Windy City Smokeout Logo

Last year was my first time attending The Windy City Smokeout – and it was AWESOME!! It’s this giant 3 day country music and bbq fest by the Chicago River. There’s tons of bbq vendors from all over the country, and plenty of beer and country music. The headliners this year include Phil Vassar, Chase Rice, Big & Rich, Billy Currington, Maren Morris & (my fav!!) Old Dominion. It’s coming up next weekend, July 15-17, and trust me, you definitely want to go. Plus, I can get you discounted tickets to the Windy City Smokeout – today only!!


Today only, you can get tickets to the Windy City Smokeout for $75 instead of $110. Just use promo code “DINING” when adding tickets to your cart. It’s a little tricky, so pay close attention:

  1. Get your tickets here:
  2. BEFORE adding tickets to your cart, add promo code DINING in the promo code box, and click on the arrow in the promo code box.
  3. $75 3 day discounted tickets will show up as an option underneath. Choose these :)
  4. Enjoy the heck out of the fest!!

If you’re still in doubt, check out this awesome video from last year’s Smokeout:

You can follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for more updates and awesomeness!

Pertinent details: Windy City Smokeout | July 15-17, 2016 | Music schedule | 560 W. Grand, Chicago, IL | Tickets (don’t forget to use DINING for $35 off!)

Windy City Smokeout (1)
Windy City Smokeout (3)
Windy City Smokeout (4)


30 minute panzanella

I feel like I haven’t cooked anything in ages. We’re T-30 or so days until we move, and dinners have been a weird mashup of items long forgotten in the freezer paired with pantry staples because who wants to cart a freezer full of meat to a new apartment, or, more popular than ever – sandwiches. We had a few slices of sourdough leftover from last week, and I’ve been craving summer ingredients: fresh tomatoes, basil, avocado, etc… We whipped up this simple summer panzanella in less than 30 minutes, and it was exactly what I was after – fresh and delicious, tasted like summer. The bread still has a slight crunch and chew to it, the tomatoes are their perfect summertime selves, and the avocado is a no-brainer addition.

Let’s be true to my kitchen style – I’ve never made panzanella before because it’s….a….bread (carbs, devil!!)….salad, but found an easy recipe from Food 52 and slightly read the ingredients and instructions before attempting this myself. I think I added perhaps a bit too much balsamic (as noted with eyebrows raised by Main Squeeze when I was liberally dousing the tomato mixture with it), so I’ve adjusted the recipe to taste. BTW, it was still super delicious.


Simple Summer Panzanella


  • 3 cups 1-inch cubes of bread (great way to use up older bread)
  • tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Sea salt or garlic salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • pounds tomatoes (any kind or flavor you prefer in the summer)
  • shallot, peeled and minced
  • tablespoons balsamic vinegar (you can also use any flavor you prefer, and might want to use white balsamic if you want your salad to be extra pretty)
  • 4 to 5 ounces fresh mozzarella, chopped into smallish bits
  • 1/2 cup basil, chiffonade or chopped
  • Avocado, diced


Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or coat with cooking spray.  Toss bread cubes with 3 tablespoons olive oil until evenly coated and arrange on the pan. Season lightly with garlic salt and pepper. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, tossing halfway through cooking, until crisp and browned. Congratulations, you’ve just made croutons. Remove from oven and toss into large prep bowl.


Chop your tomatoes and combine with minced shallot, balsamic, remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and mozzarella together in bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes to get extra juicy. Pour mixture over bread and let sit for at least 10-15 minutes (you can put it in the fridge) to allow bread to soak up the juices. Stir halfway through. Add diced avocado at the end and stir to mix.

Tomatoes for Panzanella

Top with salt or garlic salt and pepper and serve.

Bread Salad

Simple Panzanella






Candied Balsamic Tomato & Sweet Corn SaladCandied Balsamic Tomato & Sweet Corn Salad.


