and fit differently into the pedals.
– Flywheel has a special gauge that shows resistance, pace, and energy output in an easy-to-read format
– It’s competitive! Regular attendees are assigned a username and they can track their energy output through class, that week, that month… all against other regulars!
Besides the differences in the class, the facilities were really nice. The lockers didn’t require a lock – instead you program an easy to remember four digit code. The showers were clean and stocked with everything you need to get ready after a sweat session, including shower necessities like shampoo, conditioner, dry shampoo, spray deodorant and more.
After class, Protein Bar hooked everyone up with cold-pressed juice, headbands, free smoothie cards, and special Protein Bar trail mix. The cold-pressed juice was a refreshing tangy mix of greens – perfect for rehydrating after class. I later redeemed my smoothie card for an Avo-Matcha smoothie – a new favorite of mine.
All in all, Flywheel is expensive. There’s no way around it. Depending on the package you buy, it’s about $20-25 per class. What I can tell you is that if you’ll actually use it, it’s definitely worth it. You’re not going to get that kind of workout on your own (unless you’re REALLY good at motivating yourself and know what you’re doing), or at a fitness studio (barre, pilates, etc.). For people who want to be fit or are looking to lose weight, this is a great step in the right direction.
At any rate, I’m definitely going back – who’s with me?
Thanks to Teddy from Protein Bar for providing photos!
So I made a LOT of food over the weekend – primarily soups. I had some delicious Roasted Garlic and Tomato Soup and Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup to get through before leaving for Colorado on Thursday. It’s nice to have your meals almost completely planned out before the week even starts…
In other news, I told you guys about a week ago that I entered Furious Spoon’s ramen rap battle contest. I’ve got great news – I won! I decided I would take my Chicago Cheap Ass bloggers out the following week to reward them for being such brilliant writers.
7/14 – Flywheel (Protein Bar), Fleming’s Networking Event, and Social Media Beast Interview
I have an awesome relationship with Protein Bar, especially their Brand Manager, Teddy. After seeing him at Social Media Day at Rockit, he invited me to an event sponsored by a new Protein Bar partner – Flywheel! I’ve done spin before at David Barton Gym, but this was completely different. The shoes clicked into the pedals, the resistance and speed were easy to measure, and the instructor was incredibly uplifting. I’ll do a better recap later, but I had a blast. Teddy dished out some awesome Protein Bar samples and swag afterwards 🙂
Social Media Beast started working with the River North Business Association (RNBA) recently, which means I have some new networking events to check out and new, interesting people to meet! This one was at Fleming’s Steakhouse. I met some interesting people and they had some nice goodies for attendees – a box of chocolate truffles and a $25 gift card to come back. I’m excited to see what the next one has in store – I think it’s at Weber Grill.
Every employee at Social Media Beast is getting a spotlight interview on the blog. Mine went live today! Check it out here.
7/15 – Shanahan’s in Forest Park, Hyde Park Itinerary and a Marketing Blog Post
Most of the rest of the week after today was spent getting to, being in, or coming home from Colorado. I met up with my parents in Forest Park at a Creole restaurant called Shanahan’s. I tried fried green tomatoes for the first time. Basically anything fried to me is delicious, but this was something new! I handed over my dog and went back home to pack before the trip.
Another exciting thing that happened today was my acceptance into the Hootsuite Ambassador program. Basically, the program encourages Ambassadors to use Hootsuite and it’s various features, sharing them with their network. In return, Ambassadors get access to Hootsuite Pro and Hootsuite University for free. Not to mention, it’s a great association to have for someone going into digital marketing. And sometimes they send out some fun swag 🙂 I’m excited to get more involved in the program and meet fellow Hootsuite Ambassadors!
Finally, I began my journey to Colorado after work. I recently accepted a position as a Race Director for Cupid’s Undie Run. We were all to meet in Estes Park, Colorado at Peaceful Valley Ranch for a weekend of training and team bonding.
I got to the airport and met the fabulous people I would be sharing a shuttle with. We got a bite to eat and some beers and waited until it was our time to get to camp. Eventually the shuttle came, we turned it down, got to camp, and called it a night.
7/17 – Camp Cupid Day 1
I woke up bright and early to get breakfast. I met a couple people, then got ready for a day full of training sessions.
I was grateful for the information overload during the day. A lot of people had a lot of knowledge of Cupid’s Undie Run, even from the volunteer side of things. I only knew what it meant to be a runner. A marketer at heart, I enjoyed getting event planning knowledge from an organization that has a great track record of making things happen and making themselves known.
