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Chili's Margarita Grilled Tuna Reduced-Fat copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

Chili's Margarita Grilled Tuna Reduced-Fat

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A plateful of rice and black beans are topped with a corn tortilla, garlic aioli, lettuce, pico de gallo and a fresh tuna steak smothered with chipotle ranch dressing.

There are many opportunities to obliterate fat in this one, most easily in the garlic aioli and chipotle ranch dressing. The tuna you purchase may come in thick eight-ounce steaks. If so, slice the tuna through the center, making two thinner four-ounce pieces. With the rice, black beans, and toppings, this dish is an entire meal on its own. And it looks good on the plate.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size–1 entree
Total servings–4
Calories per serving–691 (Original–899)
Fat per serving–16g (Original–38g)

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

Get This

Garlic Aioli
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 tablespoon fat-free mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon white vinegar
  • Pinch salt
Fat-Free Santa Fe Dressing
  • 1/3 cup fat-free Catalina dressing
  • 1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
Pico De Gallo
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped Spanish onion
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
Margarita Marinade
  • 1 cup sweet-and-sour mix
  • 2 teaspoons tequila
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
Searing Spice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Schilling poultry seasoning
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Rice
  • 2 1/3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup converted or long grain white rice (not instant rice)
  • 1/4 cup frozen corn
  • 2 tablespoons diced carrots
  • 2 tablespoons diced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons diced celery
  • 1 tablespoon diced white onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • Pinch ground black pepper
Black Beans
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup diced white onion
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans with liquid
_main
  • 4 4-ounce tuna fillets (2 8-ounce fillets cut through the center)
  • 4 corn tostada shells
  • 1 1/3 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
Do This

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Prepare the garlic aioli by roasting the garlic: cut 1/2 inch off the top of the papery skin from the garlic, but leave enough so that the cloves stay together. Place the head of garlic in a small casserole dish or baking pan, drizzle the olive oil over it, and cover it with a lid or foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove the garlic and let it cool until you can handle it. When cool, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves (without the skin) into a blender or food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and purée into sauce. Set this aside until later.

3. Prepare the dressing, pico de gallo, and margarita marinade by combining the ingredients in small bowls. Cover and chill these mixtures until later.

4. Pour the searing spice ingredients into a blender or food processor and puree until you have a smooth mixture with the consistency of pesto. Set this aside.

5. Prepare the rice by bringing the chicken stock and butter to a boil over medium/high heat. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, stir, and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

6. Prepare the black beans by pouring a teaspoon of olive oil into a saucepan. Use a paper towel to wipe the oil around the pan and then set it over medium heat. Saute the diced onion and red bell pepper in the oil for a minute or two and then add the cans of black beans, along with the liquid, to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium/low, and simmer until needed. Stir occasionally.

7. Preheat a large saute pan over medium heat.

8. Place your tuna fillets into the margarita marinade. Marinate for only 15 minutes and then dry the tuna on paper towels. Be sure not to marinate the tuna for more than 15 minutes or the lime juice will begin to toughen the fish.

9. Place the four tostada shells into an oven preheated to 350 degrees F. Turn off the heat after 5 minutes and let the shells sit in the oven until they are needed.

10. Brush the top of each of the fillets with the searing spice blend and turn them with the spice side down onto the hot pan. Brush additional searing spice over the topo of each fillet. Cook the fish for about 2 minutes per side or until the fish is browned on both sides and cooked through.

11. Build each dish by spooning about 3/4 cup of rice into the center of a dinner plate. Encircle the rice with a portion of the black beans. Spread a thin layer of garlic aioli onto a tostada shell and place it on the rice. Sprinkle about 1/3 cup of lettuce onto the shell next. Place a tuna fillet on top of the lettuce. Drizzle the Santa Fe dressing over the entire dish with a sweeping motion. Finally, pile about 1/3 cup of the pico de gallo on top of the tuna. Repeat for the remaining plates and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as an entree.

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    Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese

    Braised Beef Pasta Menu Description: “Slow-simmered meat sauce with tender braised beef and Italian sausage, tossed with ruffled pappardelle pasta and a touch of alfredo sauce—just like Nonna’s recipe.”

