The Test Kitchen Answers All Your FAQs
Ever wonder what it's really like to work in the Taste of Home Test Kitchen? Culinary Director Sarah Farmer and Food Editor James Schend answer your most frequently asked questions.
Photo: Taste of HomeSarah Farmer and Food Editor James Schend” width=”1024″ height=”683″ />
Approximately how many recipes are tested each week?
Sarah: Around 25 to 30 recipes per week. Many eyes scrutinize our contributors’ recipes with the goal of making sure we deliver quality, trusted recipes that work each and every time.
How many recipes do you read/interact with per day?
Sarah: I work with recipes throughout the day. I review them for grocery ordering and prepping instructions, and schedule recipes for testing, styling and videoing. But the way I most prefer to interact with our recipes is to EAT them!
James: It varies from day to day. On days when I’m reading through contest entries, I’ll read 300 to 400 recipes in a day. On a normal day, I’ll review 50 to 100 recipes.
Do you get to spend your day nibbling on all the creations the TK whips up?
Sarah: Yes! Eating strawberry cheesecake for breakfast is a very tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it! After the Test Kitchen and Visual Production teams are finished with the recipes, they’re brought to an area in our office called the food bar. It’s a magical (but dangerous) place where staffers can nosh on the leftover food. At any one time, you might see eight different kinds of cookies sitting there, along with some grilled pork chops and a half-empty pan of Pizza Monkey Bread. It’s no wonder this hallway is the most traveled space in our office!
James: Fortunately for those of us in the Editorial Department, the food bar is on a different floor, so the temptation isn’t as great. However, we do tend to eat more than normal office workers. We usually attend formal taste testings twice a day and occasionally have an informal one in our office. It’s great motivation to go to the gym every morning.
How much food does the TK go through in a week?
Sarah: About 90 or so eggs, 25 gallons of milk and about 5 pounds of butter. In a year, the team works through 600 pounds of flour, 900 pounds of sugar, nearly 200 bunches of parsley and more than 2,700 cloves of garlic.
What does the TK look like?
Sarah: There are 22 ovens, 10 stovetop ranges, over 20 stand mixers and an entire room of small appliances, cooking tools and equipment (including a large fake turkey we use as a stand-in on the photographer’s set while the real Tom Turkey is roasting in the oven, getting beautiful for the camera.)
What’s the best cooking tip you’ve learned while working in the Test Kitchen?
Sarah: Weigh dry ingredients! It takes less time to weigh flour and other dry ingredients and it’s more accurate. The Test Kitchen uses OXO brand digital food scales. They’re reliable, affordable and available everywhere.
James: Sarah took my answer! I am a HUGE proponent of weighing flour, sugar and other dry goods that are used in larger quantities. I’ve learned so much while working here, but something that really stands out for me is a technique called spatchcocking. It’s where you cut out the backbone of a chicken or turkey and flatten it so it cooks in half the time and stays juicy. It’s very simple. Watch our video to learn the technique.
How long does it take to make those cool Taste of Home cooking videos?
Sarah: Each video takes roughly one to three hours to shoot, depending on the complexity of the recipe. Homemade cinnamon rolls take longer than a chicken skillet recipe because we take the time to let the dough proof, bake and cool—we go through all the steps in the recipe. Each recipe is prepped the day before the shoot by the culinary assistants in our prep kitchen. They do all the measuring and chopping ahead of time. This allows us to get through five videos each week. Then our video editor spends about two hours editing each video before its reviewed for accuracy and posted to Facebook.
What TOH recipe do you recommend people try right now?
Sarah: Butternut Squash Chili. I am so into comfort food this season! It won Grand Prize in the recipe contest in the November 2017 issue of Taste of Home magazine (available on newsstands now) for good reason!
James: Making me choose just one recipe is kind of mean! I guess I’ll go with the one recipe I’ve made over and over again: Soft Beer Pretzels. I’ve made them at least a dozen times and always make the pretzel nuggets as suggested in the tips section of the recipe. They’re easy and amazingly delicious, and kids love to help make them!
Is the Test Kitchen a quiet place or more like one big cooking party?
Sarah: The Test Kitchen is calmer than you’d imagine, but it’s always cookin’ (ha!). Conversations constantly revolve around food and recipes—how they taste, how they look, what we’re making that day, tomorrow, next week, etc. In both our work and home kitchens, we are a passionate crew when it comes to food!
James: The tasting room, on the other hand, can be a pretty raucous place. There are usually a number of people coming to taste testing, and there isn’t a shy person in the bunch. Everyone is always willing to share their opinion of the food. Sometimes my job is like herding cats, but in a good way. The conversations all focus on what’s great about the recipe, what could be improved upon, what tips we could share with readers and so on. That’s what I love about tastings—we’re all focused so intently on how to make each and every recipe as easy and delicious as possible.
Does working with food all day make you more or less excited to cook when you get home?
Sarah: Some days it’s great to bring home leftovers from work and skip the cooking altogether. Other days I’m so inspired by a recipe from work that I stop at the store on the way home! And you can bet I have my iPhone handy while I’m cooking—there’s art and beauty (and happiness!) when you’re cooking in the kitchen and serving good food to your family, and I want to capture all of it.
James: It all kind of depends on how much food we’ve eaten that day! On days where we’re trying all desserts, I usually just want to go home and take a nap. Other days, like Sarah said, I will stop by the store to pick up the ingredients for something we tried that day. Fortunately, my husband does most of the cooking on the weekdays, since I have an hour commute, but the weekend is where I really get to have fun and cook with abandon. Right now, with colder weather settling in, I’m focusing on braising and roasting. Last weekend I made this beef stew for my family, and it was a hit.
Want to learn more about our in-house operations? Here’s exactly how our recipes become Test Kitchen-approved.