Tomato & Sweet Corn Salad


Candied Balsamic Tomato & Sweet Corn Salad

4 cups grape tomatoes (approx 1 Trader Joe’s container)
1 cup corn (fresh cut off the cob is best)
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 1/4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup small fresh basil leaves, torn
Cooking spray

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, coat with cooking spray.  Add tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes or until tomatoes release juices.  Combine sugar, salt and pepper; sprinkle over tomatoes; cook 2 more minutes.  Drizzle with vinegar and cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Transfer tomato mixture to a serving bowl.  Add corn, onion and basil and toss gently. Can be served immediately warm or chilled. I added the corn in the serving bowl, but you could also add the corn earlier in the pan. The recipe makes approximately 3-4 servings.
Candied Tomato & Sweet Corn Salad
Tomato & Sweet Corn Salad

Chew & Review- Gilbert's Craft Sausages

If you haven’t noticed lately, it is summer here in Chicago. In fact, just yesterday we marked the meteorological arrival of summer, and what better way than to mark the first day of summer by arriving to work dripping sweat from head to toe. The best part about Chicago in the summer is everything (besides the literal dripping of sweat), but backyard BBQs will always hold a special place in my heart. Growing up in a big grilling family (albeit well-done grilling family, which I’ve since changed, sorry Mom!), it was always a treat when Dad fired up our antique charcoal grill and went to town. I’ve continued this tradition, always grilling on a charcoal, but also having recently turned 35, my totally fabulous, amazingly wonderful parents gave me a tiny gas grill in my shower of birthday presents, and I can’t wait to try it. Look at how cute this thing is:

You know what’s made for a grill, whether it’s charcoal or gas? Sausages. If you think about it, they’re basically the perfect grilling food. In fact, I think they deserve “the most portable of all grilled foods” award, which is now a real thing. You can eat them in a bun, you can also grab one right off the grill and pop it in your mouth, which no one ever does with a hamburger. You can also slice them and add them to other recipes. No one does that either with hamburgers. So, sausages, yeah – summer’s best grilling food.

I recently had a chance to try out Gilbert’s Craft Sausages, a local Chicagoland company, and The Official Chicken Sausage of Wrigley Field. You know, where the Cubs play? Kind of a big deal. Perhaps you’ve peeped their sign over in right field – fancy (…that is right field, right?).

gilberts sausage


After a few conversations with GCS regarding me throwing an extravagant June backyard bbq which never quite materialized, the good folks at Gilberts rush ordered me a cooler full of sausage when it looked like I’d be able to get my act together for a Memorial Day sidewalk cafe bbq affair over at the Main Squeeze’s place. “Cooler full of sausage” is practically my favorite four word phrase in the English language, so I was beyond pumped to get a variety pack of flavors.

Gilberts Sausages

So one of the coolest things about Gilbert’s sausages, besides the awesome packaging and logo font I’m totally obsessed with, is that they come individually wrapped. Have you ever opened a package of hot dogs or sausages, eaten a couple and then when you opened them later in the week, they were just…gross? That doesn’t happen when your links are on lockdown tighter than George Bluth in prison.

No Touching Gif

As was the case with the whole thrown-together theme of the bbq, we threw the sausages on the grill. Another favorite thing about these links? They’re all fully cooked, so no worries if you like the lightest of char on your sausage.

Gilberts Sausages (14)

At this point into the evening, thanks to a “cooler full of beer,” a close cousin to the “cooler full of sausage,” we were getting our sausages all mixed up, and instead of the neat, tidy, labeled affair I had in mind, the sausages looked like this:

Gilberts Sausages (17)

Obviously still delicious, though hard to discern a particular flavor you’d wanted to try. Whoops.

Gilberts Sausages (11)

Out of this sausage soiree, I tried the Caprese (with Mozzarella, Basil & Sun-Dried Tomatoes) and the Froman (the uncured beef frank). The Caprese was light, but with a good amount of the tomato-basil flavor coming through. I was a HUGE fan of the Froman, which doesn’t surprise me, because I adore all-beef hot dogs. While those were the only two I tried during my semi-disastrous unlabeled sausage fest, thankfully I had the mental fortitude to save a few packages back and take them to the grilling great himself, my Dad. We had the Beef & Bleu and the Chicken Bratwurst.

