Book Review: Top Secret Recipes Step by Step

top secret recipesWhen author Todd Wilbur asked me if I’d like to review his newest cookbook, Top Secret Recipes Step By Step, I was instantly intrigued. Who hasn’t wondered how to make their favorite restaurant food? After looking through the book and trying out some of the recipes, I can sum this cookbook up in one word: fun. Okay, maybe two words would be better: fun & delicious.

Here’s what I liked about the cookbook:

  • Usually if I flip through a recipe book, I’m interested in trying out only a small percentage of the items listed. If a quarter of the recipes sound good, that’s impressive. But with Top Secret Recipes, there are only a handful that don’t sound delicious. The vast majority are on my want-to-try list.
  • Each recipe has multiple pictures. Most recipes have about ten, and all the pictures are in color. While cooking, you know not only how the end product is supposed to look, but also how it should look during most steps of the process.
  • I learned something from each recipe I made. For example, if you want cookies to be chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside, use frozen dough. Or if you don’t want your broiled shrimp to curl up at the ends, use two skewers, one on each end.
  • I enjoyed each of the recipes I tried. The Carrabba’s Pollo Rosa Maria was good, the Bubba Gump Shrimp New Orleans was amazing, and the Mrs. Fields recipe is my new go-to recipe for chocolate chip cookies.
  • The recipes are adaptable. Want KFC fried chicken, but don’t want to eat MSG? If you’re flexible about the taste, you can just leave it out.
  • The recipes gave me lots of ideas, even when I didn’t make the exact item. For example, I often make baked fries at home from scratch. I didn’t use the recipe for Arby’s Curly Fries, but I looked at the ingredient list and used that combination of spices. Since I didn’t batter and fry them, they didn’t taste exactly like the real deal, but they were still a fun change-up from the usual.
  • Each recipe is marked easy, medium, or hard, so you know what you’re getting into before you whip out the mixing bowl or the frying pan. I might not try any of the hard recipes while I still have young kids at home, but as my kids get older, I could see us having fun making Hostess Cupcakes and some of the other more time and labor intensive foods. Maybe someday we’ll even be brave enough to make Dippin’ Dots ice cream (it requires liquid nitrogen).
  • The book has a table of contents. I’ve been surprised by how many cookbooks skip those few pages, but having a list of all the recipes makes it so much easier to get meal ideas or to find the recipe you want. It also has an index, so you can look the recipe up by the brand name or by the dish name.
  • The book would make a great gift for anyone who likes to spend time in the kitchen, or for anyone who likes to solve food mysteries.
  • The only suggestion I’d make is different binding: the trade paperback doesn’t stay open by itself. While cooking, I had to prop it open. It’s not a big deal and I’d still call this a five-star cookbook, but spiral binding would make the book even better. Oh, and one other wish. I would love Todd to hack some of the recipes for Cafe Zupas.

Here’s the official blurb from the publisher:

A knockout full-color cookbook from America’s Clone Recipe King

For more than twenty-five years, Todd Wilbur has been obsessed with recreating America’s most iconic brand-name foods at home. In his first cookbook with color photos, the New York Times bestselling author brings you 125 new clone recipes: 75 first-time hacks and 50 overhauled all-time favorites. Each recipe comes with easy-to-follow step-by-step photos so that even novice cooks can perfectly recreate their favorite famous foods with everyday ingredients. And your homemade versions cost just a fraction of what the restaurants charge! The result of years of careful research, trial-and-error, and a little creative reverse-engineering, Top Secret Recipes® Step-by-Step hacks:

• KFC® Original Recipe® Fried Chicken and Cole Slaw
• Cinnabon® Classic Cinnamon Roll
• IKEA® Swedish Meatballs
• Pinkberry® Original Frozen Yogurt
• Raising Cane’s® Chicken Fingers and Sauce
• Arby’s® Curly Fries
• Lofthouse® Frosted Cookies
• Wendy’s® Chili
• Panera Bread® Fuji Apple Chicken Salad
• Starbucks® Cake Pops
• Cafe Rio® Sweet Pork Barbacoa
• McDonald’s® McRib® Sandwich
• The Melting Pot® Cheddar Cheese Fondue
• P.F. Chang’s® Chicken Lettuce Wraps
• The Cheesecake Factory® Stuffed Mushrooms
• Ben & Jerry’s® Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream
• Chick-fil-A® Chicken Sandwich
• Chili’s® Baby Back Ribs
• Chipotle Mexican Grill® Adobo-Marinated Grilled Chicken & Steak
• Cracker Barrel® Hash Brown Casserole
• Mrs. Fields® Chocolate Chip Cookies
• Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse® Sweet Potato Casserole
And over 100 more delicious dishes, from snacks and appetizers to entrees and desserts!

*I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.