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Houston's Honey-Lime Vinaigrette copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

Houston's Honey-Lime Vinaigrette

Score: 3.67 (votes: 3)
Reviews: 3
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This 38-unit casual dining chain may be small compared to many of the other chains whose food I've cloned, but Houston's has a huge following of loyal customers throughout the country. I know this because for many years the restaurant sat at the top of my "most requested clones" list. I was finally ready to take on the challenge, but since there are no Houston's where I live in Las Vegas, it required a road trip—this time to Orange County, California. A couple plane rides, a bit of driving, some walking and a stumble or two later, I had a cooler full of Houston's goodies secured safely back at the lab. After a few hours of measuring and mixing this simple sweet-and-sour salad slather from Houston's was cracked.

Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

Get This

_main
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced red bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch salt
Do This

1. Combine all ingredients in a small glass or ceramic bowl. Stir well.

2. Heat the dressing in the microwave on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove dressing from microwave and whisk for 1 minute. This will emulsify the dressing and it should begin to thicken as it cools.

3. Cover and chill for 2 hours before serving.

Makes 1 cup.

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Reviews
Meredith
Jul 5, 2021, 15:07
Forget Denise. This recipe is very close. Don’t leave out the bell pepper (I didn’t have any on hand) it makes a difference. I would cut the sesame oil down a tad (3/4 tsp) and add lime zest. This dressing is also delicious tossed with shredded cabbage to make a slaw for fish tacos.
Anonymous
Aug 2, 2005, 22:00
This recipe is awesome! It is very authentic to Houston's own.. Houstone is close to my home...We love it! I have also made it with key lime juice and key lime oil & made the lime flavor more intense..Make sure to give it time in the microwave to cook and emulsify together..if its done correctly it will not seperate..I was just asked to bring salad for a dinner and the request was this dressing...its great!!

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    Olive Garden Lemon Cream Cake

    Menu Description: "Delicate white cake and lemon cream filling with a vanilla crumb topping."

    To make this clone easy, I've designed the recipe with white cake mix. I picked Betty Crocker brand, but any white cake mix you find will do. Just know that each brand (Duncan Hines, Pillsbury, etc.) requires slightly different measurements of additional ingredients (oil, eggs). Follow the directions on the box for mixing the batter, then pour it into 2 greased 9-inch cake pans and bake until done. The filling recipe is a no-brainer and the crumb topping is quick. When your Olive Garden lemon cream cake recipe is assembled, stick it in the fridge for a few hours, and soon you'll be ready to serve 12 slices of the hacked signature dessert.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 8)
    Cheesecake Factory Avocado Eggrolls

    Menu Description:  "Chunks of Fresh Avocado, Sun-Dried Tomato, Red Onion and Cilantro Deep Fried in a Crisp Chinese Wrapper."

    In 1995, Forbes Magazine named The Cheesecake Factory in its list of the 200 best small companies in America. At more than 90 stores now, The Cheesecake Factory plans to continue growing at a rate of about 11 new restaurants per year, and still does not franchise.

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    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.81 (votes: 47)
    Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls

    In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 6)
    Texas Roadhouse Rolls

    I never thought dinner rolls were something I could get excited about until I got my hand into the breadbasket at Texas Roadhouse. The rolls are fresh out of the oven and they hit the table when you do, so there’s no waiting to tear into a magnificently gooey sweet roll topped with soft cinnamon butter. The first bite you take will make you think of a fresh cinnamon roll, and then you can’t stop eating it. And when the first roll’s gone, you are powerless to resist grabbing for just one more. But it’s never just one more. It’s two or three more, plus a few extra to take home for tomorrow.

    Discovering the secret to making rolls at home that taste as good as Texas Roadhouse Rolls involved making numerous batches of dough, each one sweeter than the last (sweetened with sugar, not honey—I checked), until a very sticky batch, proofed for 2 hours, produced exactly what I was looking for. You can make the dough with a stand mixer or a handheld one, the only difference being that you must knead the dough by hand without a stand mixer. When working with the dough add a little bit of flour at a time to keep it from sticking, and just know that the dough will be less sticky and more workable after the first rise.

