The Meal Prep Trick That Makes Life SO Much Easier

chicken thighs on pitta bread, ready for the ovenPhoto: Shutterstock / AndreyCherkasov

Creating a meal plan you’ll stick with can be daunting. When it comes to successful weekly meal prep, it’s easy to get confused. However, there’s one quick secret that varies your meals without breaking the bank: Keep the grocery list short. You can make lots of different dishes using a handful of the same ingredients.

A seven-item list like this one, for starters, will put some variety into your bagged lunch every day of the work week while keeping your spending in check.

First, compile your list. Here’s what I’d start with: chicken breast or thighs, fresh mozzarella, a jar of tomato sauce (look for a low-sodium option), fresh spinach, sliced almonds, fresh fruit and whole-wheat pasta.

The list consists of proteins, healthy carbohydrates, fruits and cheese—all the essentials for creating tasty meals. Planning your meals can be the toughest part if you’re not a culinary creative. Consider these meal ideas:

Healthy Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken Parm is a staple that’s good any day or time. To keep things healthy, make grilled chicken and stick with one serving of tomato sauce. Although it’s tempting to add more sauce, jarred sauces tend to have a lot of sodium.

Spinach Salad with Fresh Fruit

Top fresh spinach with strawberries and sliced almonds for a healthy salad with some added protein. If you’re not a strawberry fan, watermelon works, too, or even fresh peaches. Feel free to get creative, depending on your fruit preference.

Simple Pasta with Red Sauce

Grab the leftover tomato sauce and cook up some whole wheat pasta. Feel free to add some freshly grated mozzarella, and season the dish with oregano or basil flakes, if you have them. If you have fresh tomatoes, you can use those, too. Here’s how our Field Editors make a jar of sauce taste homemade.

Almond Crusted Chicken

Avoid the breading and coat your chicken in crushed almonds. Be sure to bake it, rather than fry it, and sauté some fresh spinach as a side. If you’re a fan of apricots, this apricot almond chicken is another great option.

Deli-Style Pasta Salad

Get creative with some whole-wheat pasta salad. Toss in any veggies you already have, like red onion, cucumber and peppers. Add oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and mix it up to combine. Let it sit overnight to absorb the flavor; add more oil and vinegar if you like.

It’s easy to meal plan with a tight grocery budget. A short list does not mean sacrificing variety. It’s all about choosing meals with ingredients that work well together, and most of all, ones that you enjoy!

Article by Julia Mullaney from Taste of Home.

Hacks Recipes

The Secret Technique for Cooking the Best Chicken Wings Ever

Three plates of buffalo wingsPhoto: Taste of Home

Fun fact: Americans tackled roughly 1.33 billion chicken wings during the 2017 Super Bowl. (The math nerd in me figured out If you laid them all end to end it would stretch 63,000 miles.)

To say we’re obsessed with these spicy pieces of deliciousness is a severe understatement. Over the years, the Taste of Home Test Kitchen has cooked them every single way you could think of. When I asked what was the tastiest way, everyone, without hesitation, said deep-frying produced the best chicken wings ever. So I gathered every tip and trick we could think of in the following steps; awesomeness is guaranteed for game day or any other day you need an excuse for wings.

How to Make the Best Ever Fried Chicken Wings

You’ll need:
4 pounds chicken wings
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Oil for deep-fat frying

Deep-fryer or deep Dutch oven
Wire rack set in a baking pan
Sharp, thin knife

Person cutting the tip off their chicken wingPhoto: Taste of Home

Step 1: Remove wing tips

When you purchase chicken wings you’ll usually get the whole wing, which has three sections; the tip, the wingette and the drumette. While I may be called for clipping—football pun warning—there is very little meat in the tip and it easily burns, so I like to remove that piece and save it for making stock or broth. Using a sharp, thin knife, cut through the joint between the wing tip and the wingette. If you move the joints it will be easy to see exactly where to cut.