    It’s a mistake to assume that a recipe posted to a restaurant chain’s website is the real recipe for the food served there. I’ve found this to be the case with many Olive Garden recipes, and this one is no exception. A widely circulated recipe that claims to duplicate the chain’s classic Bolognese actually originated on Olive Garden’s own website, and if you make that recipe you’ll be disappointed when the final product doesn’t even come close to the real deal. I won’t get into all the specifics of the things wrong with that recipe (too much wine, save some of that for drinking!), but at first glance it’s easy to see that a few important ingredients found in traditional Bolognese sauces are conspicuously missing, including milk, basil, lemon, and nutmeg.

    I incorporated all those missing ingredients into my Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese recipe, tweaked a few other things, and then tested several methods of braising the beef so that it comes out perfectly tender: covered, uncovered, and a combo. The technique I settled on was cooking the sauce covered for 2 hours, then uncovered for 1 additional hour so that the sauce reduces and the beef transforms into a fork-flakeable flavor bomb. Yes, it comes from Olive Garden, but this Bolognese is better than any I’ve had at restaurants that charge twice as much, like Rao’s where the meat is ground, not braised, and they hit you up for $30.  

    As a side note, Olive Garden’s menu says the dish comes with ruffled pappardelle pasta, but it’s actually mafaldine, a narrower noodle with curly edges (shown in the top right corner of the photo). Pappardelle, which is the traditional pasta to serve with Bolognese, is a very wide noodle with straight edges, and it’s more familiar than mafaldine, so perhaps that’s why the menu fudges this fact. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which pasta you choose. Just know that a wide noodle works best. Even fettuccine is good here.

    For the little bit of alfredo sauce spooned into the middle of the dish, I went with a premade bottled sauce to save time. You can also make this from scratch if you like (I’ve got a great hack for Olive Garden’s Alfredo Sauce), but it’s such a small amount that premade sauce in either a chilled tub from the deli section or in a bottle off the shelf works great here.

    This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).

    And browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 5)
    Denny's Buttermilk Pancakes

    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 together a standard waffle cone recipe with one of mine for buttermilk pancakes and was able to create the perfect recipe for Denny’s new, improved buttermilk 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.

    My Denny's Buttermilk Pancakes recipe makes eight big 6-inch pancakes, which you will form by measuring 1/2 cup of batter onto 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 a time, which will take a little longer. And that’s why they invented mimosas.

    Looking for more Denny's copycat recipes? You can find them here

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    Panera Bread Cinnamon Crunch Bagel

    Panera Bread’s product information pages refer to a long proofing time when describing the sour characteristic of the chain’s phenomenal bagels, but there is no mention of how long. After several weeks of trying different approaches to proofing these cinnamon bit–filled bagels, I decided the best solution was to form the bagels and proof them overnight in the cold. The next day the bagels came out of the refrigerator not much bigger, but after sitting for several hours at room temperature they more than doubled in size and had a light sourdough flavor like the original Panera Bread bagels.

    The cinnamon drops that go into the bagel were also tricky. I needed to come up with a way to make bits of cinnamon/sugar that were crunchy, but not so hard as to break a tooth. I found the best way was to make oven-cooked cinnamon candy bound with cornstarch and milk and tenderized with oil. This sugar mixture is baked in a loaf pan until no longer bubbling, then cooled and shattered into tiny pieces. When the candy is broken up, much of it gets pulverized into dust, which you separate from the crumbs with a sieve. The crumbs are the cinnamon drops used in the bagel, and the cinnamon/sugar powder is used to dust the tops of the bagels just before baking.

    I also found that kettling (boiling the bagels) with just a tablespoon of sugar in the water produced a browner bagel than kettling with no sugar, so that’s the technique I’m sharing here in my Panera Bread Cinnamon Crunch Bagel recipe. Some techniques call for malt in the water, but sugar works just fine and makes the perfectly shiny, blistered crust you see in the photo.

    Panera Bread has amazing soups too! See if I hacked your favorite here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Thomas' English Muffins

    Samuel Bath Thomas immigrated from England to New York City and opened his first bakery there in 1880. That is where Thomas created skillet bread that would one day become the famous muffins known for their craggy texture when split in half. This hack for Thomas’ English Muffins uses a special kneading process to give the muffins the "nooks and crannies" they are famous for, making craters in the finished bread to better hold on to melted butter and jam.

