Monday, December 17, 2012

Warming up with Panera Soups

The Setting: My mom's kitchen table--we're home for the holidays!

The Soundtrack: Bing Crosby.

On the Stovetop: My mom's turkey chili.

The Scenario: As part of the DailyBuzz Food Tastemakers program, I received a stipend to taste and blog about Panera soups. From old favorites to new, it was a very tasty assignment.

When I started college at Auburn University, Panera Breads had not yet expanded to that particular corner of rural Alabama.

My roommate and I, who had both fallen in love with Panera on visits to other college towns, would often drive 45 minutes each way to a Panera in Montgomery just to get our carb fix. We were addicted.

From my little dorm-room desk, I frequently emailed the chain, asking that they please, please, please open a store near my school.

Soon my dreams came true. I was first in line when the doors were unlocked on opening day, and if I had spent half as much time in class as I had in Panera after that, I'd be a whole lot more employable now.

Bagels and Hazelnut Cream Cheese were my weakness, but the hearty, low-fat soups were a pleasure I could partake in even when trying to overcome that pesky college weight-gain.

And when nights were long and drinks were cheap, there was no morning-after headache that a bowl of Panera Chicken Noodle Soup and hunk of crusty bread couldn't fix.

These days, I'm in a new college town, in a very different place in my life, and though there is a Panera nearby, I rarely make it that way.

So when I got the excuse to grab some Panera soup the other day, I was excited to share the experience with Hoosband and the little one.

Oia is a big fan of soup, or "Doup! Doup!" as she likes to say. She happily slurped down a good portion of our Low-Fat-All-Natural Chicken Noodle Soup on this trip.

Though the chicken noodle soup was not quite as comforting as I remember from my college days (I feel like the noodles used to be a bit puffier and the broth ever-so-slightly thicker with just a pinch more salt), it's definitely a comfort to know its natural, hormone-free chicken is something I can feel good about sharing with my daughter when we're dining out.

Hoosband and I are big clam chowder fans, so we had to try that one as well, and we agreed it was the show-stopper of the evening.

Every bite called us back to our recent trip up the Northeast coast, where clam is king. The creaminess of the soup is cut just right with the briny essence of fresh clam nectar, and little bites of clam mingle happily with perfectly cooked potatoes. It's amazing how much flavor is packed in every velvety bite!

The Sourdough Bread Bowl makes the perfect vessel, implement, and accompaniment, as its pillowy interior absorbs the soup, and its rustic exterior crunches in contrast.

We may no longer be undergrads in search of a taste of home or a hangover cure, but with the cold Midwestern winter ahead, we'll certainly need some comfort food. And it seems Panera is still the place to go.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

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