We had a brief rest after training, then made our way even higher up the mountain for dinner. They served a really solid BBQ dinner. We met in teams after dinner and came up with skits as one of our first team building activities. Ours was modeled after 50 Shades of Grey. Not sure if I’m allowed to get into more detail than that 😉
7/18 – Camp Cupid Day 2
The second day was a lot less training, a lot more team building. Throughout the day, we got into an intense group Rock, Paper Scissors contest, Trivia, Flippy Cup, a Twerk Off, a Scavenger Hunt and a Relay Race. I’m competitive by nature, so we had a lot of fun, but were cheated out of some wins (hehe). The night ended with some barn dancing complete with a line dancing instructor. Nobody wanted to say goodnight, but eventually I had to – my shuttle left at 7am the next morning.
7/19 – Coming Home & Surprise Party
I got to the airport about an hour before my flight. Not exactly the ideal situation, but it was kind of out of my hands. Next time I’m taking an earlier shuttle! Anyways, after cutting a few lines, I made it to my flight just as it was boarding. I walk into the plane and it just so happens that my second cousin, her husband, and their 7 month old baby are there! I traded with their almost-seatmate and spent most of the flight catching up 🙂 The rest of the flight was about getting through “The Martian” which is a crazy page turner I highly recommend.
My parents were in town for my uncle’s surprise birthday party. I thought I wasn’t going to be back in time, but managed to hitch a ride with them after they brought my dog back. It was nice seeing my family, but I was exhausted. I had a crazy weekend!
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Last week I hit “CelebriTEA” status at Argo Tea. I’m kind of in love with the place, and they love their customers back with a pretty awesome loyalty program. After 25 visits, I’ve earned $1 off all purchases before 9am (perfect for right before work), a free birthday drink, $5 in credit after every 10 visits, and a free looseleaf tea gift. The perks are all pretty awesome, but I wish I had more of a choice over which looseleaf tea I got to choose. I ended up picking the oolong formosa, which was one of the four options. Stay tuned for a post featuring Argo Tea and some other awesome tea spots in Chicago!
Today I checked out a new Lakeview restaurant – Barcocina. It opened up just as I was moving out of the neighborhood! But a good excuse to come back at any rate.
It’s got a cool vibe and is an excellent bar to check out now that summer’s happening in full force (garage-door openings for the win). If you like upscale Mexican cuisine and inventive cocktails, you’ll love Barcocina. Look out for a post on Choose Chicago’s blog soon.
6/3 – Breakroom Brewery
One of my best friends from high school was in town this week and we decided it would be awesome if a reunion included a trip to a brewery and a Blackhawks game. Breakroom Brewery is about a mile down the street from my boyfriend and just opened fairly recently. It has a garage door front (similar to Barcocina) and a plenty of TVs and a projector to enjoy the Blackhawks game. The beer was delicious – I tried three different varieties. The food was also pretty scrumptious. We tried the scotch egg, which was a first for me. The burgers and beer-soaked fries hit the spot.
6/4 – RCN Event
Today I went to one of my favorite speaker events to date. RCN hosted speaker Patrick Schwerdtfeger for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce. This event was an incredible value at $20. First of all – amazing buffet breakfast. Then a book Schwerdtfeger wrote called Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed. I’m almost done with it and have gotten so many good ideas for promoting and updating the blog! But before reading the book, I was inspired by the talk and met some interesting people. RCN gave some other cool freebies away – a USB hub, a portable computer mouse, and an external battery charger. I’ll be on the lookout for more events like this. If your company is awesome and invests in your professional development (or you’re looking for a great networking opportunity), you need to be on the lookout for events like this. I talked to a friend today about writing such a feature, so look forward to some networking event roundups in the near future!
6/5 – Protein Bar Party and Annoyance Improv Show
As a follow up to a post I wrote about Salads in the Loop, I was invited to Protein Bar’s VIP summer sampling party. Basically, they let us test new menu items and created some ridiculously good cocktails with their favorite ingredients that you wouldn’t normally be able to get. I tasted some new BBQ chicken entrees and finally tried the Avo-Matcha smoothie (the perfect afternoon pick-me-up), and even met one of Protein Bar’s investors! He actually just wrote a post for me about credit card rewards after we struck up a camaraderie.
After the party, I went with my best friend Nico to the Annoyance Theater. It was my first time there and I had a blast. Nico’s show Grounded is in the small theater, so it’s a very intimate experience. I hit up the bar afterwards and got a ridiculous amount of chicken nuggets for $5. Two thumbs up from this Cheap Ass.
6/6 – PIQNIQ
Today I attended my first PIQNIQ music festival at Tinley Park. The suburbs are hard to get to if you don’t have a car/want to thoroughly enjoy yourself alcohol-wise at a festival. We took the Metra from the Lasalle Street Station. An $8 weekend pass covers you for the full weekend. Metra prices have been raised exponentially since I commuted last year… and it’s only going to get worse. Save your train travel for the weekend whenever possible. And follow my festival tips for maximizing your experience (and money!).
