Lee and I frequently stop in at Panera when we are out and about and hungry. I like that their Chai Tea Latte is not the same as the one served at all Starbucks and most other coffee chains. It is peppery and I really like it. Their salads, soup and sandwiches are the best and let's not even talk about their baked goods. I prefer a New York Style bagel for a plain bagel, but their flavored ones are delicious.
I recently received an invitation from the Panera at Valley View Mall. They were having a tasting party for My Panera card members. This is a free card that you get through Panera and you swipe it when shopping there, similar to other cards. If you use the My Panera card, you get occasional treats, like a discount on a salad or a free baked item. This time we got a great opportunity to try the new food offerings and to contribute to a good cause.
Feeding America was collecting non-perishable breakfast food at the event. Feeding America, Southwest Virginia, supplies food to local and distant food banks and other places that feed the hungry. I know that Panera does not sell their day old bread and pastries. They donate them to organizations that feed the hungry. Would you rather have a loaf of day old white bread or some focaccia or sourdough from Panera? No contest in MY book. So we fed ourselves and helped out a struggling family. A nice evening.
We were given tastings of Vegetarian Autumn Squash soup. It was a bit sweeter than Butternut Squash Soup and very creamy. It was topped with toasted pumpkin seeds. Delicious.
They had Roasted Turkey Harvest Wheatberry Salad. I love wheatberries and used to buy them to use in my whole wheat breads. Can't find them around here. They are the berries of wheat that are ground up to make flour. When soaked overnight or cooked in a simmering pan of water they become plump and have a bit of bite to them. I used to know someone who would soak them overnight and then have them for breakfast in a cereal bowl with milk. Yum! Panera has tossed a few with field greens, thin slices of turkey and a maple balsamic vinaigrette. Don't forget the Gorgonzola cheese. This will be the next meal I have at Panera.
Another new menu item is for breakfast. It is a creamy soufflé. In fact it is a Roasted Tomato and Feta Baked Egg Soufflé. Their flaky bread dough is used as a bowl to hold the tomatoes and feta and baked with a luscious egg mixture to creamy perfection. It was delicious and vegetarian, for those who care about such things. Hi, Tara! She is not fond of sundried tomatoes, but these are sliced, roasted tomatoes and just perfect.
Panera rounded out the meal with a few other treats from their regular menu and even gave a demonstration on scoring baguettes before baking, that you could eat after it was baked. I even "scored" a recipe for French Bread Margherita Pizza to fix at home, using one of their baguettes, of course. And now, you can, too!
September is Hunger Action Month, so consider Feeding America in Salem if you are looking for a place to donate time or money.