Hi, Redditors! As Taste of Home’s culinary director, I work with food stylists, recipe testers and editors to prepare, taste test and shoot both still photographs and videos of the thousands of recipes submitted by our readers. Each year, Taste of Home receives more than 12,000 original recipes, ideas and tips from our home cook audience; we select and test about 4,000 of them to publish in our magazines and books, and on our website and social media channels. I began my career hiring and advising freelance food stylists—then I became one. And now I oversee a team of talented individuals who make our food stories come to life. I am head over heels in love with what I do: working every day with food and people who love to eat! I am an expert at bringing treasured recipes to life in our professional test kitchen and visual production studio. AMA!

Check out our recipes at TasteOfHome.com Follow Taste of Home on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter

We also have a super cool Watch page to teach you our cooking techniques: The Chef’s Hat

Proof: https://i.redd.it/i26kmtwwn2411.jpg

Comments: 210 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

almondparfitt97 karma

hi, what are some of the easiest recipes you'd suggest for a total cooking novice? also any tricks for making homemade salad more appealing (it never turns out like sweetgreen).

SarahTasteOfHome124 karma

Consider a casserole? Casserole ingredients are typically easy to find, prep and put together for a yummy breakfast or dinner. A stir fry might be another way to go. Stir-frying is an easy cooking method. We have lots of great stir fry recipes on Tasteofhome.com – like Quick Ginger Pork Good luck and have fun in the kitchen!

I love homemade salads. In fact, for almost my entire career at Taste of Home I’ve been bringing in salads from home for lunch. I think arranged, composed salads are super eye-catching. Fill lettuce cups (Bibb or radicchio) with fresh cut veggies and addn’l torn lettuce that you’ve lightly tossed w/ some salad dressing. Arrange cups on a platter or dinner plate. Beautiful -and a fun/different way to eat a salad. I also love layering colorful salad ingredients in a jar for a make ‘n take lunch or dinner. Another way to make salads more appealing? Crack some black pepper and sprinkle w/ some kosher salt. Maybe even add fresh-grated lemon zest. I like a little onion on my salads so I bias-cut green onions and sprinkle those over, too.

Owenleejoeking18 karma

Even your comments read like a blog post/ magazine blurb. It’s kinda endearing

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

I yam what I yam.

awkwardoxfordcomma1 karma

What do you suggest for someone who has always tried to eat more salad but never feels filled enough after eating even what seems to be an exorbitant amount?

SarahTasteOfHome1 karma

Great suggestions offered below! Love all of that! I do exactly what they say -- adding protein to salads (like cut-up leftover chicken, hard boiled eggs, beans and walnuts, almonds or pecans.) I take the time on Sundays to make homemade salad dressing. It's soooo worth it. I also like to add some carby-crunch, too, with croutons made from leftover bread, toasted cornbread cubes, etc.

adaywithevan73 karma

Hey Sarah, you still here? I just graduated college and I'd love to start a career in the food industry, but my degree doesn't relate to food at all. How'd you get to where you are today?

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

Congrats, Grad! You don't necessarily need a culinary or food-related degree to get started in the food industry. What food industries are you most interested in - food technology/food science, hospitality & tourism industry, food nutrition/dietetics, food media/communications? My major in college was Food Systems & Technology w/ a concentration in Food Communications. (I always liked making food look good!) From there I got an internship in the Creative Dept. at McDonald's Corporation in Oak Brook, IL. I hired freelance food stylists and set up the photo shoots -making sure the food looked delicious and adhered to MCD standards. Then I applied to become a food stylist at Taste of Home in Milwaukee. Because we test and photo readers' recipes - there are so many different foods to learn how to make and look good. Now, I manage the team of food stylists but I can jump on set and style if I want/if my schedule allows. Good luck to you. Think unconventionally. Be willing to work for less (or free) to gain experience and build relationships (networking is everything). Work hard and don't give up. You can do it.

SarahTasteOfHome44 karma

Thanks for the questions, guys. I had a lot of fun and hope to do this again sometime!

Foodieatheart6744 karma

Hey Sarah! What’s a good frosting to use on summer cakes or cupcakes? I don’t want to have a mess on the dessert table over the Fourth.

SarahTasteOfHome74 karma

Great question! Just a couple of weeks ago I was doing a DIY Delicious video for our Facebook page of a delicious recipe called the All-American Sheet Cake. What I loved most about this recipe? The frosting was just simply sweetened whipped cream - that's it! It was light and sweet (but not too sweet). So good. It would be great for cupcakes, too. This type of frosting won't hold up well outdoors in the sun, however. If you need a frosting that's going to withstand the heat - try a Swiss or Italian meringue buttercream. The cooked sugar will help stabilize the frosting.

lkerriga27 karma

What food trends seem to influence your work the greatest?

SarahTasteOfHome51 karma


Food trends that have to do with simplifying meal preparation influence the types of recipe we receive from our audience. For example, 30 minutes meals, 5-ingredient dinners -- things like this. We've been testing and photographing plenty of unicorns, succulents and cute/different ways to decorate cupcakes. For sure new appliances like the Instant Pot and Air Fryer are changing the way people cook. We've been putting out a lot of new recipes using these trendy appliances.

