Monday, June 13, 2011

The Panera Experience & A Giveaway

Today, we are going to step outside of my normal recipe sharing and instead, share with you some other type of delicious food.

I'm sure many of you have no idea about my complete and utter obsession fascination with Panera. When I lived in New York and was working at Barnes & Noble, there was a Panera across the street. I would go there almost every day (though we called it Pantera's). My favorite thing to get was the pick 2 with the Smoked Turkey Breast sandwich and the Greek Salad.

Over the years I have tried a variety of things off the Panera menu. The BBQ chopped chicken salad is amazing! The Tomato & Mozarella Panini is fantastic. And my Missouri favorite was the Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich with the Mac & Cheese. 

So when my Little Sister called and asked me if I would like to go with her to a VIP tasting of the new Summer menu items I literally jumped at the chance! (After all, her obsession love of Panera is because of me).

We arrived and were greeted by the lovely hosts at the door. They checked us in, gave us plates, napkins, utensils and cups. 

We entered into the dining room and were just in time for a presentation by the location manager, the district manager and the day baker.

Let the food commence!

There's my wonderful Little Sister who invited me to the testing! Say hi Little Sister!!

Can you tell she takes after me?? Especially with goofy faces and horrible picture being taken skills??

The food, the food!! I started my meal with this Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup. This soup may have been a bit hot for the 100 degree day we were having but I didn't care. Though it's a hot soup, the flavor is so light and refreshing that you won't even notice the sweat dripping down your face as you eat it! What I especially love about this soup is that it was served with lemon slices in it!

Next, I moved on to the Napa Chicken Salad Sandwich. This is not a new item, but it's perfect for summer. It's a traditional chicken salad, though chunky and light, with red onions and grapes tossed among the chicken. Not my favorite sandwich, but I didn't leave a bit of it on my plate either.

The star of this tasting, for me, was the new (to me) Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad. I may or may not have had a couple few of these bad boys. OH. EM. GEE was it good!!! Romaine lettuce tossed with walnuts, strawberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple slices and blueberries all topped with a poppyseed dressing. Be still my heart!!! Have I mentioned that this was freaking delicious???? I cannot wait to have more!

Next up, the Frozen Strawberry Lemonade. I don't tend to be a fan of smoothies because I think they are a bit too sweet. But this one was the perfect blend of sweet strawberry puree and tart lemon. My slurping every last drop out of the bottom of my cup with my straw was almost embarrassing...almost. My Little Sister ended up getting a large one of these to go! LOL!

And finally, the sweets. Though this isn't new to the menu, I had never tried it. This is the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel. Just look at those pockets of cinnamony goodness! And the crunchy topping sent me over the moon! I will admit, I bought one of these to go and enjoyed it toasted with butter the next morning. So good!

Now I have to tell you about the highlight of the entire experience for me! When the Day Baker made her presentation (which was pretty much an ode to the Frech kinda girl) she also mentioned that she would take 5 people at a time back to help her bake the baguettes! Are you kidding me??? I barely let her say another word before I was volunteering for the first group of people! The poor girl seemed shocked and pleasantly surprised that I (or anyone for that matter) wanted to do this with her! So me, my Little Sister and one other awesome lady followed dear Haley the Day Baker to her tiny little corner in the back of the kitchen (I'm seriously not sure how we all fit back there).

Here's Haley showing us the measurements of the baguettes that they use. She gave us a great tip for baking bread as well, instead of dusting the bottom of your pan with regular flour, use rice flour. It's a more cornstarch consistency and works better than regular. Awesome!

Here's Haley showing us how to flip the dough onto the containers, onto the boards (me and my pregnant brain forgot what those boards are called). So you can see from the above picture that yes, my Little Sister takes after me. I can rarely get my picture taken without making some kind of stupid face and ruining the whole thing.

I loved Haley's presentation so much. I was so grateful to be able to see a bit more of the inner workings of Panera and how they bake their baguettes. Haley was so impressed and thankful that we wanted to have this experience with her that instead of giving us a half a baguette (which was promised to volunteers who went back to help) she brought each of us a whole baguette! And you better believe that sucker almost didn't make it home. How can I resist hot Panera baguette, fresh from the oven...pass the butter please!!

All in all the experience was fantastic! The food was amazing (though I didn't doubt that for a second) and the Panera location and employees were all amazingly friendly and accommodating. I'm so glad I went. And seriously...go get that salad!!! You won't regret it!!

And to help you on your way to enjoying the amazingness that is Panera...I'm going to give away a $15 gift card to Panera! You know you want this!

To enter to win this giveaway just answer this question:

What is your favorite thing to order at Panera?

For extra entries:

  • Become a follower of Jolts & Jollies through Google Friend Connect or RSS Feed
  • "Like" Jolts & Jollies on Facebook
  • Follow me @mannadonn on Twitter
  • Tweet about this giveaway (make sure @mannadonn and a direct link to this post are mentioned)
That's up to 5 entries! 

This giveaway will close on Monday, June 20th at 6pm Mountain Time. Winner will be announced on this post on Tuesday, June 21st. Good luck! This giveaway is now closed. The winner is #13 Elizabeth!! Thanks to everyone who entered!

Thanks to my Little Sister, Panera Bread and Haley for making my night so memorable!

The thoughts and pictures expressed and shared in this review are my own. No one paid me for this and I wasn't compensated in any way (unless you count the free tasting menu, but they didn't know about my blog/review).
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