    I have seen several recipes that claim to re-create these muffins, but none produce the large air pockets that a proper Thomas' English Muffin recipe requires, in addition to great flavor and a perfectly cooked interior. To ensure proper nooks and crannies and muffins that are cooked all the way through, I've included some important steps.

    The dough you'll make here is like a ciabatta dough in that it is very wet. So rather than kneading the dough, you stretch and fold it over several times on a well-oiled surface. Then, when the portioned-out dough has proofed on baking sheets for another 1½ to 2 hours, you par-bake the muffins.

    After baking, the muffins are cooked on a griddle or in a pan until dark brown on both sides, then they must cool. This is the hardest part. The muffins will be too soft to open for at least four hours, and now you have to fight off the temptation to eat one. It’s hard, I know. The muffins smell great and you’ve waited all this time, but resist for now and your patience will be rewarded.

    When the muffins have had their rest, split them with a fork and toast them as you would any English muffin.

    Check out all my top secret recipes for famous bread here

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  • Score: 4.00 (votes: 2)
    KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) Nashville Hot Chicken

    It was only a matter of time before the spicy fried chicken made famous in Nashville, Tennessee at shops like Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B's would find its way into the mainstream. A dish this good is never contained forever, and KFC became the first fast food chain to give the recipe national exposure. A test run of the new spicy chicken in Pittsburgh was the most successful product test in KFC's recent history.

    The original dish from Nashville is made with crispy fried chicken that's doused with a top-secret spicy chili sauce and served on sliced white bread with dill pickles on top. KFC's version is served with just pickles, no bread (a biscuit on the side instead), and is made by soaking the chain's Extra Crispy Fried Chicken with the oily chili sauce from a squirt bottle. Since there isn't any water in the sauce, just oil, the chicken stays crispy, regardless of how much sauce is applied.

    To make a home version of KFC Nashville Hot Chicken, you first need to prepare the chicken, either using my KFC Extra Crispy Chicken recipe included below, or by baking or frying some of the pre-breaded chicken pieces you can find frozen in just about every grocery store. While the chicken is brining, make the sauce and pour it into a squirt bottle or spouted measuring cup. Apply it to your chicken when it's done (shake it or stir it first!), then top it with dill pickle slices.  

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    KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (Improved)

    To get their Extra Crispy Chicken so crispy, KFC breads the chicken two times. This double breading gives the chicken its ultra craggy exterior and extra crunch, which is a different texture than the less crispy original recipe fried chicken that’s breaded just once and pressure fried.

    As with my KFC Original Fried Chicken recipe, we must first brine the chicken to give it flavor and moisture all the way through, like the real thing, then the chicken is double breaded and deep-fried until golden brown. KFC uses small chickens which cook faster, but small chickens can be hard to find. If your chicken parts are on the large side, they may not cook all the way through in the 12 to 15 minutes of frying I’m specifying here. To be sure your chicken is cooked, start frying with the thickest pieces, like the breasts, then park them in a 300-degree oven while you finish with the smaller pieces. This will keep the chicken warm and crispy, and more importantly, ensure that they are cooked perfectly all the way through.

    On my CMT show Top Secret Recipe I chatted with Winston Shelton, a long-time friend of KFC founder Harland Sanders. Winston saw the Colonel's handwritten secret recipe for KFC Original Recipe chicken, and he told me one of the secret ingredients is Tellicherry black pepper. It's a more expensive, better-tasting black pepper that comes from the Malabar coast in India, and you should use it here if you can find it. Winston pulled me aside and whispered this secret to me when he thought we were off-camera, but our microphones and very alert cameramen caught the whole thing, and we aired it.

    I first published my KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken recipe in Even More Top Secret Recipesbut recently applied some newly acquired secrets and tips to make this much-improved recipe of one of the most familiar fried chicken recipes in the world. 

