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'Cloning' fast foodEver looked at a simple...


'Cloning' fast food

Ever looked at a simple fast-food product and thought, I wonder why this is so good, or Why can't I make this at home? Todd Wilbur of Emmaus, Pa., a man we'll politely call obsessed, couldn't look at "junk food" without wondering how to duplicate it at home. The results of five years of research appear in "Top Secret Recipes: Creating Kitchen Clones of America's Favorite Brand-Name Foods" (Plume/Penguin Books, $10 paperback).

Although Mr. Wilbur didn't actually crack the secret recipes of America's mightiest food firms, he did create versions he claims taste just like the real thing -- with no additives and, especially if you're cooking for a family, with less expense. Mr. Wilbur's "clones" use ordinary ingredients you may already have at home.

Among fast-food favorites included are "Aunt Jemima" maple syrup, "Dairy Queen Blizzard," "Keebler Soft-Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies," "Reese's Peanut Butter Cups" and "Hostess Twinkies." Each recipe includes a capsule history of the food, and There are industrial-looking illustrations and tips throughout. Even if you don't plan to cook any of the items, it's fun to see how those treasured tastes might be imitated.

Loryn Lesser is used to being a recipe resource: "When people need a recipe they call me and say, 'Do you have a recipe for . . .?' And I say, 'Sure,' or, 'When do you need it, I'll find something.' "

Last summer, while recuperating at home from surgery on her arm, Ms. Lesser decided to collect her recipes in one place. It was "boredom," she says, that led her to create and publish her cookbook, "Sealed with a Knish." While her usual handwork such as needlepoint was out of the question, sitting at the computer and typing with one hand seemed like a reasonable way to get through the days. "You can sit at the computer for a long time, and you just lose track," she says.

The book contains hundreds of recipes Ms. Lesser has collected over the years. "The majority are mine," she says. Some are recipes she developed herself, some are her own low-fat versions of other favorites. She also reworked recipes from her grandmothers and aunts to fit low-cal guidelines. Ms. Lesser, supervisor of the employment services department at Jewish Vocational Service, says her grandmothers and her mother taught her to cook.

Ms. Lesser and her husband, attorney Wallace Kleid, have two sons, Micah, 11, and Matthew, 6. "My kids love to cook," she says. Among their favorite recipes is her baked pasta and cheese. Mr. Kleid recounts the boys' Mother's Day breakfast for Ms. Lesser, which included scrambled eggs -- "cooked on the stove" -- a pancake, juice and coffee.

The book is available from Ms. Lesser: Send money order or check for $11.95, plus $5 postage and handling, made out to MICAHMATT PRESS INC., to MICAHMATT PRESS INC., 14 Rubyfield Court, Baltimore, Md. 21209. (Maryland residents include 60 cents sales tax). The book is also available at Pern's Hebrew Book & Gift Shop, 7012 Reisterstown Road, and Central Hebrew Book Store, 228 Reisterstown Road.

Ms. Lesser notes that all the recipes have been screened for accordance with Jewish dietary laws, though people who have any doubts should consult their rabbi, and people who do not keep kosher can modify the recipes if they wish.

Here's a sample recipe from the book:

Golden chicken

Serves six.

1 cup hoisin sauce

3/4 cup plum sauce

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup vinegar

1/4 cup sherry

1/4 cup honey

6 green onions, minced

6 cloves garlic, minced

4 pounds chicken pieces

vegetable cooking spray

Combine hoisin, plum sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sherry, honey, onions and garlic. Marinate chicken in this mixture, covered, in refrigerator 24 hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large pan with aluminum wrap and spray with vegetable cooking spray. Arrange chicken pieces in a single layer. Bake 30 minutes, basting frequently with pan juices.

Kraft General Foods has recently expanded its distribution of Healthy Favorites cheese products nationwide. The cheeses include Cheddar, American, mozzarella and cream, and all have 50 percent less fat than standard varieties. Some are also low in cholesterol and/or low in sodium.

Cheese is often a forbidden treat for people on restricted fat diets, so the new products, which Kraft says cook, melt and spread like regular cheese, can be a way to enjoy lower-fat, lower-calorie versions of such favorite foods such as pizza, sandwiches and tacos.

For a free copy of the booklet, "A Collection of Recipes for Today's Healthier Lifestyles," write Kraft Healthy Favorites Recipe Brochure, P.O. Box 7389, Sierra Vista, Ariz. 85670-7389. Offer good until Dec. 31, 1993, or while supplies last.

Calling all contest lovers: Coming up are two events with Maryland flavor.

First up is the 8th annual Maryland State Chili Cookoff Championship and Family Fun Day on June 12. The event includes food, games, karaoke, face painting and live entertainment and takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Oregon Ridge Park in Hunt Valley. Admission is $3 for adults; children 12 and under are free. Proceeds of the event, sponsored by several local and national companies, benefit the Baltimore Ronald McDonald House. For more information or to enter as a new chili cook, call (410) 557-8549.

Then you'll want to pick up an entry form for the Old Bay "Family Feast-For-All" drawing sponsored by Old Bay, which makes seafood seasoning and other products. A hundred winners will receive a complete, old-fashioned crab feast party for 10 from Old Bay. The contest runs until Sept. 4; the drawing for the 100 winners will be Sept. 17. Entry forms are available through the summer at participating supermarkets, shops and restaurants.

Tidbits welcomes interesting nuggets of food news -- new products, food-related news events, local cookbooks, mail-order finds, openings and closings of restaurants and food shops.

Send press releases to Tidbits, Attn.: Karol V. Menzie, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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