How to eat American restaurant food without leaving home

by Christina Geyer on December 16, 2008 · 18 comments

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I blogged about this topic briefly in passing, but now I think it’s deserves it’s own post.  A while back, I got the book Top Secret Restaurant Recipes: Creating Kitchen Clones from America’s Favorite Restaurant Chains by Todd Wilbur (also available at and it’s follow-up Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2.  It’s been nine months now and I’ve got to credit these books with getting rid of a lot of my homesickness for the US.  On my recent visit, I wasn’t even all that excited about going out to eat.  I was just as happy to stay in and cook for my family, which is a big change, cause on previous trips I was all about getting to my favorite restaurants as many times as possible.  Sure, not all my favorite dishes are in these books, and it only covers big chains, but for folks missing eating out in the US (expats and budget-conscience Americans alike), I’d say these books are a must-have.

This evening, we enjoyed Macaroni Grill’s Penne Rustica (recipe in the 2nd book), only better.  Imagine being able to tweak the restaurant recipes just for your taste.  Think there should be sausage in there?  Go for it.  Not only that, but European expats will often be cooking with better basic ingredients, like European butter, cream and eggs.  So far, I’ve been pretty happy with everything I made, well, maybe except for the Hooters Pasta Salad, that was pretty boring.  The Red Robin Burger was great, as was the Benihana Mandarin Cheesecake and the Cheesecake Factory Original Cheesecake.  An borrowed the books and made some delicious California Pizza Kitchen pizzas, and we can’t get enough of the Shoney’s Slow-Cooked Pot Roast.  We’ve enjoyed Tony Roma’s Ribs and Outback Steakhouse’s Blue Cheese Dressing.   Oh, and I almost forgot Big Boy’s Cream of Broccoli Soup, that was delish!

A disclaimer, these aren’t the actual recipes, but rather clones created by the author.  You can get his recipes off of his website (a few are free, most are for a fee) and check out some of his other books, like on cloning various drinks and three books from his Top Secret Recipes series that cover things like Big Macs and Bisquick mix.

His recipes are pretty easy to follow, the only downside is that he sometimes uses convenience products, like cake mix or Bisquick (like in the Red Lobster Garlic-Cheddar Biscuits recipe).  Fellow expats will just have to be creative here.  When he calls for Cool Whip, I just whip some cream and add that, tastes way better that way anyway.

  • An

    I am ready for another invite for the cloned meal!!Just let me know!! YUM

  • Christina G

    You’re welcome anytime, but with your sis’s dog allergy, I’m thinking it will have to wait till after the holidays.

  • Alice

    Girl – you rock! You know, I’ve been here far less time than you but completely miss eating out. I’ve yet to find a good, cheap(ish)/affordable restaurant in our extended area.

    I will definately have to get these books to help ease some of my homesickness!

    Thank you!!!!!!!

    (PS – Hope you and Oliver are recovering nicely.)

  • cliff1976

    I didn’t really start to get my cook on until after moving to Germany.

    European expats will often be cooking with better basic ingredients, like European butter, cream and eggs.

    So I personally have little to no basis for comparison. Can you elaborate on the statement above please?

    cliff1976s last blog post..A trip to Budapest in June 2009

  • Jentry

    Hi Christina,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while (I’m friends with Cliff and Sarah and I’m living in Weiden). I just wanted to comment that you can also find LOADS of copycat recipes on They have basically everything and that is where I get most of my copycat recipes from.

    Thanks for your blog by the way! I have used the “American Foodstuffs Substitutes” countless number of times!

    Thanks again!

  • Christina G

    @Alice: We are, thanks!

    @cliff: Well, butter, for example, contains 80-82% butterfat in the US and the butter is allowed to contain preservatives, colorings and flavorings. European butter generally contains 82-84% butterfat, making it taste richer. Other products have similar differences, animals tend to be treated a tad more humanely and are fed different grains than in the US, producing a slightly different flavor (US beef does taste better in than European beef, though). You get more locally grown produce that’s in season at the markets. Not only are German products often better tasting than the American counterparts, French and Italian products taste WAY better than the German ones. It’s just what the society demands.

    @jentry: Hi there and thanks for commenting! I have checked out a lot of recipes on RecipeZaar. After getting these books, I noticed that many are word for word copies of Todd Wilbur’s recipes, so you can get his content for free if you’d like. I figure he put a lot of hard work into cloning these recipes, and since I use his recipes so much, I’d rather just have his book. It’s nice to sit in the kitchen flipping through the pages, but it’s totally a personal preference thing.

  • CN Heidelberg

    The only things I ever seem to crave from the US are junk foods. Last night I suddenly wanted Planters Cheese Balls, which was a big WTF moment because I don’t think I’ve had one of those in at least 10 years!

    CN Heidelbergs last blog post..In Case You Needed Another Reason to Love Germany

  • rita

    nice idea. i shall try one of these recipes and will let you know how it went.

    btw. how’s your head?

  • Autumn

    Look forward to the potluck. I am also trying to start a Books & Bagel meetup in January in Regensburg. Would you be interested in swapping English books? I have tons and am looking for new reading material.
    Also, can you let me know more about your work background? I have done 10 years of medical device clinical research in Europe and do to the fact that I have had lots of problems finding good after school childcare for my children here, I have quit my job in December and am thinking about starting my own consulting business and if I remember correctly you are a biostats person? Anyway – is there any chance of us meeting up in January?

  • Stephanie

    Maybe the Hooter pasta salad only tastes good when eaten around women with creatively cut shirts…… just saying…!! The food isn’t what made the chain famous… :-)

    Stephanies last blog post..Puff Pancake with Nutty Banana Butterscotch

  • Sonya

    I make my own homemade version of Bisquick and I just learned how to make Cool Whip,corn syrup,maple syrup(fake american stuff not the real,sloppy’s amazing what you can learn to make when you dont have the option to run out and buy it

  • NewWrldYankee

    Love this site, now, thanks Christina! Now I just need to re-do them for the ingredients I can find..Man, I miss Pillsbury cinnamon rolls

    NewWrldYankees last blog post..You want to hear something awesome?

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  • Christina G

    @cn heidelberg: I think I’m finally over my junk food cravings. I had some Cheetos at the last German-American festival and was pretty disgusted. But, Todd Wilbur does also have a serious on recreating American junk food if you get a serious craving.

    @rita: Let me know how that goes!

    @autumn: Looking forward to brunch with you guys!

    @stephanie: Yeah, I’m bettin’ Hooters popularity ain’t much about the food.

    @sonya: That’s great! I started making my own vanilla extract too and I won’t touch the store-bought stuff anymore.

    @NewWorldYankee: It’s a lot more work than Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, but these were seriously good.

  • Sandikaye

    OH BLESS YOU, BLESS YOU, BLESS YOU! This girl has been sooooo homesick for food! And cooking (or finding ingredients) has been so hard.

    It’s good to know I’m not alone out here!

  • Sandi

    OH THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! I have been soooooo homesick for food! It has been very difficult for me to cook here (and find ingredients), but with the wealth of information I have gotten today from expats like you, I now know I can do this!!!

    I’m not alone! lol

  • Christina Geyer

    You’re not alone! LOL! I think most of us have been there (or still are) 😉

  • Linda

    You can buy the Bisquick at the Rewe in Parsberg anyone who lives near there. It is in a smaller box than in the states but at least it is something. They have a small american section in the store. I mostly just buy the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from there. I am unfortunately in love with this candy haha.

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