    My KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken recipe below was our #2 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Costco (Kirkland) Blueberry Muffins

    Three things make Costco Blueberry Muffins special: they’re huge, they’re moist, and berries are bursting out of the top of each one. Now your home muffins can be just as special using a similar recipe and freshly unlocked tricks from our favorite big-box store.

    Obviously, you get huge muffins by using a huge muffin pan, so you’ll need a jumbo or “Texas-size” muffin pan if you want your muffins the same size as the originals. You can certainly make standard muffins with this batter in a standard-size muffin pan, but in this case, bigger is definitely better.

    To get muffins that are moist like Kirkland's, you’ll need oil. I noticed many muffin recipes use butter, but I found it made the muffins taste more like butter cake or pound cake than true muffins. Looking at the ingredients listed on the package of Kirkland muffins, you won’t find any butter in there. Just oil. For this hack, some of that oil comes from margarine (for a mild butter flavor and thicker batter), and the rest is vegetable oil.

    As for the blueberries, if you add them straight into the batter the juice frozen on the outside of the berries will streak your batter blue, so be sure to rinse the berries before you add them. And to make your muffins look as irresistible as those at Costco, we’ll use another one of their tasty tricks: press 4 blueberries into the batter in each cup just before the pan goes into the oven so that every baked muffin is sure to have several tantalizing berries popping out of the top.

    Find more favorite famous bread recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Cheesecake Factory Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

    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.

    My Cheesecake Factory cinnamon roll pancake recipe here 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 real Cheesecake Factory Cinnamon Roll 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.

    Find your favorite cheesecake, appetizers, and entrée recipes from Cheesecake Factory here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Bob Evans Farms Banana Nut Bread Loaf

    When I checked out the ingredients for the Banana Nut Bread Loaf—the most popular baked item at Bob Evans Farms—I was surprised to discover that the banana bread has very little real banana in it. In fact, banana is the second-to-last ingredient, just before water. So the banana taste in the loaf appears to come from artificial banana flavoring. But I have to assume that there was once a time when these delicious loaves were made with more real banana, and with real butter instead of the less expensive margarine that is used in the loaves today. So, that's how I crafted my Bob Evans banana bread recipe.

    This upgraded recipe calls for old-school wholesome ingredients, and it produces a moist, delicious banana bread loaf that tastes like the real thing—and maybe even a little bit better. So if you like the real thing, you'll love this new recipe hack.

    Making bread is fun, right? Find more of my copycat recipes for famous bread here

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  • Score: 4.75 (votes: 4)
    Cheesecake Factory Cajun Jambalaya Pasta

    Menu Description: "Our most popular dish! Shrimp and Chicken Sauteed with Onions, Peppers and Tomatoes in a Very Spicy Cajun Sauce. All on top of Fresh Fettuccine."

    The Cheesecake Factory's founder, David Overton, says it was his unfamiliarity with the restaurant business that contributed to the company's success. In an interview with Nation's Restaurant News David says, "We did not know anything about running restaurants. We just knew that people valued fresh foods. In some ways our naivete helped us because we didn't know what you are not supposed to do."

    I think we all know it helps to serve good food and that's an area in which the Cheesecake Factory excels. The pastas and salads top the list of big sellers, but it's the Cajun Jambalaya Pasta that holds the pole position, according to the menu description of this dish. Jambalaya is a spicy Creole dish that usually combines a variety of ingredients including tomatoes, onions, peppers, and some type of meat with rice. Rather than the traditional rice, the Cheesecake Factory has designed its version to include two types of fettuccine—an attractive mix of standard white noodles and spinach-flavored noodles. 

    This recipe makes 2 huge portions, like those served in the restaurant. It's probably enough food for a family of four.

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature  cheesecakes here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.38 (votes: 8)
    Olive Garden Breadsticks

    Anyone who loves Olive Garden is probably also a big fan of the bottomless basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks served before each meal at the huge Italian casual chain. My guess is that the breadsticks are proofed, and then sent to each restaurant where they are baked until golden brown, brushed with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt. Getting the bread just right for a good Olive Garden breadstick recipe was tricky—I tried several different amounts of yeast in all-purpose flour, but then settled on bread flour to give these breadsticks the same chewy bite as the originals. The two-stage rising process is also a crucial step in this much requested homemade Olive Garden breadstick recipe. Also check out our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.82 (votes: 11)
    Buffalo Wild Wings Asian Zing Sauce

    Menu Description: "Sweet meets heat: A chili pepper, soy and ginger sauce."