YogiHazMat17 karma

Keeping that in mind, do you ever have difficulty making sure the ingredients are easy to find throughout the US? What are some of the limitations you adhere to?

SarahTasteOfHome1 karma

If there are esoteric ingredients in a recipe that we are interested in testing/publishing - we'll reach out to the contributor to ask what they would recommend as a substitute for a more mainstream ingredient. We want to present new/different ingredients to our audience, giving them something a little different to try, but we know people want easy-to-find, everyday ingredients. So, we'll sometimes provide a suitable substitute.

samkirkegaard23 karma

Who are some of the people you look up to in the culinary industry?

SarahTasteOfHome75 karma

Julia, of course.

Anthony Bourdain.


I do like some of what Rachael Ray is all about.

And my Grandma LaVerne. My culinary favorite. :)

StareInTheMirror9 karma

How can you not mention good ol Alton Brown?

SarahTasteOfHome1 karma

Ack! I really do love Alton Brown! I debated adding him to the list but I had to keep moving! I love the food science of Alton. I remember watching his shows back in the early 2000's. He is awesome.

mlalibe23 karma

What are some of your favorite low-stress meals to serve at a dinner party?

SarahTasteOfHome54 karma

Chimichurri flank steak. Marinate the meat, grill it off, let it rest, slice it and give a good drizzle of chimichurri sauce over top. So easy to make - it doesn't take you away from your guests. Very delicious. Another idea is kebobs. The prep work is done ahead of time. Once the grill is ready - it doesn't take long at all!

PopCultureJunkiee20 karma

Hi Sarah! What would you say is your most memorable moment in the kitchen? Also, what's one cooking tip that literally changed your life?

SarahTasteOfHome65 karma

Hi! Oh, man. There are so many memorable kitchen moments. I made my own wedding cake -that was pretty memorable. My fiancee and daughter were out of the house and I was home alone. Cake pans and ingredients were everywhere! It was fun and very special to make it homemade. I also remember the good 'ole days when my daughter and I baked sweet treats together. (She's a teenager now so when she's in the kitchen - she's mostly eating!) I will never forget one of our first Test Kitchen Live broadcasts where our former lead test cook and I made a watermelon shark to celebrate Shark Week. I cut the watermelon incorrectly and was pretty horrified. But, I survived. What are you gonna do.

A life changing cooking tip? Rely on a good-quality digital thermometer to tell you when foods are cooked to your liking. I tell my family members -- don't fret! Just use a thermometer and save yourself the worry about whether you're over or under-cooking foods. I recommend ThermoWorks Thermapen.

weaponized_autizm14 karma

Greetings! Do you feel that social media and internet food culture as a whole is not teaching novice home cooks correctly?

SarahTasteOfHome49 karma

Yes and no. Social exposes you to new and different ways of cooking and ways to present/style food. But it might not be the best learning for the core/fundamental skills. The hacks and shortcuts can be cool - but it's important for novice home cooks to really learn/understand the basics. In order to "break" the rules, you must first know the rules. You know?

L0ngp1nk12 karma

Why is there a trend for online recipes to also include the author's life story? I don't care about how much your kids love this recipe, or how much fun you had at the last party you brought this dish to. I just want to know the ingredients for the mac and cheese sauce!

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

I hear you. But - don't you think behind every recipe is a story? Maybe not every recipe, but...

Foodieatheart6710 karma

How many recipes do you test in a year? Do you have to taste them all?

SarahTasteOfHome16 karma

We select and test about 4K to publish in all our channels. I don't have to, but I wish I could taste them ALL! (Especially the desserts!) We have a team of editors who all help out in this area!

Manderson_252510 karma

What's the craziest/wackiest dish you've ever made in the test kitchen?

SarahTasteOfHome18 karma

This is great. Well -- I've made (food styled) a TON of recipes w/ "faces". Like -- the Hot Dog Speed Racer, Veggie Cheese People, the Carrot Bride (you'll want to check out that one!). The list is long!

ellebelle24829 karma

Hey Sarah! What's your favorite last-minute party snack to make?

SarahTasteOfHome43 karma

I love to party! Check this -- when I have zero time I take a block of cream cheese, put it on a small-ish platter, cover it with jam (jalapeno jelly is my fave!) and serve with crackers. Boom. Done. Delish.

gnothiseauton08119 karma

Hi Sarah, how does one become a recipe tester? What’s the stress level like?

SarahTasteOfHome21 karma

In order to become a recipe tester, you typically need to have some sort of culinary background. There's a lot of detail-oriented work involved with being a recipe tester. A lot of food stylists are also recipe testers. Identify those companies that have professional test kitchens and keep an eye on job postings. The stress level is way less than working in a restaurant kitchen -that is for sure. There are deadlines to meet w/ recipe testing and sometimes, like in the case of Taste of Home, you need to make sure you're keeping the integrity of the recipe intact (since these are our readers' recipes we're testing) so that can limit your creativity and freedom.

