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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 6

    You won't find freezers, can openers, or microwave ovens at this national Mexican food chain. Since 1990 Baja Fresh has been serving up great food, made fresh with each order. As you're waiting for your food to come out, that's when you hit up the salsa bar, where you'll find several varieties of delicious fresh salsa, from hot to mild, ready to be spooned into little tubs that you can take to your table or to your car. One of the most popular selections is called Salsa Baja—its medium spiciness, smoky flavor, and deep black color make the salsa unique and mysterious. That is, until now, since I've got a Top Secret formula for you right here. But the recipe wasn't as easy to create as I first thought. I figured the tomatoes would have to be extremely blackened over a hot grill, but I wasn't sure how to get them dark enough to turn the salsa black without the tomatoes getting all mushy and falling apart on the barbecue.

    So, I went back to Baja Fresh before they opened to peer through the window to see if I could catch some hot salsa production action. I waited and waited. After several hours as the lunch rush was beginning to wind down and no fresh salsa was in the pipeline, it was time for extreme measures to get things moving. I went in and ordered 30 tubs of Salsa Baja to go, and that did it. I ended up with a big bag filled with 2 gallons of salsa (thankfully they poured those 8-ounce portions into bigger bowls), and the restaurant went immediately into "salsa red alert" to replenished the now-dwindling salsa reserve. It was perfect. As I was grabbing my bag of salsa, a dude come out from the kitchen with a huge box of tomatoes and placed them all on the grill. I ordered a giant Diet Pepsi and parked myself at a close table to watch the process. That's when I discovered the secret. For super-charred tomatoes they start with firm, chilled tomatoes, that aren't too big or too ripe. I also found out that the tomatoes must start roasting on the grill with the stem-side down. The rest was simple...

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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    By the end of 1997, there were 1,166 Boston Market outlets in 38 states. It took only ten years for the company to reach this number of units—pretty impressive growth. The cinnamon apple side dish has been on the menu since the company opened the doors to its first outlet. The dish from the chain is fairly low in fat—only 4.5 grams of fat per serving—but there is apparently some butter or oil in there. Using the right cooking techniques and some Butter Buds, we can easily take that fat all the way down to zippo, while still getting all of the same great flavors. 

    Want more Boston Market? Click here to see if I hacked your favorites. 

    Nutritional Facts
    Serving size–1/2 cup 
    Total servings–4 
    Calories per serving–177 (Original–250)
    Fat per serving–0g (Original–4.5g)

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur.

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    Led by CEO Leonard Rawls, the Hardee's Company opened its first hamburger restaurant in 1961 at the corner of Church Street and Falls Road in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Hardee's has grown steadily through the years, with a number of well-planned acquisitions: first, the purchase of the 200-unit Sandy's chain in 1972, then the buyout of the 650-unit Burger Chef chain in 1983. The company's latest acquisition was the 1990 buyout of the 648 Roy Rogers restaurants. This latest purchase made Hardee's the third largest hamburger chain in the world, just behind McDonald's and Burger King. With that acquisition, the company claimed to be operating close to 3,800 restaurants in forty-one states and nine foreign countries. 

    Hardee's was the first major hamburger chain to switch to all-vegetable oil to cook its fried products. One of those products is french fries, the most popular item on the Hardee's menu.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    This is a simple little recipe that is healthy and delicious. Along with your chicken order from this fast-growing West Coast chain, comes your choice of side orders. Pinto beans is the most popular choice. But the real thing has some fat that you won't need to include in this light version. And this recipe will give you pintos that taste just like the original, along with a little heat from finely minced jalapeno peppers. Spoon some of these beans into a tortilla along with chicken. Or maybe just serve them on the side.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–1/2 cup
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–96 (Original–145)
    Fat per serving–0g (Original–3g)

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 3.50. Votes: 2

    Here's a hack for a dish served with your chicken from El Pollo Loco. We cut the fat in this version, but still get Spanish rice that still has all of the flavor of the original side. Be sure to use converted rice, and not the instant stuff. 

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–3/4 cup
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–187 (Original–155)
    Fat per serving–0g (Original–4g)

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Lite by Todd Wilbur.

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    Menu Description: "Grilled Bread Topped with Fresh Chopped Tomato, Red Onion, Garlic, Basil and Olive Oil."