    Here's a clone for one of the newer sauces that the wing masters at Buffalo Wild Wings added to the menu. When I get over to BWW, I order up a tall Foster's on tap, and 12 boneless wings covered in this great sauce. It's sweet-and-sour with a kick, and the kick is what the beer's for. Next time you're at the market grab yourself some chili garlic sauce in the aisle with the other Asian foods. That's the crucial ingredient to this Buffalo Wild Wings Asian Zing Sauce recipe that gives this sauce its heat, along with its deep red color. Once this sauce is made it'll store for weeks in a sealed container in your fridge. Now you've got a quick dip for eggrolls, wontons and spring rolls. Cook up some wings, nuggets or breaded tenders and toss 'em in the gooey goodness until well-coated, then serve hot. And don't forget the beer.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.20 (votes: 5)
    Cheesecake Factory Famous Factory Meatloaf

    Filled with carrots, onions, garlic, bell peppers, and herbs—this is definitely one of the tastiest meatloaves I've cloned so far, and it's one of Cheesecake Factory's signature dishes. While most meatloaf creations are coated with a tomato-based sauce, such as ketchup or barbecue sauce, this one is doused with rich mushroom gravy, and then topped with a pile of caramelized onions (those secret formulas are included here as well). 

    My Cheesecake Factory meatloaf recipe will yield exactly three ginormous dinner-size portions—that's three thick slices of meatloaf at the restaurant. But you could easily fill the bellies of four or more famished folks with more reasonable serving sizes.

    Now, what's for dessert?

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.50 (votes: 4)
    Olive Garden Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta (Fondue)

    Menu Description: "Oven-baked smoked mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan and Romano cheese. Served with Tuscan bread."

    Olive Garden's take on the Italian melted cheese dip includes smoked mozzarella combined with grated Parmesan, Romano, and provolone cheese, and lots of thyme. When you make my Olive Garden Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta recipe below, be sure to slice the waxy rind off the smoked mozzarella before you grate it. That part does not taste good. After slowly melting the mozzarella, Parmesan, and Romano in a small saucepan with half-and-half, pour the creamy mixture into a shallow dish, top it with a slice of provolone, and pop it under the broiler until light brown. Serve your hot fondue with baguette slices, bagel chips, or crackers.

    Find more mouthwatering copycat recipes from Olive Garden here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
     

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad

    Menu Description: "Fajita-marinated chicken, corn relish, mixed cheese, cilantro, diced tomato and crispy tortilla strips. Garnished with a chipotle-ranch drizzle and cheese quesadilla wedges. Served with our citrus-balsamic dressing."

    I'm a happy camper on a Saturday afternoon when diving into one of these big salads, served up with a Presidente Margarita to help relieve my hangover from a Friday night hoo-ha. For the last several years, this has been the go-to salad when you're dining at Chili's. The chicken marinade is delicious, the corn relish is a great touch, and the citrus-balsamic vinaigrette totally rocks. And where else can you get a salad that includes slices of cheese quesadilla on the side? I love it. If you're a fan of the original, my 4-serving Chili's Quesadilla Explosion salad recipe will bring it home.

    Craving more of your favorite dishes from Chili's? See if I hacked your favorites here

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    Chili's Cajun Ribeye Steak

    Menu Description: "12 oz. ribeye steak seasoned with Cajun spices and topped with roasted herb jus and spicy Cajun butter."

    Three secret formulas must be hacked before we can consider this dish a complete culinary carbon copy of Chili's signature Cajun Ribeye. The Cajun seasoning, the herb jus, and the Cajun butter comprise the flavorful hat trick that earns this dish its signature-item status. 

    Use my Chili's Cajun Ribeye recipe below to make each component from scratch. Everything is pretty easy. Rustle up some ribeyes from your favorite butcher, and fire up the grill. Sprinkle the seasoning on the steak before it's grilled, and then add the jus and herb butter just before serving. That's it. Once you've assembled these three simple secret recipes below, you're just minutes away from an impressive, flavor-filled steak.