6/7 – Moving
So this whole week my boyfriend (and his brothers! thank you guys!!) has been helping me move, one carload at a time. Today my parents came up with some of the bigger furniture pieces, kitchen stuff, and childhood memories. I’ve been neglecting Chicago Cheap Ass because this has been taking so much of my time and energy. But it’s finally done! Well… minus organization. I’m so relieved.
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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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This week was a busy one for me, especially as far as professional development goes. On Monday, I attended the Business Marketing Association (BMA)’s event “An Afternoon with the Stars” at 1871. I love 1871, because it’s such a cool community of entrepreneurs and startups. Just being there makes me feel like I can do anything I set my mind to. We have a partnership where we handle BMA’s social media channels and in return, get to attend the events for free. There are a lot of really cool events and speakers, and the lunch events are usually at Maggiano’s, which is an added bonus. I think a lesson can be learned from BMA and Social Media Beast’s partnership – bartering isn’t dead. If you have a skill that would help a business you’re obsessed with, you might be able to make a trade.
Anyways – speaking of Maggiano’s… My boyfriend had a gift card to go, so we went after the networking event. I don’t know if I’m late to the game on this or what, but Marco’s Meal for Two is an incredible value. You share an appetizer, get two entrees to eat in the restaurant, two to take home, and a dessert. That’s four complete meals (two per person) for $40 total ($20 per person). It’s some heavy stuff, so I don’t recommend it on a regular basis, but it was a nice treat. Our waiter was awesome, so extra points for that.
5/5 – Einstein Bros Bagels and Argo Tea
I got a coupon for BOGO breakfast sandwiches from Einstein and decided to use it this morning. If you haven’t already, sign up for their email newsletter. That’s $6 for two ridiculously good breakfast sandwiches that I spaced out over two days.
Argo Tea sent me $5 to spend for Cinco de Mayo, which I used on my favorite beverage – the White Tea Acai Squeeze. They send out $2-5 in savings every other week or so, so you should probably join their loyalty program if you’re as obsessed with Argo Tea as I am.
I went to another networking event at Cole Haan, but ate dinner at my boyfriend’s place. We’re starting a tradition of making our Cinco de Mayo fare at home, because it’s not worth battling the crowds at the bars and Mexican restaurants. Besides, tacos made at home last for days.
5/6 – Protein Bar and Hot Pursuit
Today I started my salad tasting rounds for an upcoming article about the best bang for your buck regarding salads in the Loop. I went to Protein Bar and met brand evangelist Teddy who let me try an asian salad and wrap. More on that to come!
5/7 – Freshii, Naansense, and the Digital Professional Institute
Today was day two of salad tasting, and I went to Freshii to see how it compares to Protein Bar. I met the General Manager, Nick, who walked me through a couple different menu items and let me taste their kefir froyo, a delicious chicken salad, and a green smoothie. Check out my full write-up in the next week or two!
I knew I’d be in the Loop until at least 8pm, so I grabbed dinner at Naansense. Have you heard of the Freebie app? It’s currently based in Chicago and you can try new businesses for free based on your social influence. So I got a free Chicken Naanwich and it was divine.
Right after, I hoofed it over to the Digital Professional Institute for a free SEO strategy session with Leslie Herskowitz of Performics. Using case studies from big e-tailers she’s worked with, we learned more about getting found via search. This is becoming more and more important to me as I build up ChicagoCheapAss.com! Follow the Digital Professional Institute for more free and paid events. I just signed up for a few more.
5/8 – RPM Italian and Kelsey’s Bar
Today was an exciting day. My boyfriend’s brother proposed to his girlfriend. They make an awesome couple and it was really a matter of time until everything was official. My boyfriend and I tagged along for the festivities and celebrated with the happy couple at RPM Italian. I’m so spoiled having gotten to check out both RPM Italian and RPM Steak in the same month… Anyways, while neither of those places is “cheap” by nature, they comped $40 from the bill under a “Birthday” stipulation to make the engagement dinner a little more special. I’d say one of those two occasions would be a good time to check out either of the RPM’s… just make sure to tell your waiter what you’re celebrating!
After RPM, we went to Kelsey’s in Lincoln Park. Word on the street is that if you sweet talk Brooke she may throw you some free shots… just make sure to tip well!
5/9 – Fishing in Mchenry, IL
The rest of my weekend was spent with family and friends. Today I joined my boyfriend with his good friends at one of their lakehouses. I caught a catfish. It was pretty baller.
5/10 – Mother’s Day!
Today was spent in the suburbs with my family celebrating Mother’s Day. I got my mom a pretty nice gift, but then she turns around and brings me a present, too. What an amazing lady. It’s a belt with a beer opener buckle she found while thrifting. One of these days I’ll write a post (with the help of my mother) about how to thrift, where to go, etc. She’s the one who taught me how to never pay full price for anything. She’s my inspiration.