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learning to cook by eating, eating, eating

I LOVE food. I especially love Italian dishes. Sometime ago, I decided that I will try to duplicate some of my most enjoyed dishes at home to share with my friends and family. I've been successful so far. Last night, I lived dangerously and tried to duplicate a dish from Cheesecake Factory. I forget what they called it on their menu, but basically it's Parmesan crusted chicken breast and pasta with olive oil and butter sauce. I modified it a little and added my own flavor to it (more italian herbs, garlic in the pasta etc.). To my surprise it turned out beautifully! It didn't quite look like Cheesecakes version, but it did taste pretty darn close.. maybe even better. The friends I made it for enjoyed it and since I cook in bulk by some weird habit I learned in college, we have leftovers to enjoy. I was nervous about how to go about breading the chicken breast with the cheese and not wanting to make the breast dry and what not..but even I surprised myself.
(by the way, I made the dish without a recipe)

Have you ever tried duplicating a meal you enjoyed in a restaurant without a recipe? How did it work for you? Or you can just share what meal you would like to duplicate...

Happy food-ing!

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  1. I had a Thai dish recently that I want to re-create --- fish and scallops and vegetables in a curry and basil sauce, steamed in a banana leaf. The packet sent up the most amazing aromas as it was opened and everything was heavenly good tasting.

    I've checked with the owner of the oriental market I go too, and she carries frozen banana leaves, so now I am just working on the curry sauce. I know the technique, and how I can mimic it at home -- put the banana leaf packets on a plate in my bamboo steamer, and steam away - that part's simple. I just need to experiment with my curry sauce to get it right (and maybe have the dish at the restaurant another time or two!).

    Really, if you have a good grounding in technique, mimic-ing a restaurant recipe shouldn't be too challenging. The trickiest part of it for me is always sauces -- I'm just not adept at sorting out the tastes of a restaurant sauce to be able to copy them when the ingredients aren't visually recognizably.

    1. I find eating out a huge inspiration but I usually take away flavor combination ideas away more than duplicating exactly. Right now I want to try my hand at chorizo stuffed dates from Avec here in Chicago and I would love to know how to make the shrimp dim sum I eat at Pheonix.

      2 Replies
      1. re: tigerbitesman

        Your dish sounds great!
        Yeah, I would love to try to make that shrimp dim sum too. Sometimes, for me anyways, it's easier to copycat non-Asian dishes. Even though I'm Asian! hahaha

        1. re: yellowfoodie

          I actually never, or hardly ever, eat Italian out because it's so easy to do at home. I guess I'm often Americanizing ethnic dishes at home in my attempts to cook food I've enjoyed out but don't have easy access to all the ingredients for. I've baked samosa fillings inside of premade puff pastry dough and I make seaweed burritos filled with brown rice with eggs cooked in fish sauce, weird but my girlfriend, also Asian, loves them.

      2. It is a funny thing in my family .... go out to eat and decide how they went about making it and how you could do it at home, if not better. I always considered it my mom's and mine uncanny talent to do that. I get inspired when I go out to eat and try to order things that are different than what I do at home.

        1. I once tried a Moroccan influenced couscous dish with grilled shrimp. I got the look right but, the flavor was way off. I keep experimenting and haven't been lucky.

          The very first batch I made was sooo bad, I couldn't even eat it. I think I'm up to batch #5. I'll keep trying. I'm bound to get the combination right one of these days.

          It's the only restaurant dish I've tried to duplicate at home and haven't been very lucky.

          1. I *LOVED* the part about trying to duplicate a dish from the Cheesecake Factory; I made exactly the same kind of effort after having been wowed by the chicken cacciatore at a Buca di Beppo! While I didn't achieve an exact duplicate, I was just after that oddly magical combination of tangy-rich chicken and its bed of garlic mashed redskin potatoes, and got that in a very satisfactory way.

            It's not too often that a restaurant meal sparks any desire in me to duplicate a dish, though the ones that do have added useful things to my repertoire, such as the procedure used for both cooking sand dabs (or other small fish) and the piccata dishes - season, dust with flour, sautée quickly in butter and/or oil, deglaze the pan with acidic liquid (lemon juice, wine) and whisk in cold butter, add whatever (capers, parsley) and pour over the meat to serve. Cook the butter longer and it becomes beurre noir, and that's what you want for skate, though it works really well for catfish!

            The most inspiration I've gotten from eating out has been when visiting other countries. I came home and cooked up a storm after my first time in Italy, and a month in France had much the same effect, though that required some help from a few cookbooks. Interestingly enough, it was not Julia who supplied the recipe for my favorite restaurant dish, but James Beard, for grilled pig's feet! That's right: of all the things I ate in restaurants in France, the most thoroughly memorable was a grilled pig's foot, eaten on a tree-shaded gravel terrace across the street from the cathedral at Chartres, and Beard's Pied de Cochon à la Sainte- Mènehoulde duplicates it exactly...except, of course, for the setting. That will require a bit more work...

            3 Replies
            1. re: Will Owen

              I LOVE Buca. Haven't tried to cook a dish from there yet. Although I want to know what spice they put in their angel hair pasta...(it's the one with marinara sauce but it's spicy).

              You sound like a trained professional...

              My Mom makes pigs feet.. in her Asian way.. and my family members always request it when they come over for big family dinner. My Aunts have been known to sit around, chomping on the feet chatting away. Go figure.. pigs feet! hahaha

              I can't wait to travel to Italy to eat all of their food.. come back home and try to make it!

              1. re: yellowfoodie

                Not at all a trained pro, just a late bloomer from a family of (mostly) good cooks.

                Interestingly enough, it wasn't any professional that told me how to make the most desired and most elusive item I found in Italy, which was a simple but brilliantly-flavored quick tomato sauce - it was two Italian girls from Bari, both married to US military officers, that I sat with on the plane coming home. They explained that the trick is, first of all, to use GOOD canned plum tomatoes, and to cut them open and seed them over a strainer in a bowl, and then squeeze the pulp as dry as you can. Then you fry some chopped garlic in olive oil very briefly, then add the tomato pulp, chop it up well, and fry it just until it softens and absorbs the garlicky oil. You then add back as much of the strained juice as you want, and if you like a squeeze of lemon, and there's your sauce. One or two tomatoes' worth is considered enough for one serving of spaghetti.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  Thanks for sharing that tip! I'm going to use it the next time I make tomato based sauce.

            2. I actually do this all the time. I've been told I have a very fine sense of taste and can figure out ingredients.

              Sometimes I get lazy and just ask if they will give me the recipe, especially if I'm a regular. A pastry chef once wrote down his chocolate sorbet recipe for me. The secret was Valrhona chocolate.

              I copy the salad at our local pizza place. It's a variation on a chop chop salad. Green leaf lettuce, diced salami, garbanzo beans, chopped red pepper, chopped, red onion, dressed with dijon vinagrette. You can add a little shredded mozzarella if you like.

              1. I don't own or have read a single cook book, but I am a fabulous cook. My husband loves everything I make and my friends can't stop raving about the party dishes I bring over. I learned all of it from eati.ng, eating, and eating at different restaurants and duplicating the main components at home with a little added touch of my own. I have never made a bad dish. Some people have the gift and good flavor profile knowledge. I'm lucky I guess, and so is my husband

                2 Replies
                1. re: chinkymonkey

                  You "have never made a bad dish?" Do you also walk on water?

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    I do also walk on water