Person making a slice into their raw chicken wingPhoto: Taste of Home

Step 2: Separate wingette and drumette

Moving the joint between the wingette and the drumette will show you exactly where to slice to separate them.

Test Kitchen tip: You can purchase frozen and thawed wingettes or drumettes if you want to skip the first two steps. We won’t tell.

Step 3: Chill

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Toss wings with kosher salt and place them on a wire rack in a 15x10x1-in. baking pan. Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Test Kitchen tip: Salting and chilling will dry out the skin slightly, which is key to getting that skin crispy when they’re fried. Just be sure to leave them uncovered in the fridge so the moisture evaporates.

Step 4: Fry ’em up!

A home deep fryer is great for cooking wings, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. An electric skillet works well. Or you can use a Dutch oven on the stovetop. Fill with oil so when the wings are added there will be at least one inch of oil covering them with no danger of bubbling over the top. Heat the oil to 375°. Pat a few wings dry and carefully add them to the oil. Make sure there is plenty of room between the pieces or the oil will cool down too much and they won’t cook quickly. It should take about 8-10 minutes to get nice and golden brown. Remove the wings and drain on paper towels. Let the oil heat back up to 375° before frying more wings.

Step 5: Get saucy

Now is your chance to get creative and toss your fried wings with one of the sauces below.

Buffalo wings covered with sauce next to celeryPhoto: Taste of Home

Buffalo Wing Sauce

Bring ¾ cup of Louisiana-style hot sauce just to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and whisk in ¼ cup butter one piece at a time. Stir in 2 Tbsp. molasses and ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper.

Can’t get enough Buffalo chicken? Try these recipes.

Spicy thai buffalo wingsPhoto: Taste of Home

Spicy Thai Sauce

Saute 1 tsp. fresh minced ginger, 1 minced garlic clove and 1 Thai chili pepper in 1 Tbsp. canola oil until the aroma is intense, about 2 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup brown sugar and 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice. Bring to a boil; cook until slightly thickened, 5 minutes. Stir in 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro and 1 Tbsp. fish sauce (we know it smells but it adds a great flavor).

Are you ready to Thai more on?

Spicy bbq buffalo wings next to pickle slicesPhoto: Taste of Home

Spicy Barbecue Sauce

Heat your favorite prepared barbecue sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 2 minced chipotle peppers, 2 Tbsp. honey and 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil; cook and stir until it’s slightly thickened, which should take about 5 minutes depending on how thick your barbecue sauce is.

Now the only thing you have to worry about is encroachment—last pun—from your guests looking to score a hot wing. (OK, so it wasn’t the last one.)

Article by James Schend from Taste of Home.

Grocery Hacks

These Costco Shopping Tips Will Save You Tons of Money

Couple walking into CostcoPhoto: Shutterstock / Trong Nguyen

Who doesn’t love saving money? I’m pretty sure it’s a quintessential part of the human experience. People pride themselves on finding the best deals out there and even use it as a topic of small talk. And soon, with these Costco shopping tips, you’ll be asking your friends the following: Guess how much I saved at Costco yesterday?

Costco can be a magical dreamland when it comes to deals, but only if you know where to look for them. Although buying in bulk at a store like Costco does save you money, there are still many tricks to learn that will save you more. Especially when it comes to the pricey items—like meat or even alcohol.

So before making your bi-weekly or monthly trip to the land of bulk items and extremely cheap jumbo hot dog and drink deals (they’re only $1.50—can you believe that?), be sure to take note of these tips to get more bang for your buck.

Oh, and if you don’t have a Costco membership, that’s OK. Here’s how to shop at Costco without a membership.

Yes, buy the store-brand products

At Costco, look for products with the label Kirkland. It’s actually a Costco label, and will save you lots of money! Sure store-brand products can be a huge hit or miss, but Kirkland is known for creating high-quality products that will make you completely forget those popular mainstream brands.