Gilberts Sausages (1)

Now THIS is how you keep ’em separated, folks.

Gilberts Sausages (10)

Behold! The Beef & Bleu Cheese, topped with a swath of avocado spread, because everything’s better with avocado. This was even better than The Froman, with the definite telltale zing of blue cheese, but not so much to be overpowering. The chicken bratwurst was equally as delicious, and so much better for you than eating a standard brat. It tasted almost exactly like the real thing – I’ll definitely be stocking up on these for lightened up summertime bbqs.

I came home from the trip to Mom & Dad’s with leftovers, because they’re the kind of awesome people who send you away with tons of food. I whipped up some of these leftovers for Main Squeeze, but I really couldn’t decide whether to give him the Chicken Brat or the Beef & Bleu, because really, I wanted them both. We did come up with a compromise:


The Bratsage, aka Bleuwurst, aka frankensausage. It was a true delight.

Here are a few more pics of the sausage party:

Gilberts Sausages (19)

Gilberts Sausages (2)

The full sausage lineup from Gilbert’s includes:

  • Caprese Chicken
  • Chicken Bratwurst
  • Beef & Bleu
  • The Froman (Uncured Beef Hot Frank)
  • Kale Chicken
  • Bourbon Apple Chicken
  • Beer Bratwurst
  • Beef & Cheddar
  • Chipotle
  • Aloha Chicken

You can find their sausages at tons of stores around Chicago, including Jewel & Mariano’s. You should really take a look at their site, because it’s FULL of awesome recipes you can make with their sausage, other than just slapping it in a bun. They’re also active on social media, and I recommend following them everywhere so you can surround yourself with sausage.

Standard disclaimer: these sausages were provided to me gratis from Gilbert’s Craft Sausages. However, I would completely and totally buy them with my own money, because they are delicious, and I especially love that they’re a new hometown favorite. My first purchase is going to be the Aloha Chicken, fyi. If you want more details on the flavor of these sausages, check out my blogger friend Jeff’s review on Make it Like a Man.



7 Ways to Celebrate National Donut Day

I need dangerously little persuasion to eat a doughnut. If you know anything about me, my love for doughnuts is obviously one of the first things you think about. Therefore, it seems only natural that you should trust me to come up with 7 amazing ways to celebrate National Donut Day on June 3. I’m a subject matter expert. Additionally, because I’m grammar anal and need to preface this, I’m using both traditional spellings for donuts or doughnuts in this blog post. It’s fine.

1. Get Free Donuts (and eat them)

Duh. There are a bunch of national donut chains offering up the goods for free on June 3. Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, Entenman’s – free, free and free. For a full list, check out this link: Here Are All the Places You Can Get Free Doughnuts on National Doughnut Day

2. Get Free Donuts in Chicago (and eat them)

Yes, I live in Chicago, therefore I rarely eat Dunkin Donuts. I save myself for the good stuff, in order of holiness, Glazed & Infused, Stan’s and Do-Rite. If you’re a Chicagoan, check out all the places you can get a free doughnut from Time-Out: 9 Donut Day Freebies and Specials in Chicago

3. Look at Donuts on Instagram

Perhaps you’re on a diet, er, lifestyle change and don’t want to physically eat a donut. Why not stare longingly at your Instagram feed tomorrow as everyone else eats a donut? Yeah, that should be good times. Food & Wine Magazine put together a list of the best doughnut shops on Instagram, so if you want to ogle some donuts, that should be a good place to start. Need another? How about this one (from Glazed & Infused):

4. Make Doughnuts

The only thing more rewarding than buying a donut in a coffee shop is making a donut from scratch. Ok, I’d never really make a donut from scratch, but it seems like it could be true. Why don’t you try your hand at making these Orange Cardamom Doughnuts with Cranberry Glaze?

