Thursday, April 11, 2013

Eats: Top Secret Recipes

Hello! As it was chilly and rainy here today, a steaming bowl of soup was perfect for tonight's dinner. We dined on Olive Garden's Toscana Soup; very tasty! If you've not had this soup, it's made with potato, kale and Italian sausage, simmered in a broth of chicken stock and cream. 

We don't have an Olive Garden restaurant in our town. Did we hop in our car and drive to the closest one? No, we did not - we stayed in the comfort of our own home, and saved money to boot, by making the copycat recipe from Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Restaurant Recipes cookbook.

I don't recall when I first learned of Todd Wilbur and his penchant for recreating commercially-produced foods at home. I have had his first cookbook, Top Secret Recipes, for years now. I may have purchased it, discounted, at a Sam's Club. 
I've also gotten recipes from Wilbur's website, seen HERE; there is an index of recipes organized by company or restaurant chain name. One can sign up to receive email alerts when new recipes are posted. 

Unfortunately, some of the recipes on the website come at a cost of 79c. The Toscana Soup is one of these. (when a fee is involved, only the introduction to the recipe and the very beginning of the ingredients are shown on the website). And due to copyright laws, I cannot share the recipe in this post. I will add, though, that if you google "Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana recipe" you'll get somewhat similar-sounding recipes. 
Or perhaps you'll find a secondhand copy of the cookbook; I've picked up some of Wilbur's subsequent cookbooks that way (he's published several by now). 

You may wonder why anyone would go to the bother of replicating commercially-produced, brand-name foods at home. Well, for one thing, besides saving money, the cook can also shave calories or add more nutrients without sacrificing taste. For instance, when I made the Toscana soup earlier tonight, I used turkey Italian sausage instead of regular Italian sausage, milk instead of heavy cream, and doubled the amount of kale. 

Admittedly, some of the Top Secret recipes are quite fussy to make, and there are others that call for deep frying. I don't bother with these recipes, but have enjoyed making versions of Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls, Kraft Thousand Island Dressing, 7-Eleven Slurpees, Skyline Chili (from a Cincinnati-area chain), and more. 

As with the Toscana soup recipe, I reduced calories when possible, and richer recipes like the one from Cinnabon have been a rare treat. But I see nothing wrong with having a home-style Slurpee once in awhile when the temperatures begin to soar. Besides, we don't have a 7-Eleven here, either. 

(The Slurpee recipe is available for free, by the way, on the Top Secret website, so you may wish to give it a try - it's easy, especially if you have a good blender.)


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