The farther the walk, the better the price

That’s right—the farther you walk into the store, the better deals you are going to find. Especially at the center of the store, also known as “center court.” The tip is to start at the back of the store and work your way up, for the best deals. And avoid the front of the store at all costs! This part of the store is known as “action alley” which tends to have the highest prices since it will get the most foot traffic.

Buy bulk meat to freeze

Even if you only need a pound of beef for that recipe over the weekend, buy a few pounds to store for later. You’ll get a better price per pound when you buy in bulk, and you’ll end up with a stocked fridge ready for easy weeknight dinners. It’s a win-win!

Team up with a buddy for deals

You probably don’t need that many paper towels or bottles of water, so why not split it up with a friend? Save at least half of your grocery bill by splitting up the bulk items with your other Costco-loving buddies. But fair warning: The two of you should never bother with these Costco items. They aren’t worth the deals.

Understand the price codes

Ever wonder why some prices end in .99, while others end in .97? It’s not just a coincidence, it’s actually on purpose! It’s a secret pricing code that Costco has in order to show you where the deals are or aren’t. For example, if you find an item with .99 at the end, that’s a wholesale price. But if you find something with a .97, that’s the best discount you’ll be able to find. Find out more of these secret codes here.

Shop seasonal at the end of the season

This may seem counterintuitive, but trust me on this one. Just like any other store, you’re going to find your best deals for Christmas decorations or Halloween costumes after the holiday is over. At Costco, the same applies. Grab grilling supplies after summer is over to get the best prices possible on stuff you’ll need nine months down the road.

Try shopping online

The Costco app actually shows you the great deals and offers to take advantage of, which will help you in the long run. Almost out of toilet paper? Take a look at the Costco app to see if any deals are happening for your needs before even hitting up the store.

Article by Kiersten Hickman from Taste of Home.

Drinks Health Science

This Is the Right Time to Drink Your Coffee, Scientists Say

Portrait of beautiful Asian woman drinking cappuccino at a coffee shop.Photo: Shutterstock / Vitelle

We love coffee. And what’s not to love? It perks us up in the morning, tastes heavenly and even has health benefits (plus a few extra benefits if you try it “bulletproof”-style). But as much as we love a hot cuppa as soon as we roll out of bed, it turns out that might not be the best time to take advantage of all coffee has to offer. In fact, scientists have found that there’s a better time to get your morning caffeine fix.

The right time for your coffee fix

Turns out the best time to drink coffee might not be first thing in the morning, but an hour after you wake up. This is because in the hour after you wake up, your body’s production of cortisol is at one of its three daily peaks, according to researchers who published a small but intriguing clinical study. We tend to think of cortisol as the “stress hormone” because it’s secreted in higher amounts when feel strain or tension from circumstances we perceive as demanding (and decreases when we eat yummy chocolate). But another way of thinking of cortisol is as the “alertness hormone,” because the reason our bodies produce more cortisol when we’re under stress is that it increases alertness (which supports our “fight or flight” response when we’re faced with stressful situations).

Why you should wait

Consuming caffeine while our bodies are already at peak cortisol-production teaches the body to produce less cortisol, according to chronopharmacologists who study the way drugs (such as caffeine) interact with our body’s natural biological rhythms. Not only does this undermine the effect of the caffeine, it also works against cortisol’s alertness effect. Perhaps even worse, it may contribute to developing a tolerance for coffee (meaning that it takes more and more just to get to the same place—yikes)!

So to get the biggest jolt from your morning coffee, try to wait an hour after waking to brew that first cup (I know it can be hard!). And when you’re looking to follow up with another caffeine fix, try to do it outside the other peak cortisol production times—typically between noon and 1:00 p.m. and between 5:50 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. This will definitely help you kick any of those afternoon lull feelings and will power you into a productive evening.

Article by Lauren Cahn from Taste of Home.

Fast Food Recipes

How to Make Fried Chicken That’s Better Than KFC

Plate on a wooden table filled with perfectly fried chicken

For many, the smell of fried chicken incites a trip down memory lane. That greasy (and oh, so good) scent brings to mind family picnics and church potlucks. For me, it triggers memories of sitting in the backseat of my parents ’98 Dodge Caravan, balancing a super-sized bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on my knees. As a kid I’d beg my parents for that crispy fast food. Now that I’m older I’ve learned to avoid the drive-thu-not just for my health, but because it’s much more delicious (and empowering!) to cook fast-food copycat recipes at home.

I’m the first to admit that deep-frying food is nothing near glamorous. It takes some time, determination and a steady pair of hands-but trust me, the end result is definitely worth it. Plus, deep frying is actually much easier than you’d think. Tender, crispy chicken is well within your reach. Say no to carside chicken and yes to the homemade version with these expert tips from our Test Kitchen.

But first a little more reassurance:

Concerned about spills? Use the right tools.

As with any deep-fried recipe, the elephant in the room is the vat of super-hot oil that will sit atop your stove. (350° to be exact!) The inevitable truth is that oil spits and splashes. Don’t get scared by this; you can tame that beast. Many guides suggest investing in a splatter screen, but the surest way to keep you (and your backsplash) safe is to fry in a high-sided skillet like a Dutch oven or fryer pot. The spitting oil will have a hard time escaping-but if it does, there’s a foolproof way to clean it off any surface.

Grab a gallon-sized resealable bag

The secret to fried chicken’s crispy crust is a healthy amount of coating. But dredging chicken can get messy. Read: flour in all the wrong places. Save yourself some cleanup by coating your chicken inside a resealable plastic bag. Simply add the coating mix, then the chicken and shake! Your spotless counters say “thank you.”

Practice makes perfect

Don’t be dismayed if a few pieces burn on your first go ’round. Over time, you’ll acquire the right tools, memorize the basic steps and master the movements. In the meantime, I’m sure you’ll find a few takers for the fried chicken you’ve made to practice.

So what are you waiting for? Slip on your apron, grab a pair of tongs and let’s get cooking! Follow along as we take you step-by-step through our favorite recipe for buttermilk fried chicken.

How to Make Crispy, Tender Fried Chicken

You’ll Need:

1 broiler/fryer chicken (about 3 pounds), cut in pieces*

3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk

Oil for frying


1-1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 tablespoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground sage

1/4 teaspoon ground thyme

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

Raw chicken parts on a paper towel-lined baking sheet

Regarding chicken: For this recipe we use 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 4 breast pieces and 2 wings. Save the backbone and wingtips for making chicken stock. You can use packaged cut chicken, buy a whole bird and cut it yourself, or ask your butcher to do the job.

Raw chicken parts in a flat dish with high sides having buttermilk poured over them from a measuring cup

Step 1: Soak in buttermilk

Remove any excess moisture from your chicken pieces by patting them dry with paper towels. Place them in a large flat dish with high sides. Time for a buttermilk bath! Pour the buttermilk over the chicken, then cover and refrigerate at least an hour. (Leaving it overnight works, too.)

Test Kitchen tip: Don’t let the chicken soak for longer than 24 hours. The acid in the buttermilk will turn the meat mushy!

What’s with the buttermilk?

Many recipes for fried chicken will use milk and eggs, but we found that buttermilk gives the chicken an irresistibly tangy flavor that helps brighten up the dish. Also, the acidic composition of buttermilk (or alternatively, plain yogurt) helps tenderize the chicken. Tasty and tender, you say? Count us in.