    Roll the dough out and measure it as specified here, and after a final proofing and a quick bake—plus a generous brushing of butter on the tops—you will produce dinner rolls that look and taste just like the best rolls I’ve had at any famous American dinner chain.

    This recipe was our #1 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), 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: 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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  • Not rated yet
    Flemings Prime Steakhouse Wicked Cajun Barbecue Shrimp

    Before diving into a juicy steak, many diners start their meal with this dish, the number one appetizer at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar. This small Cajun-style scampi appetizer requires four large shrimp, just as in the original dish, but you can bump that up to 6 shrimp for a slightly bigger serving.

    Find more cool copycat recipes for Fleming's signature dishes here

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur. 

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  • Score: 4.88 (votes: 8)
    Gordon Biersch Warm Apple Bread Pudding

    Menu Description: "With vanilla ice cream and sticky bun caramel sauce."

    I've been searching for the restaurant chain with the best bread pudding recipe, and I think I've found it here at Gordon Biersch. This small, yet growing, microbrewery chain serves great beer, awesome pizza, and a bread pudding that is downright amazing. It could be described as what would materialize out the other side if Jeff Goldblum threw an apple pie, some bread pudding and a cinnamon roll into his teleportation machine from "The Fly," and everything came out the other side combined into a single awesome dessert. The sautéed apples laid into the middle of the bread pudding make other bread puddings I eat now seem like they're missing something. And the homemade caramel sauce, with just a little brown sugar thrown into our clone version, adds a sticky bun flavor you'll have dreams about. No matter how big your dinner feast was, everyone will still somehow find room for this. 

    The original at the restaurant is baked in a deep pan, and the pudding is sliced and served on its side, so for my Gordon Biersch Warm Apple Bread Pudding recipe you'll want to use the biggest loaf pan you can find. I used a 3-inch deep 10x5-inch loaf pan, and it was full. If your pan is smaller, you may have to leave a bit out. The pudding will swell up out of the pan as it cooks, but it will shrink back down as it cools. Fun to watch. You may want to make this the day before so that the bread pudding can set up in the fridge. When you are ready to serve, nuke a serving for 1 minute until warm, then add the sauce and ice cream and a handful of pecans. It appears the restaurant chain uses egg bread in the pudding, but Texas Toast thick-sliced white bread may be easier to find, and it works just as well.

    Gordon Biersch also makes amazing garlic fries. Click here to try this recipe.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 10)
    Applebee's White Peach Sangria

    Menu Description: "Sutter Home White Zinfandel with DeKuyper Luscious Peachtree schnapps, pineapple juice and lemon-lime soda. Served Mucho size over ice with fresh fruit."

    No need to waste expensive wine duplicating this incredibly refreshing cocktail from Applebee's. Sutter Home White Zinfandel, which runs around 5 bucks a bottle, is the brand of choice at the chain, but feel free to use any white zinfandel on the shelf, even if it's in a box. The wine will be diluted with peach schnapps and other ingredients, so no matter which wine you pick, you'll always get a delicious, thirst-quenching cocktail that's perfect for warm weather hang time.

    Try my Applebee's White Peach Sangria recipe below today, and check out more famous cocktail recipes here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.97 (votes: 36)
    Outback Steakhouse Honey Mustard Salad Dressing

    Outback makes their sauces and salad dressings from scratch every day following master formulas in a corporate cookbook. Now you've got a secret recipe of your own that will duplicate the taste of their hugely popular house honey mustard recipe. You'll need just three basic ingredients and only about two minutes of free time to make my Outback honey mustard dressing recipe.

    Try more recipes for your favorite dishes from Outback 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: 4.79 (votes: 39)
    Romano's Macaroni Grill Chicken Scaloppine

    Menu Description: "Chicken breast, mushrooms, artichokes, capers & smoked prosciutto in lemon butter with pasta."

    Mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and prosciutto in a creamy lemon butter sauce surround sauteed chicken breasts and angel hair pasta for this unique and satisfying take on a traditional dish. This clone ranks in the top three most requested recipes on my hit list from the 227-unit Romano's Macaroni Grill. The successful Italian chain is part of the Brinker group of restaurants that controls several other high-profile casual eateries including Border Mexican Grill, Maggiano's, and Chili's.

    Make my copycat Lemon Passion Cake for dessert to get the full Macaroni Grill experience.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.43 (votes: 69)
    Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar

    Each holiday season Starbucks brings out one of its most beloved dessert recipes: a soft triangle of white chocolate and cranberry cake covered with delicious creamy lemon frosting and dried cranberries. But when the holidays are over, the Bliss Bars go back into hiding until next season. That's when we bust out our copycat Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar recipe. The cake is flavored with bits of crystallized ginger that you can find in most markets near the herbs and spices. Be sure to finely mince the chunks of ginger before adding them, since ginger has a strong flavor, and you don't want anyone biting into whole chunk. For the white chocolate, one 4-ounce bar of Ghirardelli white chocolate will give you the perfect amount of chunks after you chop it up. If you can't find that brand, any brand of white chocolate will do, or you can use 4 ounces of white chocolate chips. This clone recipe will make a total of 16 cake bars, at a fraction of the cost of the original.

    For a demonstration of this classic clone recipe, check out this video.

    Check out my other copycat recipes for more Starbucks favorites here.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

     

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  • Score: 4.50 (votes: 4)
    Kraft Stove Top Stuffing

    This copycat Kraft stove top stuffing recipe clones the common 6-ounce box of Stove Top stuffing mix you find in any grocery store. This secret formula duplicates the chicken variety, the brand's most popular version. It's nice to be able to make as much of this as you want prior to the holiday crunch, and just keep it sealed up in the pantry until you're ready to use it. You have enough to worry about deciding which fruits to use in the Jell-O mold. When it's time to cook, it's just a matter of adding some water and margarine, and in 10 easy minutes this stuff is all ready to go.

    Check out my clone recipes for other Kraft favorites here.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

     

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Del Taco Crispy Fish Taco

    The number two Mexican fast food chain nicely duplicates the delicious fish tacos you'd find in coastal towns south of the border: two corn tortillas wrapped around a fried halibut fillet that's topped with cabbage, fresh salsa, and a creamy "secret sauce." It's practically impossible to eat just one—they're that good. And, thanks to the availability of breaded frozen fish sticks in just about every market, a home version of Del Taco Crispy Fish Tacos is stupidly simple. If you can't find crispy halibut sticks in your local store, the more common breaded pollock will work just fine here. You can also use frozen fish portions that are grilled if you're not into the breaded (fried) stuff. The real recipe at Del Taco comes with two thin corn tortillas, but sometimes the only available corn tortillas in consumer markets are the thicker ones. If that's the case, you'll need just one per taco.

    How about a cold margarita to wash down those tacos? Find your favorite famous drink recipes here

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Not rated yet
    Chili's Southwestern Eggrolls Reduced-Fat

    This is one of the most requested conversion recipes. Here now is our reduced-fat version of the tastiest appetizer on Chili's menu. Unlike the real thing that's fried, this amazing clone is baked. Inside is a delicious mixture of corn, green onions, black beans, spinach, jalapeno peppers, reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, and spices. Once these babies come out of the oven hot and crispy, just slice 'em in half and serve 'em surrounding a killer low-fat version of the tasty avocado ranch dressing. 

    Nutrition Facts 
    Serving size–3 halves
    Total servings–3.3
    Calories per serving–480 (Original–725)
    Fat per serving–12g (Original–42g)

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

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  • Score: 3.44 (votes: 9)
    Coca-Cola Classic Coke

    Although the drink is 99 percent sugar water, that other 1 percent is the key to the drink's unique taste. The tangy citrus flavors, from lime juice, citrus oils, and citric acid (today the citric acid has been replaced with phosphoric acid), was used by pharmacist John Pemberton to overcome the inherent unpleasant bitterness of cocaine and caffeine. Even after removing the cocaine from the drink, it was still necessary to conceal the ghastly flavor of kola nut and coca leaf extract from the taste buds with the sweet, tangy syrup.