    Find more of your favorite Chili's copycat recipes here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.69 (votes: 13)
    Applebee's Grilled Shrimp 'N Spinach Salad

    Menu Description: "Fresh spinach tossed with tomatoes, red peppers, onions, almonds and topped with grilled shrimp. Served with bacon vinaigrette."

    Here's another great vinaigrette from Applebee's—a perfectly sweet and sour concoction packed with bits of real bacon. Medium shrimp are sprinkled with a secret seasoning blend, then grilled and arranged on top of the two large dinner-size salads this recipe yields. You can also split these up to serve four smaller side salads. There will be extra vinaigrette, so by adding a bit more spinach, you can even stretch this recipe to serve six when that couple who never calls ahead shows up unexpectedly on your stoop at chow time.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.
     

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  • Score: 4.71 (votes: 24)
    Bonefish Grill Bang Bang Shrimp

    Menu Description: "Tender, crispy wild gulf shrimp tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce."

    Bonefish Grill proudly refers to this appetizer as the "house specialty." And why not, it's an attractive dish with bang-up flavor, especially if you like your food on the spicy side. The heat in my Bonefish Grill Bang Bang Shrimp recipe comes from the secret sauce blend that's flavored with chili garlic sauce, also known as sambal. You can find this bright red sauce where the Asian foods are in your market—and while you're there, pick up some rice vinegar. Once the sauce is made, you coat the shrimp in a simple seasoned breading, fry them to a nice golden brown, toss them gently in the sauce, and then serve them up on a bed of mixed greens to hungry folks who, hopefully, have a cool drink nearby to mellow the sting.

    You might also like my recipes for Bonefish Grill's Saucy Shrimp and Citrus Herb Vinaigrette.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 4)
    T.G.I. Friday's Tuscan Portobello Melt

    Menu Description: "Sliced Portobello mushrooms between layers of Provolone & Monterey Jack cheeses, roasted onions and tomatoes on grilled, buttery bread."

    Contestants on the November 1, 2006 episode of Top Chef on Bravo were challenged to take a childhood favorite dish and update it with a twist. Friday's Senior Executive Chef Stephen Bulgarelli sat at the judges table and endured a bizarre wonderland mushroom plate, a sloppy cheese steak sandwich, and an over-salted surf and turf tragedy. Finally, it was the delicious variation on a grilled cheese sandwich created by Betty Fraser that took the top spot. As a reward, Betty's sandwich was added to over 500 Friday's menus across the country, and now we have a Top Secret clone to easily recreate the tasty winner at home. Friday's modified Betty's recipe to make it easier to prepare in the quick-service environment of the restaurant, and that's the version I've cloned for you in this recipe.

    Click here to see if I hacked more of your favorites from T.G.I. Friday's.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 7)
    Applebee's Apple Walnut Chicken Salad

    Menu Description: "A masterwork of flavors. Grilled, marinated chicken breast crowns this fresh mix of delectable greens, crisp apples, rich crumbled blue cheese and sweet candied walnuts. Tossed in our tangy balsamic vinaigrette."

    Sometimes I feel like a C.S.I. To re-create this salad, I ordered several to-go and then sat down with a magnifying glass and carefully picked out each of the bits and pieces and separated them into smaller bowls. Sure, this was tedious work, but it made it easy to measure out each ingredient for the most accurate Applebee's Apple Walnut Chicken Salad recipe. 

    Next, I cooked a ton of chicken, each with different versions of the marinade, until I found the one that worked. The smoky marinade for the chicken here is basically a brine that adds just the right amount of saltiness and flavor through osmosis, so be sure not to let the chicken soak longer than specified. Of course, the lead performer in any salad is the dressing, since it is responsible for much of what you taste. The tangy balsamic vinaigrette is delicious with honey, Dijon mustard, garlic, and tarragon in there. You can make an easy emulsion out of it with a hand mixer. The best part is that you'll end up with leftover vinaigrette that you can use to make a couple more meal-size salads, and then some. Case closed.

    Find more of my salad knock-off recipes here. 

