I've spent a lot of time in my car in the last few years. There were the summer trips between Los Angeles and the Midwest. Then I drove from the Midwest to DC and then from DC back to Los Angeles. There were a few Los Angeles to San Francisco trips in there, too. Why am I telling you this? Because I'm going to talk road food that really isn't fast food. And because I have an announcement that explains what all that driving was about these past two weeks.
First, the announcement. Those who follow me on Twitter must be wondering what chaos is going on in my life. I've been driving through Gilroy, apartment hunting, and whining a lot. I got a job. I'm going to be a professional blogger. Seriously, people. Except that I won't be writing about food--I'll be writing about the law and being paid to do so. This necessitated a move to Silicon Valley, and thus I now reside in Santa Clara. Those of you in San Francisco and the East and South Bays are now on my list. We are going to hang out, so let's start making plans. And I apologize to those of you who were regaled with my roommate hunting extravaganza. People here are weird--no cooking, light cooking, no cooking oil, and microwave or boiling water only. Weird. And The Baking Barrister will not suffer now that I'm making money. I still have to eat, right?
Now, back to the food. The worst part of my drives was always food time. Sure, I could have looked up a destination in each city I stopped in, but I never knew exactly where I was going to stop. Plus I was tired and grumpy, which is never good when combined with hungry. Your typical fast food joint doesn't do it for me--I always end up regretting it an hour later, making my drives more complicated. Enter Panera (also known as St. Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Café). I spent an inordinate amount of time in the various locations near my law school. Free wireless internet, free refills, delicious bread, and quick food I didn't feel horrible about putting in my body. It's no wonder it has become my road food of choice, prompting me to pull off the highway when the "Food" sign alerts me to its presence.
There were no window seats left.
I don't normally do restaurant reviews on my blog, but when contacted by Panera, I couldn't say no.* Today I took a break from my errand extravaganza and stopped in for lunch. I'm a You Pick Two girl--usually opting for soup and salad. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had a new Low Fat All Natural Chicken Noodle soup, which is the third low fat soup on their menu. I was even more surprised when I dug in and found large chunks of chicken breast, a glut of noodles, and a hefty helping of carrot. In addition to the soup, I had a Caesar Salad that was laced with freshly grated parmesan and asiago croutons. And I got the side of bread; it's bread, and I can't help myself around bread. The point is, my salad and soup was a total of 300 calories, with a little added for the bread. If you wanted to opt for the Classic Cafe Salad, that would have been 180 calories. And if you're going for really healthy, you can opt for an apple instead of the bread. But that's a choice I'm not yet willing to make.
Besides being such a huge part of my law school memories, I'm kind of obsessed with Panera's Asiago and Three Cheese Demis. In celebration of finding a room that permits me to utilize the kitchen without restriction, I decided to break in the kitchen tonight. With some of my favorite bread, of course. I picked up two loaves of the Three Cheese Demi after lunch and started dreaming of savory bread pudding. I can't even begin to explain how happy I am that I used this bread. The deep flavors of parmesan, asiago and romano permeated the entire dish and accompanied the spinach and mushrooms (and white wine!) perfectly. Also, a shout out to Speakeasy Kitchen for the sage suggestion, the addition of which, I think, completed the dish.
Now go make this.
*Panera provided me with a gift card and a little compensation to write about my experience. I agreed because of my long-standing love affair with the chain and its bread. You should already know I don't mince words when it comes to bread.
Cheesy Mushroom &
Spinach Bread Pudding
3 cups Three Cheese Demi
1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
few turns of the pepper mill
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4 cup shiitakes, chopped
1/2 cup cremini, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups spinach
1/2 cup shredded asiago
Preheat oven to 375F.
1. Slice bread into one inch chunks and place in a square baking dish.
2. Mix together milk, eggs, salt, pepper and sage. Pour the mixture over the bread, utilizing a plate to keep bread submerged.
3. Heat olive oil in saute pan. Add garlic, shallot and mushrooms. When browned, add wine. Allow to cook until all liquid has evaporated. Add mixture to bread.
4. Saute spinach until most of the moisture is removed. Add, along with the cheese, to the bread bowl.
5. Evenly divide mixture between four greased ramekins. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes until brown and the custard has set.