    To make an accurate clone of Coca-Cola at home, I started with the medicinal ingredient, probably just as John did. But rather than harvesting kola nuts, we have the luxury of access to caffeine pills found in any grocery store or pharmacy. One such brand is Vivarin, but it is yellow in color with a thick coating and it tastes much too bitter. NoDoz, however, is white and less bitter, with a thinner coating. Each NoDoz tablet contains 200 milligrams of caffeine, and a 12-ounce serving Coke has 46 milligrams in it. So, if we use 8 NoDoz tablets that have been crushed into powder with a mortar and pestle (or in a bowl using the back of a spoon) we get 44 milligrams of caffeine in a 12-ounce serving, or 36 milligrams in each of the 10-ounce servings we make with this recipe. 

    Finding and adding the caffeine is the easy part. You'll probably have more trouble obtaining Coke's crucial flavoring ingredient: cassia oil. I was hoping to leave such a hard-to-get ingredient out of this recipe, but I found it impossible. The unique flavor of the Coke absolutely requires the inclusion of this Vietnamese cinnamon oil (usually sold for aromatherapy), but only a very small amount. You'll find the cassia oil in a health food store (I used the brand Oshadhi), along with the lemon oil and orange oil. The yield of this recipe had to be cranked up to 44 10-ounce servings since these oils are so strong—just one drop is all you'll need. Find them in bottles that allow you to measure exactly one drop if you can. If the oils don't come in such a bottle, buy eyedroppers at a drug store. Before you leave the health food store, don't forget the citric acid.

    This recipe, because of the old-fashioned technique of adding the syrup to soda water, creates a clone of Coke as it would taste coming out of a fountain machine. That Coke is usually not as fizzy as the bottled stuff. But if you add some ice to a glass of bottled Coke, and them some of this cloned version, the bubbles will settle down and you'll discover how close the two are. You can keep the syrup in a sealed container in the fridge until you are ready to mix each drink with soda water. 

    Because subtle differences in flavor can affect the finished product, be sure to measure your ingredients very carefully. Use the flat top edge of a butter knife to scrape away the excess sugar and citric acid from the top of the measuring cup and teaspoon, and don't estimate on any of the liquid ingredients.

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

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Red Lobster Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Shrimp

    It's shrimp, it's bacon, it's cheese; what's not to like about this Red Lobster bacon-wrapped shrimp recipe? It's one of the groovy appetizers on the Red Lobster menu, and now you can re-create it at your crib. Find some large shrimp, a wooden skewer or toothpicks, and cook the bacon about halfway to done before you begin. Mix up clones of Red Lobster's top secret seasoning and cilantro-ranch dipping sauce, and you're minutes away from a great appetizer or party finger food dish. For other bacon-inspired dishes, try making Red Lobster's bacon-wrapped scallops recipe

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.41 (votes: 17)
    Waffle House Waffles

    Two friendly Atlanta, Georgia neighbors built the first Waffle House in 1955. With the dimpled breakfast hotcake as a signature item, the privately held chain grew into 20 Southern U.S. states. Today tasty food at rock-bottom prices, plus 24-hours-a-day service, makes Waffle House a regular stop for devoted customers any time of the day or night. And don't even think about referring to your server as a waitress—they're called "associates."

    For the best clone of the 50-year-old secret waffle recipe you should chill the batter overnight in the fridge, just as they do in each of the restaurants. But sometimes you can't wait. If you need instant gratification, the recipe still works if you make the waffles the same day. Wait for at least 15 to 20 minutes before using the batter so that it can thicken a bit. That'll give you time to dust off the waffle iron and heat it up.

    How about some homemade Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage to go with those waffles? Check out my recipes for famous breakfast items here

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.83 (votes: 6)
    Bennigan's The Monte Cristo

    Menu Description: "A delicious combination of ham and turkey, plus Swiss and American cheeses on wheat bread. Lightly battered and fried until golden. Dusted with powdered sugar and served with red raspberry preserves for dipping."

    It sounds crazy, but it tastes great: a triple-decker ham, turkey, and cheese sandwich is dipped in a tempura-style batter; fried to a golden brown; then served with a dusting of powdered sugar and a side of raspberry preserves. For over ten years, tons of cloning requests for this one have stacked up at TSR Central, so it was time for a road trip. There are no Bennigan's in Las Vegas, and since the Bennigan's chain made this sandwich famous, I headed out to the nearest Bennigan's in San Diego.

    Back home, with an ice chest full of the original Bennigan's Monte Cristo sandwiches well-preserved and ready to work with, I was able to come up with this simple clone for a delicious sandwich that is crispy on the outside, and hot, but not greasy, on the inside (the batter prevents the shortening from penetrating). My Bennigan's Monte Cristo recipe makes one sandwich, which may be enough for two. If you want to make more, you'll most likely have to make more batter so that any additional sandwiches get a real good dunking.

    Recently, Bennigan's restaurants across the country have been closing, but with this secret formula you can still experience the taste of the chain's signature sandwich. 

    Try more of my copycat recipes for famous sandwiches here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.70 (votes: 20)
    McDonald's French Fries

    They're the world's most famous French fries, responsible for one-third of all U.S. French fry sales, and many say they're the best. These fried spud strips are so popular that Burger King even changed its own recipe to better compete with the secret formula from Mickey D's. One-quarter of all meals served today in American restaurants come with fries; a fact that thrills restaurateurs since fries are the most profitable menu item in the food industry. 

    Proper preparation steps were developed by McDonald's to minimize in-store preparation time, while producing a fry that is soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. My McDonald's French Fries recipe requires a two-step frying process to replicate the same qualities: the fries are par-fried, frozen, then fried once more to crispy just before serving. Be sure to use a slicer to cut the fries for a consistent thickness (1/4-inch is perfect) and for a cooking result that will make them just like the real thing. As for the rumor that you must soak the fries in sugar water to help them turn golden brown, I also found that not to be necessary. If the potatoes have properly developed, they contain enough sugar on their own to make a good clone with great color.

    Now, how about a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder to go with those fries? Click here for a list of all my McDonald's copycat recipes.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.39 (votes: 31)
    Outback Steakhouse Honey Wheat Bushman Bread

    Along with your meal at this huge national steakhouse chain, comes a freshly baked loaf of dark, sweet bread, served on its own cutting board with soft whipped butter. One distinctive feature of the bread is its color. How does the bread get so dark? Even though my Outback Honey Wheat Bushman bread recipe includes molasses and cocoa, these ingredients alone will not give the bread its dark chocolate brown color. Commercially produced breads that are this dark—such as pumpernickel or dark bran muffins–often contain caramel color, an ingredient used to darken foods. Since your local supermarket will not likely have this mostly commercial ingredient, we'll create the brown coloring from a mixture of three easy-to-find food colorings—red, yellow and blue. If you decide to leave the color out, just add an additional 1 tablespoon of warm water to the recipe. If you have a bread machine, you can use it for kneading the bread (you'll find the order in which to add the ingredients to your machine in "Tidbits"). Then, to finish the bread, divide and roll the dough in cornmeal, and bake.

    Check out more of my copycat Outback Steakhouse recipes here.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.25 (votes: 8)
    Wendy's Hot Chili Seasoning

    The little red packets of viscous hot sauce at the fast food giant have a cult following of rabid fans who will do whatever it takes to get their hands on large quantities. One such fan of the sauce commented online, "Are there any Wendy's employees or managers out there who will mail me an entire case of Hot Chili Seasoning? I swear this is not a joke. I love the stuff. I tip extra cash to Wendy's workers to get big handfuls of the stuff." Well, there's really no need to tip any Wendy's employees, because now you can clone as much of Wendy's Hot Chili Seasoning as you want in your own kitchen with this Top Secret Recipe.

    The ingredients listed on the real Hot Chili Seasoning are water, corn syrup, salt, distilled vinegar, natural flavors, xanthan gum, and extractives of paprika. We'll use many of those same ingredients for our clone, but we'll substitute gelatin for the xanthan gum (a thickener) to get the slightly gooey consistency right. For the natural flavor and color we'll use cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, and garlic powder, then filter the particles out with a fine wire-mesh strainer after they've contributed what the sauce needs.