Umbrolo_Jones8 karma

More than anything I want to get into a test kitchen and play with recipies. It sounds amazing. I normally I just play around with flavors and textures till I like something and to so that for a living almost sounds too good to be true. We're you ever a line cook? If so, how did you make the transition from there (or where ever you started) to culinary director of a test kitchen?

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

I have been so fortunate - I've also worked very hard to get where I'm at today. During college I worked in the cold pantry of a hotel restaurant and assisted a freelance food stylist on a print shoot for free. I set up a few informational interviews with people in the industry to soak up as much info. as possible. Upon graduation, I accepted an internship at McDonald's Corporate which led into a full-time position hiring and working with food stylists. From there I got a job as a staff food stylist with Taste of Home. I trained in the Test Kitchen for over a year. (It was time well spent!) I transitioned to a managerial then director level after several years. There has been a lot of on-the-job training over the years in terms of food styling, but I also like the management/leadership side of things.

imamoonvomit8 karma

Hey Sarah, what advice would you give to a chef trying to break into the food media world?

SarahTasteOfHome22 karma

Put together your visual resume -- a portfolio showing what you can do/your digital artistic abilities. Cultivate your cooking skills. Use social media as a way to self-promote you and your work. Create your own personal brand, my friend. Network - get out there. When I was just out of college I offered to assist a professional food stylist on a print photo shoot for gratis. It was an eye-opening experience and I stayed connected to this food stylist for years. Good luck!

jgstate17 karma

Do you ever open your pantry to see a lot of food but feel like you have nothing to eat?

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

All. The. Time. (Good thing I love garbanzo beans, nuts, fresh veggies and cheese. I can usually concoct some sort of healthy dinner by throwing together a bunch of stuff like this.) Often I just need to find the building blocks of a satisfying dinner -- pasta, protein and some sort of sauce.

Baltinome7 karma

What's your favorite recipe? And, why?

SarahTasteOfHome16 karma

Sandy's Chocolate Cake and Big & Buttery Chocolate Chip Cookies. (Can you tell I love my sweets?!)

I love Sandy's Chocolate Cake because there's sour cream in the cake AND the frosting -which makes it soooo silky smooth and perfect for making frosting swirls. I like the slight tangy flavor from the sour cream, too. Big & Buttery Chocolate Chips cookies are like so fantastic. Each cookie is a 1/4 dough. Come to think of it -- I made these for my wedding, too! I tucked them into nice cookie bags, added a personalized label and gave them as guest favors. I really love pecans or walnuts in chocolate chip cookies. Find these recipes on Tasteofhome.com!

sgguitarist946 karma

What is one recipe you won't touch?

SarahTasteOfHome1 karma

Potatoes. I am allergic to potatoes. (Always have been.)

surleyIT5 karma

How many cans of "Cream of XYZ" soup do you go through in a week?

SarahTasteOfHome1 karma

Actually, not that many, anymore! Things are fresher and more homemade these days.

Coloreater3 karma

Many of us appreciate the work folks like you and your team do to test (and re-test) thousands of recipes. But with all of those tests and do-overs, how do you deal with food waste?

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

Food waste -- good question. Well, we eat most of the recipes that we prepare/present to taste panel. Any leftovers go onto the "food bar" which is a high-traffic area in our office that lots of people pass by throughout the day. Any unused ingredients (that won't wilt or expire) get re-absorbed into our food inventory for use the upcoming week. At the end of the week we put out a cart of leftover food ingredients that employees can take home. I have dropped off leftover food at a local women's/children's shelter a couple of blocks away from our offices --- dozens of un-frosted cookies, baked treats and things like this. Food is love. It's good to share!

johnmflores2 karma

Is Farmer your married name or were you fated to work with food?

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

I was a Thompson until Oct. last year. Boring. I'm happy to be a Farmer now. Must be fate.

jonnienashville2 karma

Favorite Nonstick skillet?

SarahTasteOfHome1 karma

I love anything All-Clad. However.... we will be testing nonstick skillets in the test kitchen soon! I'm interested in seeing how ceramic non-stick skillets perform.

Tbrainee1 karma

Have you ever tested food which contains insects as main ingredient?

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

That'd be a -no. We test recipes sent in by our readers and while I haven't gone through all 250,000 recipes (and growing) - I have yet to see one with an insect as an ingredient. I've tested plenty of ladybug cakes, cupcakes, and cookies, however. We even have a ladybug appetizer. You should check it out.

cfariapb1 karma

What should I make for dinner?

SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

Did you make Pasta Carbonara for dinner last night? It's indulgent. It's simple. And - bacon (or pancetta).

sortedgirlboss1 karma

Hi Sarah, I have worked with Readers Digest handling these newsletters as their Email Marketing Application Administrator. Worked pretty closely with Mr Lemley and Awe.

What is it like there? Is this still a part of RD?


SarahTasteOfHome2 karma

Ha! Awe moved on and Lemley is still here. Our company is now Trusted Media Brands - no longer Reader's Digest Association although we still produce the Reader's Digest mag and online.

It's fun! It's busy and intense - but fun! How can you not have fun when you're working with great people, FOOD and in a cool downtown setting?!