Friday, February 21, 2014's Dining Out At Home Cookbook 2's Dining Out At Home Cookbook 2: More Recipes for the Most Delicious Dishes from America's Most Popular Restaurants
Publisher: Ulysses Press (2013)

Going out to eat is a treat we all enjoy – sometimes a bit too often. Sitting down to a meal at a restaurant often means gargantuan portions and mystery ingredients we’d rather not know about. Then there’s the price – at $10 and up a head, your dining budget can be blown by Wednesday. While molecular gastronomy is a bit beyond the reach of common home kitchens, traditional fare is far more accessible – not to mention cheaper, faster and fresher. “Copy-cat” cooking is even easier these days thanks to books like Stephanie Manley’s's Dining Out At Home Cookbook 2: More Recipes for the Most Delicious Dishes from America's Most Popular Restaurants. It’s her second compilation of the best of the restaurant classics and favourites, building on her successful website and the ever-present demand for the “secret recipes” we crave. 

Dining Out is perfect for those of us who enjoy casual or family restaurants as well as popular takeout or fast food spots. Items from Panera Bread and Starbucks are featured as well as favourites from IHOP and Outback Steakhouse. The biggest issue for international readers like myself is the fact that the restaurants are exclusively American-based (and usually) chains. While it may taste phenomenal, without the familiar point of reference the charm of enjoying a perfect slice of Luby’s Pecan Pie (p. 154) for example is slightly lost. Luckily, (or unluckily!) chains like Starbucks, KFC, Taco Bell and McDonalds are popular worldwide and have more or less standardized menus. Favourite standard and seasonal items (like KFC’s Coleslaw (p. 114) and Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte (p. 17) will tempt readers all over the globe, and once readers taste those copies the urge to make other (more or less foreign) foods will be irresistible.

Dining Out is an all inclusive book with respect to the meal options and ethnic diversity. Readers will be able to make and enjoy Lettuce Wraps from PF Chang’s China Bistro (p. 38) for a Chinese-inspired lunch or light dinner, cozy up to a bowl of Pesto Pasta from Alonti’s (p. 69) for an Italian supper and dig into good old American-style Banana Bread French Toast from IHOP® (p. 174) for Sunday breakfast. Desserts fit snugly into the book’s 312 pages too, so if you have a sweet tooth you certainly won’t be left behind! Sadly, there are no photos to tempt the visual cooks out there – inconvenient, although most readers will know what the finished products will look like anyway. Another thing to note about this book is that the recipes are formulated to be true to their namesakes – not healthier remakes. There is lots of fat and sugar floating around, which speaks to the richness of the final products as well as indicate what the restaurants really do to make their dishes menu-worthy.

That said, I initially struggled to find a recipe or two in this book to test for this review. Not only are a good portion of the restaurants US-based as mentioned before, but as a whole my family doesn’t eat out often and tend to stick to leaner fare. However, the Boiled Shrimp and Avocado Salsa (p. 41) from Saltgrass Steakhouse® was a hit with my co-workers, the Homemade Taco Seasoning (p. 191) became a boon to my household for our regular “taco nights” especially because it’s salt free (though for my vegetarian mix I added a touch of smoked salt, which was a definite plus). Of course, you can’t argue with the classic (and often craved) Pumpkin Spice Latte (p. 17), which is easily veganized (and honestly better tasting when you use unsweetened vanilla almond milk!) and not overly sweet. For those I shared the recipe with, it was the clincher that sold them on copy-cat recipes.

While we may not have the luxury of going out to eat every night, we can emulate the best of what we crave in our own kitchens. All we need is the “secret recipe” – and with's Dining Out At Home Cookbook 2: More Recipes for the Most Delicious Dishes from America's Most Popular Restaurants, you’re sure to find a treasure trove of them.  

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