    In 1972, Oscar and Evelyn Overton moved from Detroit to Los Angeles to build a wholesale bakery that would sell cheesecakes and other high-quality desserts to local restaurants. Business was a booming success, but some restaurants balked at the high prices the bakery was charging for its desserts. So, in 1978, the couple's son David decided to open a restaurant of his own—the first Cheesecake Factory restaurant—in posh Beverly Hills. The restaurant was an immediate success and soon David started an expansion of the concept. Sure, the current total of 20 restaurants doesn't seem like a lot, but his handful of stores earns the chain more than $100 million in business each year. That's more than some chains with four times the number of outlets rake in. 

    Bruschetta is one of the top-selling appetizers at the restaurant chain. Bruschetta is toasted bread flavored with garlic and olive oil, broiled until crispy, and then arranged around a pile of tomato-basil salad in vinaigrette. This salad is scooped onto the bruschetta, and then you open wide. This version makes five slices just like the dish served at the restaurant, but the recipe can be easily doubled. 

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 4.67. Votes: 3

    Menu Description: "Our famous fries are fresh cut daily from whole potatoes with the skins left on."

    Not only can I show you the best way to make french fries at home in this clone of Islands top-selling version, but I'm also supplying you with a super simple way to make the same type of salt blend that Islands uses to make those fries so dang addicting. As with any good french fry recipe, you'll need to slice your potatoes into strips that are all equal thickness. That means you need a mandoline, or similar slicing device, that makes 1/4-inch slices. Once you've got your potatoes cut, you must rinse and soak them in water to expel the excess starch. The frying comes in two stages: A quick blanching stage, and the final frying to put a crispy coating on the suckers. Islands uses a combination of peanut and vegetable oils in their fryers, so you simply combine the two in your home fryer. The whole process is not that tough once you get going, and certainly worth the effort if hungry mouths are waiting for the perfect homemade french fries. However, if you want to simplify the process because your hungry mouths aren't of the patient sort, you could certainly buy frozen french fries, cook 'em up following the instructions on the bag, and then sprinkle on this garlic/onion salt blend for a quick-and-easy kitchen clone.

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    Score: 4.81. Votes: 16

    Menu Description: "A traditional topping of roma tomatoes, fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil. Served with freshly toasted ciabatta bread."

    Olive Garden's recently redesigned bruschetta recipe improves on the Italian chain's previous version. The tomato salad includes a little sun-dried tomato and balsamic vinegar, and it is now served in a separate dish rather than on the bread. Now the bread doesn't get soggy. The tomatoes are finely diced before mixing with the other ingredients, and the ciabatta bread is sprinkled with a little grated Parmesan cheese before it's toasted. Try to find a nice, chewy loaf of Italian bread for this dish—get the best bread in the store. The better your bread, the better your bruschetta.

    I've hacked a ton of dishes from Olive Garden. Find your favorites here

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 4.63. Votes: 8

    Menu Description: "Stir-fried with garlic."

    This is a standard side dish at the country's biggest Chinese dinner chain, and it'll take you just a couple of minutes to duplicate at home as a good veggie side for any meal, Chinese or otherwise. It's especially good when you're pressed to slam together a last minute vegetable for tonight's dinner. You can use a wok for this, but I always just use a medium-size sauté pan. The trick is to sauté the snap peas quickly over high heat, tossing often, until they're hot, yet still crispy and bright green. You get the garlic in right at the end, and then quickly pull the pan off the heat, so the garlic doesn't scorch. 

    Have you decided on an entrée? There's a lot more P.F. Chang's copycat recipes here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 4.88. Votes: 17

    This super simple Chili's salsa recipe can be made in a pinch with a can of diced tomatoes, some canned jalapeños, fresh lime juice, onion, spices, and a food processor or blender.  Plus you can easily double the recipe by sending in a larger 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, and simply doubling up on all the other ingredients. Use this versatile salsa as a dip for tortilla chips or plop it down onto any dish that needs flavor assistance—from eggs to taco salads to wraps to fish. You can adjust the Chili's salsa recipe heat level to suit your taste by tweaking the amount of canned jalapeños in the mix. 

    Now, what's for dinner? Check out some copycat entrees from your favorite restaurants here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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I'm Todd Wilbur,
Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

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