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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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    The same slow-cooking technique is used to copy this yolk-less companion to the Bacon & Gruyere Sous Vide Egg Bites, but instead of bacon, this version comes with roasted red pepper, green onion, and spinach.

    Because there is no yolk, a little rice flour is used to help hold everything together. I suspect Starbucks chose rice flour to keep the product gluten-free, even though most people really don’t mind a little gluten, and gluten does a much better job of binding. I include the rice flour here but you can substitute with all-purpose wheat flour if gluten isn't a concern, and if you don’t feel like buying a whole bag of rice flour just to use 2 teaspoons out of it.  

    To get the same smooth texture in your egg bites as Starbucks be sure to blend the mixture until no bits of cheese can be felt when you rub some between your fingers. The recipe tastes best with full-fat cottage cheese, but you can still use low-fat cottage cheese if you feel like trimming some of the fat.

    Check out my other clone recipes for your favorite Starbucks drinks and baked goods here.

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    Score: 4.50. Votes: 4

    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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    Score: 4.43. Votes: 7

    In Los Angeles in 1957, Del Johnson noticed an article in the Wall Street Journal about a successful $1.09 per steak steakhouse chain with locations in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Inspired by the article, Del decided to open his own steakhouse in L.A., but with a twist that would save him money. His idea was to develop a steakhouse where customers would order their food at a food counter and pick it up when it was ready. Doesn't sound that exciting, but the concept was a hit. After the first Sizzler was open for a year, Del decided to run a two-day, one-cent anniversary sale: buy one steak at the regular price and get a second for just a penny. Del said, "We opened at 11:00. People were lined up from 11:00 until 9:00 at night, and we sold 1,050 steaks in one day and about 1,200 the second day."

    With every meal, Sizzler serves a slice of tasty cheese toast. It's a simple hack recipe that goes well with just about any entree.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Menu Description: "A huge, savory 16 oz. bone-in U.S.D.A choice steak prepared with a smoky marinade and fire-grilled. Smothered with sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers and real smoked bacon."

    "Come in for dinner and I'll do the dishes," Stuart Anderson used to promise in television ads. Stuart had a down-home appeal that worked wonders for his chain. Stuart was a rancher who raised a small number of cattle, Clydesdales, and sheep for many years, and was known for his casual, laid-back approach to just about everything. When he opened the first restaurant he built it on a "ranch-to-restaurant" philosophy, meaning that he could supply the fresh beef from his own small ranch, or at least imply that was the case. But as the dinner house's popularity exploded over the years, larger suppliers had to help supply the beef to the growing chain. Still, the fable lived on, and it worked very well for the restaurant. Even with more than one hundred stores in the chain, customers continued to believe they were getting home-grown steaks picked by Stuart himself.

    Now you can hand pick your own T-bone steaks when you make this hack recipe for steak in a smoky marinade that clones the Stuart Anderson's Black Angus favorite. The recipe here is for T-bone steaks, but you can use the marinade and topping on any cut of beef. If you can, plan on marinating the steaks overnight for the best flavor.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Menu Description: "Refried beans, cheddar cheese, guacamole, black olives, seasoned sour cream, green onions, tomatoes and cilantro. Served with tortilla chips and fresh salsa."

    When the first T.G.I. Friday's opened in New York City in 1965 as a meeting place for single adults, Newsweek and The Saturday Evening Post reported that it was the beginning of the "singles age." Today the restaurant's customers have matured, many are married, and they bring their children with them to the more than 300 Friday's across the country and around the world.

    The Nine-Layer Dip is an often requested appetizer on the T.G.I. Friday's menu. This dish will serve half a dozen people easily, so it's perfect for a small gathering. Don't worry if there's only a couple of you—leftovers can be refrigerated for a day or two. 

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Menu Description: "Chargrilled all-white meat turkey burger, served on a toasted whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, onions and avocado."

    Noting the success of the first T.G.I. Friday's in New York City, a group of fun-loving Dallas businessmen opened the first franchise store. The investors decorated their Dallas T.G.I. Friday's with antiques and collectibles gathered from around the countryside—now all of the Friday's are decorated that way. Six months after the opening of the Dallas location, waiters and waitresses began doing skits and riding bicycles and roller skates around the restaurant. That's also when the now defunct tradition of ringing in every Friday evolved. Thursday night at midnight was like a New Year's Eve party at T.G.I. Friday's, with champagne, confetti, noisemakers, and a guy jumping around in a gorilla suit.

    Here's a favorite of burger lovers who don't care where the beef is. It's an alternative to America's most popular food with turkey instead of beef, plus some alfalfa sprouts and avocado to give it a "California" twist.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Menu Description: "Healthful, nonalcoholic frozen fruit drinks." Gold Medalist: "Coconut and pineapple, blended with grenadine, strawberries and bananas." Tropical Runner: "Fresh banana, pineapple and pina colada mix with frozen with crushed ice."

    From the "obscure statistics" file, T.G.I. Friday's promotional material claims the restaurant was the first chain to offer stone-ground whole wheat bread as an option to its guest. It was also the first chain to put avocados, bean sprouts, and Mexican appetizers on the menu.

    Also a first: Friday's Smoothies. In response to growing demand for nonalcoholic drinks, T.G.I. Friday's created smoothies. Here are recipes to clone two of the nine different fruit blend varieties. 

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 2

    Menu Description: "Tender, select-cut pork spare ribs basted with our special-recipe sauce. Nothing could be finer..."

    This smoky sauce is perfectly sweetened with honey and molasses, and it bites just a bit with pepper sauce. Smother pork spareribs, baby back ribs and beef ribs with the sauce, as they do at the restaurant. Use the cooking technique from here to make the ribs.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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