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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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    Bob Evans built his first restaurant on a farm in Rio Grande, Ohio in 1962, primarily to sell his own brand of high-quality sausage. Business was good. Really good. There are now over 500 Bob Evan's Restaurants in 18 states, each one decorated in a country-living theme that reminds us of the original farm location. Customers seem to like it. They also seem to like the packaged baked goods sold at each of the restaurants under the Bob Evan's Farms brand, especially this top-selling, chewy, chocolate chunk cookie that can now be hacked in a snap by you.

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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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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    First impressions are important, and after my first bite of Denny's new buttermilk pancakes, I couldn't stop thinking about waffle cones. Back in the lab I mashed a standard waffle cone recipe with one of mine for buttermilk pancakes and was able to come up with the perfect hack for Denny’s new improved flapjacks. And because of their unique waffle cone flavor, these pancakes taste just as great doused with maple syrup as they do topped with a big scoop of ice cream.

    The recipe makes 8 big 6-inch pancakes which you will form by measuring one-half cup of batter into your preheated griddle or skillet. If you have a large griddle pan you may be able to make a couple of these at a time. With smaller pans though you’ll have to make one at time, which will take a little longer. And that’s why they invented Mimosas.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    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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    Score: 4.86. Votes: 7

    You're grilling some steaks or baking some chicken and don't know what to serve on the side? Try out this simple clone for a dish that's served along with several of Applebee's entrees. Since the recipe requires converted rice because instant rice is gross, you have to plan ahead about 25 minutes to give the rice time to cook. It's worth the wait. The secret to an authentic, great-tasting rice pilaf is sauteing the uncooked rice kernels in butter first, before adding the liquid—in this case chicken broth. Then, as the rice is cooking, you have plenty of time to saute the almonds, celery, and onions that are tossed into the rice at the end.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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    This big salad of mixed greens, fajita steak, pico de gallo, black beans, bell peppers, corn and guacamole comes slathered with two types of salad dressings plus fried tortilla chips, making the restaurant version a fat-filled fiesta.

    The two dressings here are made fat-free, knocking the fat grams down to around a third of what you'd down in the original. There are several components here in this conversion, but this recipe makes four of the huge entree-size salads, and the results are worth the effort. This recipe clones the steak version of the salad, but you can also replace the beef with chicken.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–1 salad
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–591 (Original–784)
    Fat per serving–15g (Original–45g)

    Source: Low-Fat Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    This is Applebee’s variation on the popular potato skins appetizer made famous by T.G.I. Friday’s. Many seem to prefer these to regular potato skins because of their south-of-the-border flair. The only problem is a serving has around 12 grams of fat (even more if you plop on some sour cream). And that’s for only three pieces. If you usually don’t stop there, you might be interested in this TSR version of the delicious dish, which cuts the fat by 66 percent. Now you can eat three times as much of these Mexican-style potato skin wedges for the same amount of fat as the real deal, thanks to reduced-fat cheese and fat-free sour cream.

    Nutrition facts 
    Serving size–3 pieces 
    Total servings–4 
    Calories per serving–246 (Original–390) 
    Fat per serving–4g (Original–12g)

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 4

    Menu Description: "Tossed in our honey-chipotle sauce."

    After cloning the plain version of these breaded chicken fingers in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2, I received requests to knockoff this more flavorful sweet-and-spicy version. If you like big flavor and some heat, this is the clone for you. The breading technique is the big secret: first use a wet batter and then toss the tenders in a dry breading. When the chicken tenders are fried to a golden brown they are gently tossed in the honey-chipotle sauce and served either as an appetizer, or with corn on the cob and French fries as an entree.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    Menu Description: "Topped with vanilla ice cream under a hard chocolate shell."

    After the success of the Molten Chocolate Cake, Chili's chefs went back into the development kitchen and emerged with this incredible white chocolate variation that has become the new go-to meal ender. Just as with my clone for the Molten Chocolate Cake in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2, I found that an instant cake mix is the perfect solution to quickly and easily copy this awesome dish. It just so happens that Duncan Hines Butter Recipe cake mix produces a butter cake that perfectly matches the moist, buttery cake in the Chili's original. For the molten white chocolate inside the cake we mix melted white chocolate chips with cream and then spoon the creamy mixture into a hole cut into each cake. Pop the filled cakes into your refrigerator, and then when you're ready to serve the dessert, nuke each one in the microwave to heat up the filling, add ice cream and a little white chocolate on top, and serve. This is a great make-ahead dish since the loaded cakes can be stored in your refrigerator for a couple days (or even longer in your freezer), and when you're ready to plate the impressive dessert each serving only takes a minute or two to set up.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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