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Cookbook Review: Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step Cookbook

Disclosure: I received a sample of this cookbook for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience using the book.  I was not financially compensated for this post.
One of the things I love about being an independent blogger is having the ability to try new things and share my experience of them with others.  Some of my favorite things to review are new cookbooks and recipes!  If you follow @fabeverydayblog on social media, you know that I cook dinner for my family just about every night.  Thus I am always looking for new recipes.  If you are like me and looking for new recipes to try for your family, Todd Wilbur's new Top Secret Recipes cookbook is the best $13 you can spend.  Your family will thank you, as mine sure did as I tested these recipes over the last few weeks!
Todd is a famous "food hacker," acclaimed for his deadly accurate copycat recipes.  The book boasts having cracked the code for recipes like KFC's Original Recipe Chicken, IKEA's Swedish Meatballs, and McDonald's Big Mac.  Those three alone made the cookbook worth a try, but as I looked through the 125 recipe options in the book, there were tons that I could not wait to test.  I ended up testing 13 recipes total, and loved every single one.
I have detailed reviews, including photos, of each recipe I tried below.  Overall I can say that almost every one I tried was spot-on with the flavor of the original restaurant version.  Several of them were actually better than the restaurant version - the flavor was right on, but the fact that they were homemade with fresh ingredients somehow made them seem even better than the original! 
Legal Sea Foods New England Clam Chowder
My first every homemade clam chowder was surprisingly easy thanks to the author's detailed instructions and step-by-step photos.  This was creamy and savory, just like the original.  I didn't serve them with oyster crackers or some crusty bread to dip, but I would recommend trying it that way if you make this.

McDonald's Big Mac

I was so excited to try this Big Mac!  The recipe included everything you need to make the imitation, from how to make the special sauce and how to cut the bun!  This is one that was shockingly accurate in flavor, but actually better than the original in my opinion.  It had the flavors and essence of a Big Mac from McDonald's, but with a fresher, more "real" flavor, being that it was completely homemade with fresh -- not previously frozen or mystery -- ingredients.  With this recipe you can also see the author's attention to getting it just right - he even had recommendations on how to cut the patties into the exact size, and how to make the bread softer (like it had been packed in a box steaming itself before serving).

The Capital Grille Lobster Mac 'N' Cheese
I've actually never had this recipe at the restaurant, so I can't compare the copycat to the original.  However, I can say that this was a delicious, creamy mac 'n' cheese recipe that was relatively easy to make.  I also appreciate that the author included tips on getting the presentation just right.  I also had enough leftover cheese and dry pasta to make this twice.  The second time I substituted the lobster for bacon.  Great idea, if I don't say so myself (because, when is bacon ever a bad idea?).

IKEA Swedish Meatballs
This girl is a big fan of IKEA, and I frequently visit their café to get their Swedish Meatballs.  The recipe in the cookbook included the meatballs and the creamy gravy.  Once again, this was amazingly accurate in flavor and texture.  This is definitely one I will be doing again.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Cilantro-Lime Brown Rice
Arguably my favorite thing about Chipotle is the cilantro rice.  Therefore, I had to try this one.  Again, spot-on.  There were no leftovers of this one!
KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken
Along with the Big Mac, the Original Recipe Chicken was my most anticipated recipe from the book.  I think part of the key is the brining, but the author also seems to have unlocked the 11 secret ingredients (or at least 11 that taste exactly like it when combined)!  The seasoning blend tasted dead on.  I do feel that mine turned out a bit saltier than the original, and perhaps this is from the brining process.  I like salt, so this was fine, but it did seem saltier than the KFC version.

Marie Callender's Cornbread
Fun Fab Everyday fact: I worked at Marie Callender's for six years in high school and college.  In fact, I met my husband and my lifelong best friends working at the flagship Callender's restaurant on Wilshire in LA.  So, obviously, I had to try this recipe for Marie Callender's cornbread and honey butter.  Unfortunately, this wasn't exactly right. This was an amazing cornbread recipe that I will definitely make again, but something about the texture wasn't quite the same as Marie's. 

Jack in the Box Beef Taco
Anyone else eat a lot of these at Jack in the Box in the college days?  Two tacos for a buck... can't beat it!  These took a bit more prep than some of the other recipes, but it was worth it.  They tasted exactly like the Jack in the Box version.  Yum!!  Greasy, but yum!

Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion
Pardon the ugly presentation, but I kind of rushed through this one, and didn't take as much time and detail to make it look pretty.  That being said, both the Bloomin' Onion and the recipe for its dipping sauce was pretty dang accurate.  My oldest son even went to town on it, scraping the plate for crunchy crumbs afterwards.  I appreciate how the author describes the process the restaurant has for cutting the onions, but then gives us his hack to do it at home.

Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich
My husband has always said that he felt the key to Chick-Fil-A chicken is that it's fried in peanut oil.  He is right... it sure is!  I think the other key is the brining process for making the chicken filet. Super good, and definitely gave us our Chick-Fil-A fix. 

McDonald's Baked Apple Pie
I don't feel like mine looked exactly like the restaurant's version, but the taste was exactly right.  It also felt good that they were baked and not fried. 

Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers and Cane's Sauce
We absolutely LOVE both the chicken fingers and the Cane's Sauce at Raising Cane's. I was doubtful that this recipe could be matched, but both my husband and I agree that the recipes for both the chicken strips and the Cane's Sauce were spot on.  The tenderness and juiciness of the chicken tenders, the consistency and texture of the breading, and even the "secret" Cane's Sauce made this meal 100% accurate.  Seriously, it was like eating fresh takeout from Raising Cane's.  Mind was blown.
IHOP Original Buttermilk Pancakes
This was a fun one, since my older son's favorite restaurant is IHOP, and since the Original Buttermilk Pancakes is all he orders when we go there.  My husband and I felt that the recipe was perfect.  My discerning-IHOP-fan son loved them, but said they still tasted homemade as opposed to restaurant-made.  I think it was because of the texture and thickness of how I made them versus the restaurant that made him feel this way.  The flavor, however, seemed just right to me.
If you like restaurant food, but would rather save the money and have more control over your ingredients, this cookbook is for you.  Not only are the hacks incredibly accurate as-is, but also, making them at home gives you the option to substitute healthier ingredients if the high amount of calories in restaurant food disturbs you.  I will repeat several of these, and will enjoy experimenting with some substitutions (can't eat Big Macs every week, after all!).  Click here to purchase your own copy of the Top Secret Recipes cookbook on Amazon.  What are your favorite restaurant meal hacks?  Comment below or hit me up on social media to let me know!


Travel Tuesday: Eating My Way Through Chicago

A few weeks ago I went to Chicago for the first time.  I know, it's crazy that with all the travel I do, and with how much I love big cities, that I had never been to the windy city.  For years people told me I would love Chicago.  Now that I have been, I can say that they were all right!
There was something about that city.  It felt like a big city (like LA, that feeling that everything you need is at your fingertips), but the vibe was friendly and a bit more relaxed than fast-paced LA or NYC.  I felt almost immediately that this trip was the beginning of a love affair I would have getting to know Chicago over many more future trips.
One of the reasons I fell so readily in love was the FOOD!  I only had a few days there, but ate some amazing food in that time.  Today's post will highlight how I ate my way through the windy city.  I am sure there are many more restaurants to try, and I look forward to the opportunity in the future.
First Evening: Wrigleyville
We were so lucky that we got to see a home Cubs game on our first trip to Chicago!  Seeing a game at Wrigley was on my family travel bucket list, and it was amazing.  Dinner was a hot dog (one must have a hot dog - no ketchup - while in Chicago) at the game, but more snacking came after the game in a bar called Deuce's and the Diamond Club in Wrigleyville.  When I saw "Glass of Bacon" as an option on the appetizers menu, I was sold. 


Second Evening: The Purple Pig

Several restaurants were recommended to us, like Girl and the Goat, RPM Italian, Rosebud, and Del Frisco's.  With only one more night for dinner, we opted for The Purple Pig, which was recommended highly. We will just have to come back soon to try those others!

The Purple Pig was totally our speed: a tapas-style restaurant that was heavy on the pork, with a Mediterranean influence.  We started with the Housemade Morcilla Sausage, Poached Lobster Tail, Grilled Asparagus with Rhubarb & Spring Pea.  I thought it was funny that the server said "you know morcilla is blood sausage, right?" as a disclaimer.  Oh, we know.  And yes, we definitely still want it.  It was amazing.

The server recommended we try the Pork Belly Rillons, Honey Mead Glaze, which we did, and really enjoyed.  We also tried one of their "smears." 

For dessert we were told that the house favorite was the way to go.  We got the Sicilian Iris (Ricotta & Chocolate Chip Filled Fried Brioche), along with some ouzo (reminding us of our time on Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage this summer).  This was definitely the way to go!

After dinner we caught a great improv comedy performance at The Second City.  The kids were so talented!  A very fun night, and at only $5 per person, worth every penny.   To pass the time before the show and after dinner, we did a little shopping on State Street, then found this fabulous champagne bar called Pops for Champagne.  We sampled an amazing cuvee and a blanc de noir, along with a few more appetizers.  I can never resist a good tuna tartare, and was so happy I ordered it.  Pops had one of the better tuna tartares that I have had in a long time.  Made with ahi tuna and black tobikko caviar, it was bound to be good. The hubs got the Tempura Wisconsin Cheese Curds, which were decadent and delicious.

Last Day: Lou Malnati's

Another thing you must eat when in Chicago is Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.  After receiving various recommendations, we opted for Lou Malnati's.  Now, admittedly, we are more of a New York-style pizza couple.  We love the thinner crust.  That being said, the pizza at Lou Malnati's blew us away.  You can't really compare it to NY-style pizza, as it is a different gastronomic experience altogether.  We thoroughly enjoyed this cheesy, saucy pie.  Note that your pizza takes a good amount of time to bake, so plan to go when you have some time. 

I am sure we barely scratched the surface of dining in Chicago, which seems to be a foodie's delight of a city.  Where should we go next time?  Let me know in the comments!


Super Easy DIY Lego Movie Halloween Costumes for the Whole Family

Our kids are really into the Lego Movie.  This is actually fine with the hubs and me since it is a really clever movie that even we enjoy as adults.  Their love for Lego Movie resulted not only in our group family Halloween costume, but also in the theme for G's birthday party this year.  More on that in December!

Pulling these costumes together was ridiculously easy and budget-friendly.  Here is how we did each one (Emmet, Batman, Wyldstyle, and Benny). 

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