Orange Cardamom Doughnuts with Cranberry Glaze

5. Make a Recipe with Doughnuts

As wonderful as they are on their own, doughnuts don’t have to be a standalone experience.  They can be made into something else delicious entirely! For instance, what about this Cherry Cakeughnut, aka Day-Old-Doughnut Coffee Cake from Make it Like a Man:

Cherry Cakeunaught

Or how about this crazy amazing-looking Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding from Spicy Southern Kitchen:

Doughnut Bread Pudding

6. Draw on your Doughnuts

Inspired by Doodles Doughnuts in Chicago, why not grab some icing and go to town? I recently made a Doodle Doughnut for my 35th birthday (#halfwayto70), and it’s super fun and super tasty.

7. Wear Doughnut Clothing

My roommate, who clearly knows of my donut obsession, bought me this fantastic piece of wearable art for Christmas:

doughnut wearable

There are so many other doughnut fashion statements to be made, like this beautiful tank:


And this stylish t-shirt:


If all else fails, just dress up your dog like a donut:

Dog Donut

8. Bonus!

Just eat a damn doughnut. Treat yo’ self.




Top 5 Places to Visit in Chicago
It’s really not hard to love Chicago. Growing up in a super small town, the bright lights, big city atmosphere had me enthralled from my first visit as a wee one, and from then on I lived for field trips to the Windy City. At 165 miles away, it was just far enough to visit only  about once a year, mostly on school trips. I always remember the feeling I would get on the school bus when you could first see the skyline – it would take my breath away, even as a kid. I couldn’t imagine what people actually did in that skyline – what kinds of jobs they had, did they have families, how could they drive? It was all so different from growing up in rural Illinois, where the only view that changed in your backyard year to year was when the farmer planted seed corn instead of soybeans. You know, sometimes it’s good to experience the city like a tourist, even though at an official 10 years in May, I’m an established Chicagoan. I’m going to give you a list of 5 awesome places you can go, whether you’re a tourist, or have lived in the city for years. Let’s start with the pinnacle of tourist activities: a visit to the Hancock Center.

1. 360 CHICAGO – John Hancock Observatory

I recently had a chance to throwback to my very first trip to Chicago, an experience that included the Junior and Senior C-family going up in the Hancock to see the sights from the observatory. When you’re five, you get an eye-popping dose of perspective, and the first glimmer that you’re somewhat terrified of heights – the ants on the ground are actually people, your knees are a little shaky – your first taste of vertigo.

The good people at 360 CHICAGO invited some very cool, very awesome, very influential Chicago bloggers (…how did I get invited?…) to hang out atop the John Hancock Observation Deck, as part of their announcement of the new Chicago Resident Appreciation Rate, aka “The 606 Rate”, aka 50% off if you’re a resident of Chicago. That brings adult admission down to $10, and $6.50 for kids. It’s a good deal, 606’ers. Oh, and they’re doing the “Sunset Series,” which has some cool photography-related events going down, PLUS through Memorial Day, active duty military and veterans get in free. 

We also got the chance to literally hang out on TILT!, the, frankly terrifying, sky ride that dangles you 1,000 feet above the city, and tilts you until your pathetically weak core muscles give out and you’re truly laying atop the glass, taking in the sights. Is it scary? Yes!! Is it worth it? Yes!! 

At this time I will now regale you with some of my photos from 360 CHICAGO, and as an added treat, show you some actually very lovely photos taken from the observation deck by Nick Ulivieri, the resident kickass photographer for 360. 


Oh look, it’s Main Squeeze, hiding out behind his camera phone, taking this picture of yours truly:


Oh hey!!


This one is almost as good as that one below:

Threw some frames I took up at @360chiviews into the #surrealscape blender ⚡️+🌤 // #Chitecture

A photo posted by Nick Ulivieri (@nick_ulivieri) on


Please visit the website for more information on 360 CHICAGO. | 875 N Michigan Avenue, 94th Floor | Open Daily 9am–11pm

2. The French Market

French Market Chicago

Let’s put it this way – if your Metra train takes you into Ogilvie, there’s a damn good chance you’ve already been to The French Market. If your Metra train drops you off at Union Station, or if you’re over here like “What’s a Metra train?”, then you probably haven’t been to The French Market. It’s this wonderful place that houses a bunch of different food vendors all together, kind of like one of those fantastic open-air markets in France…but a little more like a food court, as there is certainly nothing open air about Chicago’s French Market.