    My Wendy's Hot Chili Seasoning recipe makes 5 ounces of sauce— just the right amount to fit nicely into a used hot sauce bottle—and costs just pennies to make. 

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  • Score: 2.00 (votes: 1)
    Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese

    It's time to clone America's best-selling brand of instant macaroni & cheese. This recipe is for the "Deluxe" variety of this popular product—that is, the one that comes with an envelope of thick cheese sauce, rather than the dry, powdered cheese. I think the "Deluxe" version is the better tasting of the two. Use my recipe to make creamy macaroni and cheese that tastes like Kraft's Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese at a fraction of the price of the real thing.

    Try more of my copycat recipes from Kraft here.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 4.30 (votes: 10)
    Jack in the Box Taco

    Older than both McDonald's and Burger King, Jack in the Box is the world's fifth-largest hamburger chain, with 1,089 outlets by the end of 1991 in thirteen states throughout the West and Southwest. The restaurant, headquartered in San Diego, boasts one of the largest menus in the fast food world.

    The Jack in the Box Taco has been served since the inception of the chain, with very few changes over the years. I've duplicated this classic here in my Jack In the Box taco recipe below for you to enjoy anytime.

    If you're a fan of Jack in the Box Jumbo Jack or any of Jack's Shakes click here for my clone recipes.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes

    Menu Description: "Topped with sour cream, salsa, avocado and salsa verde."

    Nestled between slick full-page ads on page 7 of the huge 17-page spiral-bound menu from The Cheesecake Factory, is a long list of fabulous appetizers that includes this Southwestern-style crowd pleaser. Hand-formed tamale cakes are arranged on fresh salsa verde, topped with sour cream and creamy Southwestern sauce, with a fresh avocado and cilantro garnish. It's happiness on a plate. And, while the ingredients listed below may seem intimidating at first, the three sauces are very simple to make, and your crew will no doubt be impressed with the results. The flavors in the sauces develop after sitting for a bit so you can prepare them all in advance and let them chill in the fridge until chow time. If you get anything short of a standing ovation for this dish, coax out the kudos by waving the pages of this recipe in front of everyone while wiping your brow. Sometimes you have to milk it.

    Source: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Not rated yet
    Domino's Cheeseburger Pizza

    Domino’s new specialty pizza with seasoned ground beef, onions, tomatoes, and three kinds of cheese will shock your mouth. Even though this pie is more cheese than burger, the secret ketchup-mustard sauce hidden beneath it all makes each mouthful taste like you’re biting into a flat cheeseburger. The only thing missing is pickles.

    Before getting to work on the ketchup-mustard sauce, ground beef, and blend of cheeses, I slightly tweaked the Domino’s pizza dough hack from Step-by-Step. The dough here calls for high-gluten flour, which you can find online, to create the same chewiness in the dough as the real thing. But don’t worry if you can’t find high-gluten flour, just increase the bread flour to 25 ounces (4½ cups).

    The unusual combination of American, provolone, and Cheddar cheese is not what you’d expect on a pizza, but for this particular pie you won’t miss the mozzarella. You’ll need to dice the American and provolone since they usually come sliced and are too soft to shred. Stack everything on your custom dough, bake until the cheese browns, and it’s ready to devour. My Domino's Cheeseburger Pizza recipe makes two large pizzas, so there should be more than enough for your crew.

    You might also like my recipe for Domino's Crispy Bacon & Tomato Specialty Chicken.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Olive Garden Shrimp Scampi

    A comparison of several shrimp scampi recipes reveals a variety of subtle differences in the way each chef makes the classic Italian dish, but the underlying technique is almost always the same: create a sauce, add the shrimp, dump the pasta into the pan, toss, and serve. But if you want to make the fantastic Olive Garden shrimp scampi, you’ll need to follow some very specific secret steps.

