Let’s Talk Food: Secret restaurant recipes

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Orange chicken.

Have you ever wanted to eat a dish from a restaurant and wonder how you could possibly duplicate it?

There are several cookbooks that have dissected restaurant favorites so you can make these dishes at home.


Panda Express’ most popular entree is orange chicken, and I have tried to duplicate it many times as it is my grandson’s favorite! Here is one that seems to be the closest to Panda Express’ famous orange chicken. I took the marinating of the chicken cubes from the lemon chicken recipe to give the chicken more flavor.

Orange Chicken

Serves: 8

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-by-1-inch cubes

In a mixing bowl, combine and marinate for 30 minutes:

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons sherry or sake

In another bowl, mix together the batter:

1 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Mix together until it reaches the consistency of pancake batter.

Add chicken to batter and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Heat in wok or heavy bottom pan 3-4 cups vegetable oil for deep frying to 350 degrees. Gently add chicken and cook for 5-6 minutes until lightly golden brown.

Remove chicken from the pan and transfer to a paper-lined plate.

While the chicken is in the refrigerator in the batter for 30 minutes, make the orange sauce.

Orange sauce:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional, and although I would love to add it, I am making this dish for my grandson so do not put it in)

2 tablespoons garlic, finely minced or pressed

1/2 teaspoon ginger, finely minced or grated

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup orange juice

1/2 distilled white vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce

In a small bowl, make a slurry:

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup water

Set a heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat, add the oil. Add the chili flakes (if using), ginger and garlic and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Do not brown the garlic or it will be bitter. Add the sugar and brown sugar and stir to combine. Add in the orange juice and the sugars to begin to dissolve the liquid, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar and soy sauce and stir to combine. Add the cornstarch slurry and whisk to combine. Stir until the sauce is thick.

Add the fried chicken and stir completely coated in the sauce. Top with a drizzle of sesame oil.


Freshly baked cinnamon buns at Cinnabon are hard to resist, but you can duplicate the aroma in your kitchen.

The first Cinnabon opened in 1985 in Seattle’s SeaTac Mall. We have a Cinnabon at Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo. The Food Network kitchens worked on creating a recipe that came very close to the one from Cinnabon.

Cinnamon Buns

Makes: 6 buns


1 cup whole milk

1 1/4-ounce packet active dry yeast or 2 1/4-teaspoons

1/4 cup plus 1/4 teaspoon sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the bowl

1 large egg yolk

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


Flour, for dusting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon


2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Dough: Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until it reaches about 100 degrees. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the yeast and 1/4 teaspoon sugar (do not stir). Seat aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the melted butter, egg yolk and vanilla.

Whisk the flour, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, salt and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix on low speed with the dough hook until thick and slightly sticky. Knead on medium speed with the dough hook until thick and slightly sticky. Knead on medium speed until the dough gathers around the hook, 6 minutes. (Add up to 2 more tablespoons of flour if necessary.

Remove the dough and shape into a ball. Butter the mixer bowl and return the ball into the bowl, turning to coat with butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1 hour, 15 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-by-14-inch rectangle with the longer side facing you. Spread with softened butter, leaving a 1/2-inch border on the far long edge.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over the butter. Brush the unbuttered far edge with water. Roll the dough away from you into a tight cylinder and press on the long edge to seal. Cut the cylinder with a sharp knife to make 6 equal-size buns.

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan; place the buns cut-side down in the pan, leaving space between each. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 40 minutes.

Reheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake the buns until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: Sift confectioners’ sugar into a bowl, then whisk in the cream and melted butter.

Transfer the buns to a rack and spoon the glaze on top while still warm.


What better way to be stuck at home than making these recipes that will remind you of the restaurant flavors after which they are modeled.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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