But nevertheless, it’s got some super fantastic food vendors that are worthy of the trip, even if you don’t ride the Metra. Check out the map (open it in a new tab if you’d actually like to read it):
Chicago French Market

My friend Chrissy and I descended upon the French Market for another of the super cool blogger events we’re frequently invited to (this was her invite, might I clarify, I was just the desperate for Da Lobsta & Beaver’s Donuts +1). We ate…and ate…and ate…and then when we tired of eating, we had another lobster roll, and I had a green smoothie. Like, my first ever. And I didn’t die, and it was pretty tasty.


For more information, please visit the website Chicago French Market | 131 North Clinton (Between Washington and Randolph), Chicago, Illinois | 312-575-0306

3. The Four Seasons Chicago

Never in my life would there be an occasion to be at The Four Seasons anywhere, unless it was at the invitation of someone else. My boss was kind enough to invite me along for our fancy work awards ceremony. It was SO MUCH FUN. There was an amazing band, The Gentlemen of Leisure, and the food….oh, just so fantastic. I shall tuck this one away in my memory for when I’m rich, famous and need to host a very large, very upscale event.


To get your fancy on, visit The Four Seasons Chicago | 120 E Delaware Place, Chicago, IL 60611

4. Walter E. Smithe

How do you follow up Walter E. Smithe? Is it “You Dream it, We Build It”? Perhaps it’s the lilty “Custom Furniture” or maybe it’s “That’s Smithe with an E.” As a Chicagoan, all of the above answers are correct, and good luck getting the theme song out of your head for the rest of the day. Whatever your preference, it’s a place all of Chicago knows, but I’m guessing not nearly everyone in Chicago has been, and now there’s a super great reason to visit.

Recently Walter E. Smithe, Chicago’s favorite furniture store, teamed up with Jeff Lewis, a kick-ass house flipper & designer and star of perhaps my favorite Bravo reality show, (and I watch like 75% of them) “Flipping Out.” Jeff curated the collection, so you can shop room vignettes, and mix and match with Jeff-approved elements. Walter E. Smithe invited the public to a meet and greet with Jeff, Gage and Jenni at their Lincoln Park showroom, just mere blocks from my work. I collected another superfan, my friend Paul, and we browsed – playing the game “favorite thing in this room, and most hated thing in this room” re: the vignettes, drank margaritas, ate our weight in cheese, and then actually got to meet and greet Jeff, Gage & Jenni. Here is photographic evidence that this really happened.


For the location nearest you, visit Walter E. Smithe. The Lincoln Park location is at 2009 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

5. Chris’s Northland Tavern

I’ve declared a new rule for all Chicagoans – if you have lived in the city for over 5 years, and are over 21 of course, you MUST have a favorite dive bar. If you’re on board with this decree, let me know what your favorite is in the comments, and I’ll totally visit. Mine is Chris’s Northland Tavern, the definitive answer to the question I’m frequently asked “Where do you guys go out most often?”

Chris's Northland Tavern


Chris’s is that special combination of cheap, slightly rough-crowded and a short enough walk from home base that I’d go there even if it weren’t for the friendly bartenders who’ve worked their for years, and if you visit often enough, just might slip you a free shot or two. On top of all this awesomeness, there’s a TouchTunes jukebox, a pool table and a decent selection of beer, chips, and if you’re really drunk enough, food, but I’d skip that and eat a gyro from The Hat instead, which is just 2 doors away. Main Squeeze prefers gyros from Tarboush, located directly next door to Chris’s.

I can’t even tell you how many nights I’ve passed drinking, watching a game, talking with the bartenders and owning the jukebox at this superb Chicago dive bar. Open 365 days a year, if you’re over in Bucktown or Wicker Park and find yourself wandering near Ashland and North Ave, do yourself a favor and stop in for a beer. Tip your bartenders well!

Chris’s Northland Tavern is located at 1610 W North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622. They do not have a website, but you can read their reviews on Yelp



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