Monday, September 14, 2009

Review: America's Most Wanted Recipes

Summary: Discover the recipes from America's most popular family restaurants and cook them at home for a fraction of the price!

Wouldn't it be nice if you could treat yourself to dishes from your favorite restaurants anytime? Now you can -- at home! In America's Most Wanted Recipes, Ron Douglas reveals copycat versions of carefully guarded secret restaurant recipes and shows family chefs how to prepare them at home, saving time and money. With these easy and mouth-watering recipes, families can enjoy a night out in their very own kitchens.

- Great selection: With more than 200 recipes from 57 of America's most popular restaurants -- including The Cheesecake Factory, KFC, Olive Garden, P.F. Chang's, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, and many more -- no taste or craving will be left unsatisfied.

- Cut the cost: Watch your wallet without giving up restaurant quality food! You can save your family thousands of dollars each year by preparing these recipes just once a week.

- Skip the lines: Forget about waiting to be seated. You can have your favorite meals "on demand" from the comfort of your own kitchen. Time-saving tips and shortcuts will have dinner on the table in no time.

- Eat healthy: Low-fat alternatives and waist-slimming suggestions make these dishes delicious -- and nutritious.

- Impress your family and friends: These recipes are all fast, simple, and virtually indistinguishable from the originals. We bet your family and friends won't be able to tell the difference! -- Atria

When I found out that Atria Publicity was running "The Great American Taste Test" as a way to feature their new cookbook AMERICA'S MOST WANTED RECIPES: DELICIOUS RECIPES FROM YOUR FAMILY'S FAVORITE RESTAURANTS by Ron Douglas, I jumped at the chance to participate. I love, love, love cookbooks (notice I didn't say I love cooking!) and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun. Plus, I have to admit that I was more than a little curious about how close the recipes would be to the restaurant favorites.

Basically, the premise of the taste test was that I had to make a recipe (or two) from AMERICA'S MOST WANTED RECIPES; and I also had to buy the restaurant version of the same dish. Then, I had to do the actual taste test with my family or friends to see how they two dishes compared. I spent quite a bit of time pouring through the cookbook oohing and aahing at some of the recipes; but when it came time to actually pick out a dish, I had a few problems. First of all, I do not live in the most cosmopolitan area so a lot of the restaurants just aren't here. Second, I have a very picky family (and that's not even counting the food allergies) so they are not exactly easy to cook for!

I finally decided to make Olive Garden's Pasta e Fagioli which is a soup made up of "white and red beans, ground beef, tomatoes and pasta in a savory broth." I knew my family wasn't going to be thrilled with my choice, but it was a healthy meal and even my son who has loads of food allergies could eat it. I was a little concerned that the serving size said 10 servings because that's a lot of soup for a family of four. Well, I have to tell you that this recipe made so much soup that I had to change pots halfway through -- you can imagine the mess! I ended up using a huge stockpot and it was well over halfway full -- this recipe makes 10 very large servings. My husband saw it cooking on the stove and asked if I was making soup for an entire restaurant.

The recipe for the soup isn't at all difficult. There is some chopping involved for the vegetables, but everything else was extremely simple. I'd say it took me about an hour and a half to prepare, but that included cooking time too! I actually made the version a little healthier because I used the very lean ground beef as well as fat-free beef broth. I knew that I might be sacrificing some taste, but I also knew that I wanted it to be good for us.

When I made the soup, I didn't know what the Olive Garden version looked like. I ended up cutting baby carrots very thin (the recipe said to cut the carrots in thin slices); however, the "real" version had matchstick carrots in it. Not a big deal, but it was a little different. The biggest difference was that the recipe called for shell pasta, and the Olive Garden soup has ditalini (you know those little tube shaped pasta.) My husband definitely thought this was a big difference because ditalini is a thicker and firmer pasta than shells.

When I served both versions of the soup, my husband had no problem picking out the Olive Garden soup. He immediately commented that their version was seasoned a lot more than mine was. I'm going to chalk that up to using lower-fat beef and beef broth. However, it also could have been the type of spaghetti sauce that I used. I could easily see if you chose a more seasoned sauce, it could have had a major impact on the flavor of the soup. I actually thought the recipes were fairly similar even down to the slight kick of Tabasco sauce. I am a big fan of pasta e fagioli, and I thought the recipe in the cookbook was delicious. I would make it again (only not the entire recipe.) It was definitely not exactly the same as the Olive Garden's pasta e fagioli, but it was good nonetheless.