    Many other shrimp scampi recipes start with garlic and onions, but you’ll only need garlic for this version. You’ll also be adding tomato to the dish along with chopped asparagus spears to bring some color to the dish and set it apart from traditional scampi recipes. Other methods usually don’t call for cream in the sauce, but Olive Garden uses it in their version so you'll do the same in this hack, and you'll be glad you did. The cream thickens the sauce so that it better coats the shrimp and pasta.

    My exclusive Olive Garden shrimp scampi recipe makes 2 large dinner-size portions but can be divided into 3 to 4 smaller lunch-size servings.

    Find more of your favorite Olive Garden copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Hattie B's Nashville Hot Chicken

    It’s hard to say exactly when Nashville hot chicken was born, but most agree the Prince family of Prince’s Chicken in Nashville, Tennessee can take credit for the dish’s creation. Today there are over two dozen different hot chicken restaurants in Nashville and the popularity of the dish is still growing. The 70-year-old recipe from Prince’s may be the original, but the fastest-growing Nashville hot chicken chain in the country right now is a much newer concept called Hattie B’s.

    Several years ago, Nick Bishop and his son, also Nick Bishop, observed the growth of Nashville hot chicken concepts and wanted a piece of the action. They opened the first Hattie B’s in Nashville in 2012, and business was good. Today there are six Hattie B’s in three southern states and one in Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where I was able to get my hands on a fresh sample of the real thing without taking a round trip flight to Tennessee.    

    At the Vegas Hattie B’s I sat at the food counter close to the fryer and watched the chicken being made, which provided some useful intel for my clone. I learned that the fried chicken drenched in the spicy oil paste is the “medium” heat level chicken. For the “hot” chicken an additional dry seasoning blend is sprinkled on the basted chicken.

    The oily paste is what makes Nashville chicken special, so I made sure to obtain a sample of the sauce in a small cup for later study. Most of the ingredients were predictable—paprika, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, sugar, and lots of cayenne—but the oil had an unusual taste to it. I recalled reading that the oil used for traditional Nashville hot chicken comes out of the fryer after several batches of chicken have been fried in it. When the chicken fries in the oil it contributes tasty flavors that make the fat a great base for the spicy baste.

    So, to properly replicate Hattie B's Nashville Hot Chicken at home, wait for at least one batch of chicken to cook in the oil, then carefully remove a cup, let it cool a bit, and whisk the spices into it.

    Now, what delicious side dishes are you going to make? Click here to see my recipes. 

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  • Not rated yet
    Panda Express Fortune Cookies

    I like making fortune cookies because it means I get to write fortunes. My fortunes are sometimes ridiculous (“No matter what, be sure you don’t…ah, never mind. Have a cookie.”), sometimes sarcastic (“Wow, you broke a cookie! Have you been working out?”), and sometimes paradoxical (“These cookies are filled with lies.”). But’s let’s face it, the fortune isn't the best part. What matters most is that the cookie tastes good.

    Contrary to popular belief, fortune cookies are not from China. They don’t even serve them in China. Fortune cookies are an American invention, created either in San Francisco or Los Angeles in the early 1900s—the exact origin is in dispute. Originally, I set out to clone the best-selling fortune cookie in the U.S., called Golden Bowl, made by Wonton Foods. But I found out that I don’t like those cookies. They're thin and tasteless and have an unnatural orange tint to them. Instead, I chose to hack the thicker, tastier, golden brown Panda Express fortune cookies.

    Fortune cookies start their life looking like pancake batter. The batter is formed into 3-inch circles that, when baked, become thin cookies. These are pliable when warm and crispy when cool—so you’ll need to work fast when forming them. Because they’re so thin, it’s best to bake the cookies on a silicone pad or nonstick foil. You can also use parchment paper, but it tends to ripple from the moisture of the batter, and that ripple shows up on the surface of the cookies.

    I suggest baking just three or four cookies at a time so that they'll all be warm and pliable while you add the fortunes and shape them. And if you're very fortunate, you can find a helpful someone to assist you with that part, so you'll be able to make more cookies faster. 

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    Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles

    Forty-five years ago, chicken and waffles sounded like an unusual combination to most people, but not to Herb Hudson. He loved the dish so much when he lived in Harlem, New York, where it was created, that he brought it west in 1975 to Long Beach, California, and turned the concept into a chain of seven legendary Los Angeles restaurants that were successful for decades.

    But Roscoe’s has recently fallen on hard times. Eater.com reported in January 2018 that the chain had declared bankruptcy and owed $27 million. Snoop Dogg, known over the years for claiming Roscoe’s as his favorite restaurant, told TMZ that he was going to buy the chain and call it Snoop Dogg’s Chicken ‘N Waffles. That deal never happened.

    I’m not sure what’s in the cards for Roscoe’s, but I thought it might be a good idea to head out to the Roscoe’s on Gower in LA and do a little hacking, and the sooner, the better. Once there, I ordered plenty of extra chicken and waffles to go, popped them into the cooler, then headed back to Vegas and got to work.

    The chicken at Roscoe’s is Southern-style, which usually means the chicken is soaked in buttermilk, but several workers there insisted that wasn’t the case. So instead, I brined the chicken in a simple salt solution and was pleased to discover that it tasted like theirs. By peeking into the kitchen I observed that Roscoe’s chicken is pan-fried, which is a very Southern thing to do with chicken, so we’ll do the same with our chicken clone. My waiter claimed they use canola oil.

    As for the waffles, they’re made special with a secret combination of spices added to the batter. I noted a strong taste of cinnamon and vanilla, with just a dash of nutmeg. To be sure, I confirmed these three ingredients with a very helpful server from another table who was proud to talk about the recipe, and even high-fived me when I called out the correct secret ingredients. 

    Combine the recipes I've created here, and enjoy Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles at home anytime.

    Re-create more of your favorite famous dishes 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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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Shake Shack Frozen Vanilla Custard

    What started as a single food cart in Madison Square Park in New York City in 2000 has become one of America's fastest-growing food chains. In 2014, Shake Shack filed for its initial public offering of stock, and shares rose by 147 percent on the first day of trading. The chain’s success can be attributed to a simple menu of great food that makes any bad day better, including juicy flat-grilled burgers, thick shakes, and creamy frozen custard.

    Custard is made just like ice cream with many of the same ingredients, except custard has egg yolks in it for extra richness. Also, custards are made in ice cream machines with paddles that move slowly so minimal air is mixed in. Home ice cream makers work great for custard, and will churn out a thick, creamy finished product. Using the right ratio of cream to milk and just enough egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla, you can now make an identical hack of Shake Shack frozen vanilla custard, which is great on its own or topped with syrups, fruit, and candy bits. 

    And don’t forget that custards taste best when they’re fresh. Shake Shack serves the custard within a couple of hours of making it, so consume your homemade Shake Shack vanilla custard as quickly as you can after it’s churned. 

    If you're a fan of Shake Shack Vanilla Milkshake, you can duplicate it at home using this custard recipe as a base. Use my recipe here, and re-create the juicy Shake Shake Burger with my hack here.

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    Bob Evans Farms Chocolate Chunk Cookies

    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 Evans 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 Evans Farms brand, especially this top-selling, chewy, chocolaty cookie that can now be hacked in a snap by you with my Bob Evans chocolate chunk cookies recipe. 

    You might also like my recipe for Bob Evans Banana Nut Bread Loaf.

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    Capital Grille Creme Brulee

    For years now I've been on the lookout for a great chain restaurant crème brulee to clone for one of my books, but I hadn't located a really fantastic formula to hack until I tried this one. The Capital Grille's Classic Crème Brulee is a perfect blend of sweet and creamy with amazing flavor that comes from real vanilla bean. If you want an easy dessert to impress that you can prepare a day or two in advance of the sit-down, this is your recipe. When it comes time to serve the brulee, sprinkle each serving with a little white sugar and caramelize it with a small chef's torch (if you don't already have one, you can find them online or at kitchen stores for around 15 bucks). Add a garnish of fresh seasonal berries plus a sprig of mint, and serve up the goodness. 

    Now, how about an amazing petite filet for dinner

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step 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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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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