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    A requirement of any visit to Chicago is eating at least one slice of deep dish pizza in the city that perfected it. Deep dish pizza quickly became a Chicago staple after Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened the first Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and served a hearty new style of pizza constructed in a high-rimmed cake pan. The yeast crust was tender and flakey, like a pastry, and the cheese was layered under the sauce so that it wouldn’t burn in a hot oven for the long cooking time.

    While researching a home hack of this now iconic recipe I discovered an unexpected technique that I hadn’t seen in any other deep dish recipes. Employees told me the pizza crusts are partially cooked each morning to cut down on the wait time for customers. Before the restaurant opens each day, cooks press the dough into a pan and then sprinkle it with a little shredded cheese. The shells are then partially baked and set aside. Later, when an order comes in, the pizza is built into one of the par-baked crusts and finished off. This way customers get their food faster, and the tables turn over quicker.

    Copying that delicious, flakey crust was the task that took me the longest. After two weeks of baking, I finally settled on a formula that mashed-up yeast dough and pie crust, making a perfectly tender deep dish crust with great flavor that exactly mimicked the original. If you like Uno, you will love this.

    Regarding the cheese: be sure your cheese is at room temperature, and not cold, or it may not melt all the way through. Also, it’s best if you buy cheese by the block and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is dusted with cornstarch (so that the shreds don’t stick together in the bag), and it won’t melt as smoothly as cheese you shred by hand.

    This recipe will make enough sauce for two pizzas. Just thought you should know that in case you get the urge to make another deep dish after this one disappears.

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    Three components must be mastered to hack this top menu pick at the country’s largest fast Chinese chain: candied nuts, honey sauce, and perfectly battered shrimp. For the candied walnuts I came up with a technique using the oven, which means there’s no candy thermometer required and it’s a no-brainer. The shrimp at Panda Express is not tightly curled up, and you can do the same thing at home when you fry yours. Pinch the tail of each shrimp after it has been floured and dip it into the batter until well-coated. The weight of the batter will help to unfurl the shrimp, and if you lower each one slowly into the batter it will mostly stay that way. When all of the shrimp has fried, you bake them in the oven so that they are crispy and warm, then toss the shrimp and the nuts in the delicious honey sauce and serve.

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    Menu Description: "Two fresh breakfast favorites are even better together with our buttermilk pancakes swirled with cinnamon-brown sugar."

    This new Cheesecake Factory brunch item packs everything you love about cinnamon rolls into an extra-wide stack of pancakes, including buttery icing on top. To make pancakes that are caramel brown on their faces and super spongy with lots of air pockets, you’ll need a tablespoon of baking soda in the batter. When the alkaline baking soda collides with the acidic buttermilk, the batter will instantly puff up, making pancakes that are extra light and airy, and very dark on their surface, like pretzels.

    Your batter makes plain buttermilk pancakes until the secret cinnamon filling is swirled over the top of the batter when it's poured into the pan. The combination of brown sugar, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and butter will melt into the pancake, making it look and taste like a sweet, buttery cinnamon roll. Hopefully, you have a big griddle or very large skillet to cook these on. The original pancakes are 7 to 8 inches across, so you’ll need a big cooking surface if you want to cook more than one at a time. Or, you could just make smaller pancakes.

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    Barney's Beanery, the self-proclaimed "third oldest restaurant in Los Angeles," has a long history of celebrity patrons dropping by for a hot bowl of chili and a beer or three. John "Barney" Anthony opened the first Barney's Beanery in Berkley, California in 1920, and seven years later relocated the restaurant to its current location on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Barney's soon became a popular watering hole for film stars from the 20's and 30's, such as Clara Bow, Clark Gable, and John Barrymore. In the 50's and 60's Lou Costello was a regular, and so was Donald O'Connor, Charles Bukowski, and Dennis Hopper. Jim Morrison and his Doors bandmates were frequent customers since the offices of their record label, Elektra, was nearby. Janis Joplin was said to have had a drink there the night she died. The Brat Pack of the 80's—Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe, John Cusack, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore—would often come in to play pinball and video games. And Quentin Tarantino wrote most of his screenplay for Pulp Fiction while sitting at his favorite booth at Barney's.

    This original chili was a favorite of Peter Falk's character on Columbo, who ate it often at the restaurant on the TV show. But the show wasn't filmed there. The Barney’s Colombo viewers saw on TV was a sound stage replica.

    The secret to the flavor of this Barney's Beanery chili recipe comes from two chili powders that were popular in the West over 100 years ago around the time Barney's first opened—Gebhardt and Mexene. Chili powders were new at that time, and there were very few on the market, so it's highly likely these were ingredients used in the recipe that made Barney's Beanery famous. Find those and you're well on your way to hacking a classic chili. 

