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    You've got to hand it to him. Alan Stillman thought that if he opened his own restaurant, it might be a great way to meet the flight attendants who lived in his New York City neighborhood. Not only did the dude follow through on his plan in 1965 with the first T.G.I. Friday's, but today the company is 387 units strong. 

    Friday's kitchen came up with a delicious blend of barbecue sauce and apple butter for coating the deep-fried chicken wings. For our reduced-fat clone, we'll re-create the same taste of the barbecue sauce, but we'll strip the skin from the chicken wings and bake the wings to cut the fat way down.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–3 pieces
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–150 (Original–235)
    Fat per serving–6 g (Original–16 g)

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

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    Taco Bell had very little luck with light menu items over the years. In 1983 the Mexican fast-food chain introduced Taco Light, a taco with a fried flour tortilla shell. But the fried flour tortilla that replaced the traditional corn tortilla only made the taco light in weight and color; not in fat or calories. The item was quickly discontinued. In 1995, the chain tried again with Light Line, a selection of several lower-fat menu items. Those items were also quickly nixed from the menu boards due to poor sales.

    When we cook at home, though, we often like to make a meal better on the waistline, especially if it takes no extra effort and the food still tastes good. This recipe will show you how to do just that: knock the fat way down—from ten grams to just two grams—without compromising flavor. Check it out.

    Nutrition Facts 
    Serving size–1 taco
    Total servings–6
    Calories per serving–172 (Original–213)
    Fat per serving–2g (Original–10g)

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

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    How's this for coincidence: both McDonald's and Taco Bell got their start in San Bernardino, California, in the early '50s. Glen Bell opened a hamburger and hot dog stand called Bell's Drive-In, while the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, were just around the corner with their golden arches and speedy drive-up service. "The appearance of another hamburger stand worried me then," says Glen. "I just didn't think there was enough room in town for both of us." Turns out there was enough room—for a while.

    In 1962 Glen decided that it was time to offer an alternative to the hamburger stands that were saturating the area, so he opened the first Taco Bell and changed his menu to Mexican food.

    Ten years and hundreds of new taco Bell openings later, the Burrito Supreme hit the menu and became an instant hit. By making this reduced-fat clone version at home, we can knock the fat down to less than one-fifth of the original.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–1 burrito
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–325 (Original–503)
    Fat per serving–4g (Original–22g)

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

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    Other hacks which claim to duplicate the fabulous flavor of this popular soup do not make good clones, yet the long grain and wild rice mix that many of these recipes call for is a great way to get just the right amount of rice in a perfect blend. But don’t use the flavor packet that comes with those rice kits, or your clone won’t be a clone. Toss out that packet (or use it elsewhere, see Tidbits) and follow the recipe described below for a better solution to a spot-on soup hack. Thanks to Panera Bread's policy of completely transparent ingredients, I discovered a surprising ingredient or two (wow, cabbage!), and was able to craft the best clone you’ll find for this signature soup.

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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 hottest of Taco Bell’s five hot sauces cranks the heat meter way up with a special blend of peppers for true chili heads. Diablo Sauce was introduced on Cinco de Mayo in 2015 as a limited-time-only product and was discontinued after just a short time. Demanding fans pleaded for the chain to bring the sauce back, and on May 5th of the following year, Diablo Sauce got a permanent spot in the Taco Bell hot sauce lineup.

    According to Taco Bell, the sauce contains aji panca, a sweet pepper, and chipotle, which is smoked red jalapeno. Since aji panca, a sweet Peruvian red pepper, can be hard to find, we'll use ground ancho instead, which has a similar taste. There are other peppers in the original recipe which remain a mystery, but it's easy to tell that at least one of them comes packing serious heat. I settled on habanero and cayenne, and the sauce had a perfect pronounced kick.

    Puree all of it in a blender then cook it for 10 minutes. Once cooled you’ll have an easy home hot sauce, with great flavor, that will knock your socks off. Just like the real thing.

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    I’m not sure when it happened, but it appears that Taco Bell changed its seasoned beef recipe. I hacked the recipe several years ago for the book Step-by-Step, and I recall the recipe had much more oat filler, so that’s how I cloned it. Taco Bell came under fire in 2011 for the significant amount of oats in the recipe that the chain was listing as “spices.” And after that, Taco Bell was more transparent about ingredients. But somewhere along the way it appears the company tweaked the recipe to include less filler and more flavor, so a new Top Secret Recipe had to be created.

    This recipe makes a duplicate of the beef currently served at Taco Bell. If you want to turn it into a Chalupa—which the restaurant makes by deep frying the flatbread used for Gorditas—the instructions are here. But you can also use this new, improved beef hack for anything you’re copying, whether it's tacos, burritos, Enchiritos, Mexican Pizzas, or a big pile of nachos.