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.73 (votes: 15)
    Applebee's Crispy Orange Chicken Bowl

    Menu Description: "Breaded boneless chicken breast is delicately spiced and covered in a spicy-sweet orange glaze. Served in a big bowl over almond rice pilaf and a flavorful mixture of mushrooms, broccoli, red pepper, sugar snap peas, and shredded carrots. Topped with toasted almonds and crispy noodles."

    In a dish like this, it's important to get the sauce tasting just right or the whole hack will be off. Simmering a secret blend of orange juice, brown sugar, marmalade, and few other ingredients will give you a sauce that's sweet, tangy, spicy and really, really freakin' good. Rather than going to the trouble of breading and frying the chicken from scratch, I've cut time off your prep by including frozen breaded chicken fingers that you simply bake in the oven when you're ready to assemble the dish. I used Claim Jumper brand chicken tenderloins for this recipe since one 20-ounce box was perfect for the two servings this recipe yields. However, these are mongo-huge restaurant-size portions, so you'll be able to divide this recipe up into four more modest servings if you like.

    Make more of your favorite dishes from Applebee's. 

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 11)
    Joe's Stone Crab Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes

    Joseph Weiss was living in New York with his wife and son when his doctor told him he would need a change of climate to help his asthma. He journeyed to Miami, Florida in 1913 and discovered he was able to breathe again. He quickly moved his family down South and opened his first restaurant, a little lunch counter. 

    Joe's restaurant business exploded in 1921 when he discovered how to cook and serve the stone crabs caught off the coast. Joe boiled the meaty claws and served them chilled with a secret mustard dipping sauce. Today only one pincer is removed from each stone crab, then the crab is tossed back into the ocean where it will regenerate the missing claw in about 2 years. The stone crabs, in addition to several other signature items, made Joe's a Miami hotspot, and these days Joe's restaurants can be found in Chicago and Las Vegas. 

    Here is my take on Joe's amazing giant crab cakes, which are made from lump crab meat. You can use my Joe's Stone Crab jumbo lump crab cakes recipe below and serve as them an appetizer or entrée like they do at the restaurant. Of course, you can't clone a Joe's crab dish without cloning the secret mustard sauce, so that recipe is here too.

    Try more of my clone recipes of other popular dishes from Joe's Stone Crab here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.96 (votes: 25)
    Chili's Molten Chocolate Cake

    Menu Description: "Warm chocolate cake w/chocolate fudge filling. Topped w/vanilla ice cream under a crunchy chocolate shell."

    Get out your "easy" button for this one. The clone recipe for this top-requested Chili's dessert is easy to make—and can even be made days ahead of time. A chocolate fudge cake mix is all you need for the cake part of the recipe. The cake batter is poured into the large cups of a Texas-size muffin pan. When the cakes are done and cooled, you make a secret hole where the hot chocolate is loaded. Now you can keep the cakes chilled until dessert time. To serve, heat a cake, plop a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and top it off with some Magic Shell, (a chocolate topping that hardens on ice cream) that you can make from scratch with my recipe here. When your diners dig into the cake, the delicious hot fudge center oozes out of the warm chocolate cake.

    For a live demonstration of this clone recipe check out this video.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
    Try my improved version in Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step.

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  • Score: 4.74 (votes: 19)
    Chili's Chicken Crispers and Honey Mustard Dressing

    Menu Description: "Strips of hand-battered chicken fried to perfection. Served w/sweet corn on the cob, honey-mustard dressing and homestyle fries."

    When biting into Chili's delicious trademarked Chicken Crispers, I detect the distinct flavor of MSG, or monosodium glutamate. Although there is no English word for it, the Japanese call this flavor "umami", and it delivers a taste sensation that is different from bitter, salty, sweet, or sour flavors. This "fifth flavor" is created naturally by glutamic acid, an amino acid, and it can be found in mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, fish and dairy products. But rather than adding something like Accent flavor enhancer—which is pure MSG—to this recipe, I thought of another approach. To clone the flavorful batter for this Chili's entrée, I decided to bring canned chicken broth into the mix. Most chicken broths, including Swanson brand, contain autolyzed yeast extract. These yeast enzymes release flavor-enhancing compounds that work just like MSG, amplifying flavors in much the same way. Plus, the chicken broth is made with other goodies such as carrot, onion, and celery that will contribute to a tasty, crunchy coating. As for the frying, Chili's has recently switched to a shortening that contains no trans fat. So, if you want the best clone of Chili's Chicken Crispers, use shortening, but find the kind that has no trans fat. Crisco now makes a version, and so does Smart Balance. Shortening produces a superior clone and it will release less "fry smell" into your house. You can also use vegetable or canola oil.