I hesitate to even mention this, but I also thought I'd do the taste test for an Olive Garden dessert -- the Lemon Cream Cake. I have had the Olive Garden's version of this dessert, and I was thrilled to have a recipe for it. The Lemon Cream Cake is a "delicate white cake and lemon cream filling with a vanilla crumb topping." When I made the cookbook version, I thought maybe I had made a mistake and confused the two different lemon desserts. The cookbook version was a triple layer sponge cake with lemon filling between (and on top of ) the cake layers. While the Olive Garden dessert had two cake layers with a lemon mousse type filling in the middle and a crumb topping. (I did check the menu again and the recipe does have the same name as the Olive Garden menu item.)

I didn't mind that the desserts looked differently because what really counted, as far as I was concerned, was how they tasted. If I'm being honest, the desserts weren't really all that close. The cake portion was similar, but the Olive Garden version was much moister. I'll go ahead and assume that I'm to blame for that; however, the lemon cream was an entirely different matter. The lemon cream in the cookbook version has a much stronger lemon color and flavor; and it also didn't have the same consistency. It is clear to me that the Olive Garden version of the lemon cream contained some cream cheese, and cream cheese wasn't even an ingredient in the recipe. In addition, the crumb topping (which is so good) wasn't even included in the cookbook version. Frankly, I was disappointed with the cake. Had I not been expecting it to be similar to the Olive Garden Lemon Cream Cake, I might have thought it was a decent dessert; but it certainly didn't live up to my expectations.

Please excuse the pictures -- I know they aren't good, but I just wanted to give you an idea of what the desserts looked like!

There are a few more recipes that I wanted to try, but I don't think I will be doing anymore taste tests. I think I will appreciate this cookbook far more if I just enjoy the recipes without trying to compare them to the real things.

For book club last week, I made two desserts from the cookbook. The first one I made was Chili's Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie. This is described as "a warm, chewy "candy bar," layered with chocolate chips, walnuts, and coconut. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with hot fudge and caramel." I actually substituted chopped almonds for the recipe and used a pre-made graham cracker crust. The recipes was so easy and delicious. I have no idea how it compared to Chili's version, but it doesn't really matter to me. A good dessert is a good dessert!

I also made The Cheesecake Factory Pumpkin Cheesecake. The recipe was extremely simple, but my cheesecake did get some huge cracks in it. I debated about serving it to my friends but decided that surely they would understand the ugly nature of my desert. One of the women said that she had tried the "real" deal and she couldn't say whether the cheesecake tasted identical to The Cheesecake Factory's, but she said mine was just as good if not better. I loved that it had a light consistency rather than a heavy one, and the pumpkin flavor wasn't at all overwhelming. I will definitely be making this one again -- maybe even for Thanksgiving.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book and giving me the opportunity to participate in "The Great American Taste Test."


Beth F said...

I don't usually go for restaurant recipes, but the desserts sound good (no matter how similar or not to the restaurants).

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I love the idea of doing a side-by-side recipe/taste-test! Any excuse for a sweet (or a soup, as the case may be)

Sounds like a fun project and a good cookbook.

Julie said...

I've got a better recipe for Pasta Figioli soup if you want it. It's easier and doesn't sound as messy.

bermudaonion said...

We participated in this too and had a great time. The two desserts you showed don't even compare, though.

RestaurantZoom said...

The restaurant recipes sound interesting. Almost everyone has some favorite restaurant specialities that they would like to explore with right?

Anonymous said...

I don't think this is the cookbook for me. I'd just end up disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I tried out the Chocolate Chip Paradise pie, and it was pretty similar to the Chili's version. I agree with you, though, that we should appreciate the recipes for what they are without comparing. Just because it doesn't taste like the restaurant version doesn't mean it's not good!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

You really do spoil your book club! I love it. Kudos to you choosing a healthy meal to prepare for your family. I totally would have splurged and tried KFC or something equally bad!

Anonymous said...

Ron Douglas claims he created these recipes through trial-and-error, however most of this book is plagiarized from other sources including the Top Secret Recipes books by Todd Wilbur, The Panera Bread Cookbook, Welcome to Junior's (cheesecake recipe), California Pizza Kitchen Cookbook, Bennigan's Escape from Everyday Cookbook, and many other sources from the Internet. Most of the recipes in this book were created long before he ever started selling his first e-book in 2003. He never gives the original authors the credit they deserve, he falsely claims in television interviews (ABC News Now, Fox) that specific recipes created by these other authors took him anywhere from 2 to 6 months to create. We should not support such dishonesty. It's not fair to the original authors.

Ron Douglas said...

We discovered who is responsible for the Ron Douglas Plagiarism false allegations - see this post for all the shameful details: