Metro-East Living

Make these Panda Express, Panera recipes at home

A copycat recipe of Panera Bread’s Autumn Squash Soup.
A copycat recipe of Panera Bread’s Autumn Squash Soup.

There are all these websites that tout recipes that copycat the ones you love to eat in restaurants or have delivered to your door.

There are reasons we go out or order in: Because we’re tired. Because we don’t have time to cook. Because while we like to cook, what we want is too complicated to make. The list goes on.

I think dishes like fried rice and pad thai are deceivingly simple looking, but not necessarily simple to make.

That said, the other day a friend mentioned her craving for sticky, crunch Panda Express’ Orange Chicken. I didn’t know if it would be easy to make at home. I told her, guessing, that it would at least involve frying battered poultry, which would mean a mess in the kitchen.

On the other hand, I really wanted a bowl of St. Louis Bread Co.’s Autumn Squash Soup. I didn’t think it would be too involved to make.

Looking up both recipes on copycat sites, I was right on both accounts.

Panera Bread’s Autumn Squash Soup is made with butternut squash, pumpkin, apple juice, half-and-half and vegetable broth and seasoned with cinnamon and curry. It’s also gluten-free. Relatively simple to pull together, except you have to cut up and cook the squash first.

The Orange Chicken is, as suspected, deep-fat fried pieces of battered chicken that are then baked in a special spicy orange sauce. The sauce is at least easy to make.

So, with caveats, I offer the recipes for both on page 2B.

Fruitcake clarification

Last week, the print version of this column omitted the phone number and email address of Martha Brockus, of Edwardsville. She makes Rosalie’s Fruitcakes (see Facebook) and is now taking orders for the Christmas season. Call her at 618-531-0040 or email to order.

Contact me at, 618-239-2664 and follow me on Twitter @BoyleSuzanne. Write to 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

Copycat Panda Express Orange Chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced


1/4 cup orange juice concentrate

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes


3 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups cornstarch

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 cup coconut oil (for frying)

2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a pot, combine orange juice concentrate, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and red pepper flakes. Heat until boiling. Set aside.

In a large wok or skillet, heat coconut oil and vegetable oil to medium.

Add beaten eggs to a large bowl. In another bowl, combine cornstarch, salt and pepper. Dip chicken pieces in egg mixture, then in cornstarch, twice, finishing with a cornstarch layer.

Fry the battered chicken pieces in hot oil until golden brown. Transfer to a 9-by-9-inch baking dish.

Drizzle sauce over chicken. Bake 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to coat. Serve over sticky rice, if desired.

Note: If you do not have coconut oil at home, go ahead and use regular vegetable oil. Watch the temperature of the oil, though, because it can burn more quickly without the addition of the coconut oil.

Panera Bread’s Autumn Squash Soup

1 extra-large butternut squash

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

15-ounce can pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cups apple juice

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Roasted pumpkin seeds for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Peel squash. Remove seeds and cut in chunks. Place in baking dish or on cookie sheet and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until fork tender.

Mash squash with a potato masher and place in a large stock pot.

Add pumpkin, apple juice, half-and-half and vegetable broth.

Puree ingredients with an immersion blender until well mixed.

Add honey, curry, cinnamon, salt and pepper, and heat through about 10-15 minutes at a low simmer.

To serve, garnish bowls of soup with roasted pumpkin seeds.

Note: Adjust the apple juice, vegetable broth and half-and-half according to how large your butternut squash is. If the squash is smaller, decrease liquids. If it’s a whopper, you may have to increase this amount.