    I've also included the recipe for Chili's Honey Mustard Dressing that's easy to make with just 5 ingredients.

    Try my Chili's Crispy Honey Chipotle Chicken Crispers recipe here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.
     

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  • Score: 4.83 (votes: 12)
    Original Pancake House Apple Pancake

    Menu Description: "Oven baked with fresh apples and pure Sikiyan cinnamon glaze."

    Fresh, high-quality ingredients and traditional recipes are what makes this growing chain a frequent favorite for anyone who stops in. The star of the show is the incredible apple pancake, the chain's signature dish. To make a dead-on clone, Granny Smith apples are sauteed in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, then allowed to cool for a bit. That way, when the batter is poured into the pan, the apples and glaze stay anchored to the bottom. This technique also prevents the glaze from penetrating into the batter as the pancake bakes since there is now an apple barrier preventing any mixing of the ingredients. When the pancake comes out of the oven it's flipped over onto a plate and the apples are right there on top, dripping with a delicious cinnamon-sugar glaze. You won't need any syrup for this one, that's for sure. Just a light dusting of powdered sugar on top. Then dig into an apple pancake unlike any other.

    You may also like my clone recipe for the Original Pancake House German Pancake aka "Dutch Baby".

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.58 (votes: 43)
    Buffalo Wild Wings Buffalo Wings and Sauces

    Menu Description: "Here they are in all their lip-smacking, award-winning glory: Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings spun in your favorite signature sauce."

    Since Buffalo, New York was too far away, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery satisfied their overwhelming craving in 1981 by opening a spicy chicken wing restaurant close to home in Kent, Ohio. With signature sauces and a festive atmosphere, the chain has now evolved from a college campus sports bar with wings to a family restaurant with over 300 units. While frying chicken wings is no real secret—simply drop them in hot shortening for about 10 minutes—the delicious spicy sauces make the wings special. There are 12 varieties of sauce available to coat your crispy chicken parts at the chain, and I'm presenting clones for the more traditional flavors. These sauces are very thick, almost like dressing or dip, so we'll use an emulsifying technique that will ensure a creamy final product where the oil won't separate from the other ingredients. Here is the chicken wing cooking and coating technique, followed by clones for the most popular sauces: Spicy Garlic, Medium and Hot. The sauce recipes might look the same at first, but each has slight variations make your sauce hotter or milder by adjusting the level of cayenne pepper. You can find Frank's pepper sauce by the other hot sauces in your market. If you can't find that brand, you can also use Crystal Louisiana hot sauce.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.38 (votes: 13)
    Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Chocolate Cake Mix

    Let's say you want to make some chocolate cake from one of the popular mixes that come in a box but you don't have much of a craving for propylene glycol, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, or cellulose gum. Well, if you're making cake from a box mix, that's probably what you'll be eating. Many of those additives are what give the cake you make with Duncan Hines cake mix its deluxe moistness. The good news is we can come very close to duplicating the store-bought cake mix with very simple dry ingredients and a little shortening. By combining the dry stuff, then thoroughly mixing in the shortening, you will have a mix that is shelf-stable until you add the same wet ingredients in the same amounts required by the real thing. It's a great way to make good, old-fashioned chocolate cake without the hard-to-pronounce additives.

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  • Score: 4.67 (votes: 6)
    Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill Famous Chambord Raspberry Margarita

    At only 10 1/2 ounces per serving you might think this drink a bit wee. But I assure you, one of these packs a wallop, and two will get you speaking in haiku. This delicious raspberry margarita, along with an incredible southwestern cuisine, is making this small chain a big success story.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes: Sodas, Smoothies, Spirits & Shakes by Todd Wilbur.

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I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For over 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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