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    When pondering casual chains with the best Monte Cristo sandwiches, two come to mind: Bennigan's and Cheddar's. They are both turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches, battered and crispy on the outside, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with raspberry preserves for dipping. Yes, it probably sounds strange if you've never had one, but monte cristo alums know it all tastes really great together. I hacked Bennigans' version years ago for my cookbook Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2, and recently, on a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, was I able to get a taste of Cheddars' signature version of this famous sandwich.

    I planned for this mission by bringing along a cooler of ice so that I could get a fresh sample safely back home on the plane. Once I was back in the lab in Vegas I subjected the sandwich to a series of tasty tests, ran through several versions of batter, and eventually assembled this new Cheddar's Monte Cristo copycat recipe that I think is even better than Bennigan's version. The better batter is the big secret here—it's light and crispy, and perfectly golden brown, and the sandwich features two cheese, both white and yellow American cheese. Will this be the best monte cristo you've ever had? Do this to find out...

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    Since Panera Bread makes all its ingredients known, it's not hard to find out that there’s no chicken broth in the original recipe, yet every copycat recipe I located online calls for chicken broth, as well as other ingredients clearly not found in Panera's version. For the best possible clone, unlike other hacks, I’ve made this copycat using the same ingredients found listed on the company’s website.

    According to the ingredients info, there is yeast extract in the soup. This tasty ingredient provides the MSG-like savoriness in Panera’s soup, and we can duplicate it by using nutritional yeast—often called "nooch"—now found in many stores including Whole Foods. A little bit of nooch will provide the umami deliciousness that makes chicken broth unnecessary here.

    Panera keeps its soup gluten-free by thickening it with a combination of rice flour and cornstarch, rather than wheat flour. I’ve included those ingredients as well so that your clone is similarly gluten-free. Use the steps below and in about an hour you’ll have about 8 servings of a soup that is a culinary doppelganger for Panera Bread's all-time favorite soup, but at a mere fraction of the cost.

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    The health concerns regarding microwave popcorn are a result of the way it’s packaged. For the corn to pop, the kernels are submerged in boiling fat inside the bag until a buildup of steam in the kernels causes them to burst. To prevent the liquid fat from seeping through, the bags are lined with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, which, unfortunately for microwave popcorn lovers, has been linked to cancer and other nasty things.

    I set out on a mission to make better homemade microwave popcorn with only natural ingredients, and without using costly popping gadgets. I also wanted to avoid using plastic, tape, or metal, such as staples. My solution, like many others I researched, utilizes paper lunch bags, but with a new method for prepping the kernels. I was dismayed to find some discussions about the potential for problems using brown paper bags in your microwave oven, such as fire, but I had absolutely no issues any of the many times I did it. No smoke, no sparks, nothing looking at all dangerous was going on inside my magic cooking box. The USDA states that using paper bags in your microwave, “may cause a fire, and may emit toxic fumes,” yet the internet is full of microwave popcorn recipes calling for paper bags. So, I decided I will still share my recipe and technique, but ultimately leave it up to you to determine if it’s a hack recipe you feel safe using. 

    My hack starts with clarifying butter so that it’s pure fat, without any milk solids or water. Butter is about 16 percent water and if any of that stays in the mix, your popcorn will be on a fast trip to Soggytown. Once the butter is clarified, we’ll combine it with popcorn and salt and freeze it into pucks that can be saved for weeks, until you are ready to make quick popcorn.

    When it’s popcorn time, a puck goes into a small bowl, which goes inside two interlocking paper bags. After a warming session, you hit the “popcorn” button on your microwave oven and the popcorn will pop just like the store product (you may have to add another 30 seconds or so of cooking time). The first bag will soak up the excess butter that splashes around inside as the popcorn pops, and the second bag will keep the butter from messing up your oven.

    To serve, pull the bags apart over a big bowl, and you’ll have a fresh batch of hot microwave popcorn coated perfectly with real butter and salt.             

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    The Cheesecake Factory’s latest decadent dessert goes extreme with America’s favorite cookie. You’ll find Oreos in the middle of the cheesecake, in the cookie mousse layer, pressed onto the edge, sprinkled on the whipped cream, and even up on top where an Oreo wafer crowns each slice. In fact, this copycat Cheesecake Factory Oreo cheesecake recipe is designed to use every Oreo in a standard package—all 36 of them! This beautiful cheesecake starts with a chocolate cake layer, topped with a layer of chocolate buttercream icing, followed by a no-bake cheesecake layer, Oreo cookie mousse, and more chocolate icing. It’s a chocolate lover’s—and Oreo lover’s—dream, and, not surprisingly, one of The Cheesecake Factory’s best sellers.

    When creating your own version of this dessert masterpiece at home, be sure to use a 10-inch springform pan. This is a big cheesecake, and you'll get 12 large slices out of it. And it costs far less to hack this at home than to buy the real thing at the restaurant, which will set you back 56 bucks.

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