    The secret ingredient in our hack is Knorr tomato bouillon. This flavor powder adds many ingredients found in the original recipe and provides the umami savoriness that’s required for a spot-on clone of the famous seasoned ground beef. To get the right flavor, you need to find "Knorr Tomato Buoillon with Chicken Flavor" powder. Not the bouillon cubes.

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    The 729-unit chain did not start its life as Qdoba. When the Mexican food chain was first founded by Robert Miller and Anthony Hauser in Denver, Colorado in 1995 it was called Zuma Mexican Grill, named after a friend’s cat. As it turns out, a restaurant in Boston had that same name and threatened to sue, so the partners changed the name to Z-Teca. It wasn’t long before two different restaurants threatened to sue for that name—Z’Tejas in Arizona and Azteca in Washington—and the partners were forced to change the name yet again. This time they called their restaurant  Qdoba, a completely made-up name that was unlikely to be used by anyone else.             

    A signature item and consistent top seller is this marinated adobo chicken, offered as a main ingredient in most of the chain’s selections. Make this chicken by marinating thigh meat for a couple of days in the secret adobo sauce (a worker there told me they let it soak for up to 8 days) then grill and chop. Use the flavorful chicken in burritos, tacos, bowls, on nachos, and in tortilla soup.

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    In January of 2017 Starbucks perfected slow-cooked sous vide-style egg snacks that can be prepped and served quickly by the baristas at any location. The trick is to make the egg pucks ahead of time, then freeze and ship them to the coffee stores where they are defrosted and reheated in blazing hot convection ovens.

    Sous vide refers to the method of cooking food sealed in bags or jars at a low, consistent temperature for a long time. This technique creates food that’s softer in texture and less dried out than food cooked with other, faster methods. Cooks who use sous vide will often vacuum pack their food in bags and use special machines to regulate temperature. But you won’t need an expensive machine like that for this recipe—just some 8-ounce canning jars and a blender.

    The secret to duplicating the smooth texture starts with blending the cheeses very well until no lumps remain. Rub some between your fingers to make sure it’s smooth before you pour it into the jars. It’s also important to monitor the temperature of the water. Try to keep it in a range of between 170 and 180 degrees F. so that your eggs are neither too tough nor too soft. It’s best to use a cooking thermometer for this, but if you don’t have one, the right temperature is just below where you see tiny bubbles rising to the surface. Also, if you hear the jars jiggling in the water, it’s their way of telling you the water is a little too hot.

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    When Popeyes debuted its new crispy chicken sandwich on August 12, 2019, the company was not prepared for the eruption of social media video posts comparing the new sandwich to Chick-fil-A’s classic chicken sandwich. As a result of the apparently unplanned instant viral campaign in which Popeyes almost always emerges as the winner, customers swarmed the stores and waited in long lines to try the now-famous sandwich. The buzz continued to build, day-by-day, and just two weeks after its debut the sandwich had sold out—an entire month ahead of schedule.

    But—sold out or not—you don’t need Popeyes to get the great taste combo of the crispy buttermilk breaded chicken breast, soft buttered brioche bun, mayo, and pickles. Fortunately, I was able to get my hands (and mouth!) on several of the sandwiches before they were gone, and cranked out a clone recipe so you can now re-create the hit sandwich any time you want. With these new tricks you’ll be able to make crispy chicken at home that’s flavorful, juicy, and tender, just like Popeyes, coated in a thick golden breading with the same light crunch.

    The secret to moist, tasty chicken is to brine it for several hours in a mixture of buttermilk, salt, and MSG. The buttermilk is slightly acidic, so it will help tenderize the chicken without making it too tough like harsher acids, while the salt adds flavor (as does the MSG) and keeps the chicken juicy. The MSG (monosodium glutamate) is an amino acid with a salt-like flavor that at one time was thought to be unhealthy but is now considered an important culinary additive. Popeyes uses it in their chicken because it provides an essential savory flavor to the chicken called “umami,” and you cannot make an accurate clone without it.

    To imitate the light, crispy breading, we’ll use baking powder in the flour. The baking powder forms bubbles in the flour when the chicken cooks so that the breading is tender and crispy, rather than crusty and dense. I found that self-rising flour works great since it conveniently has just the right amount of baking powder and salt already added. But don't use a low-protein self-rising flour like White Lily. That brand is awesome for biscuits, but its low gluten content makes it not stick well on chicken breasts. I used Gold Medal self-rising flour, and it worked great. If all-purpose flour is all you’ve got, that can work as well. I’ve put measurements for using A.P. flour, plus baking powder and salt, in the Tidbits below. 

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