A person taking a drumstick from its buttermilk bath and getting it covered in coating inside a large resealable plastic bag then placing it on parchment paper to their left

Step 2: Coat the chicken

In a large resealable plastic bag, add the ingredients listed for the coating. Give it a shake to combine. Carefully place a single piece of your buttermilk-soaked chicken into the bag. Shake to coat. You’ll want the chicken to have ample coating, so make sure every inch gets dredged. Remove from the bag and lay it on a sheet of waxed paper to dry. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Test Kitchen tip: Plastic bags work wonders with cutting down the mess, but you can always combine the breading ingredients in a large bowl and toss the chicken that way.

All of the chicken pieces have been coated and placed on the parchment paper and arranged so they are not touching

The secret to making that coating stick to your chicken? Patience. Give the chicken extra time to rest after coating (15 minutes should do). During this time the moisture from the buttermilk will become evenly distributed, helping the coating adhere.

Person using metal tongs to manipulate the four pieces inside their dutch oven of hot, bubbling oil

Step 3: Fry, fry, fry

Let’s get frying! Still a little nervous? Read our guide for how to deep fry with confidence.

In a Dutch oven or other deep skillet, heat 1/2-in. of oil over medium heat until it reaches 350°. Carefully add a few pieces of chicken into the oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook, uncovered, for 7-8 minutes per side. Turn occasionally until the coating turns dark golden brown and the meat is no longer pink. Remove and place onto paper towels, keeping warm.

Test Kitchen tip: The key to a crispy coat is to fry the chicken 2-3 pieces at a time. If you add too much to the pot, the temperature will drop too quick, giving your chicken a soggy coating.

After frying your first batch of chicken, wait to let the temperature of the oil return to 350° before adding the next batch.

Test Kitchen tip: Don’t panic if the breading browns before the meat is cooked. Place the chicken on a baking pan and bake it in a 350° oven, until completely cooked.

Success! The fresh fried chicken rests on a bed of paper towel on a white plate

Step 4: Rest, then serve

Before digging in, let your chicken rest for a few minutes. This helps the chicken’s moisture redistribute throughout the meat (aka the chicken gets more juicy!). Resting also helps the outer coating crisp up and excess oil drain. The result? Perfectly crisp, better-than-any-restaurant chicken you and your family will wolf down. Enjoy!

Wondering what to do with that oil?

Let it cool. Then strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove residue and store. The easiest place to store oil is in its original container, but spare glass jars work, too. Reuse it for your next Fish Fry Friday.

Plate on a wooden table filled with perfectly fried chicken

Make It Your Own

Now that you know the basics, create your own recipe. You can adjust the flavor of the final chicken by adding extra ingredients into the coating. Here are a few options our Test Kitchen can’t get enough of:

  • Spices: Experiment with almost any ingredient from your spice rack, but rosemary and cayenne certainly add a kick.
  • Hot sauce: Spicy fried chicken, here we come. A few dashes of your fave hot sauce turn up the heat.
  • Potato chips: Yep! This snack food adds a secret crunch that’ll take your fried chicken over the top. See what we’re talking about with this recipe for Potato Chip Chicken Strips.

We’ve tested hundreds of tasty ways to fry chicken. Check out our favorites, here.

Article by Nicole Doster, Digital Associate Editor and Nick Iverson, Lead Test Cook from Taste of Home.


What You Need To Know About Choosing The Perfect Ham

Photo: Shutterstock / gkrphoto

Whether you’re planning a Christmas feast or a just an elegant dinner, there are few main courses that make an occasion feel as special as ham does. But preparing the best ham isn’t always so simple. Before you even turn on the oven, there are many options to consider. Shank or butt end? Bone-in, semi-boneless or boneless? And what about spiral cut? It’s enough to make your head spin. Well, worry not! We’re here to give you the scoop on which ham is best for your holiday dinner.

The Basics

Before we get into particulars, let’s sort out what cut of meat a ham is. Ham comes from the rear leg of the pig and is then salted and dried or smoked. A whole ham can weigh 15-20 pounds and can serve up to 30 people. Unless you’re feeding a large crowd (or want a lot of leftovers), chances are you don’t need to purchase an entire ham. Instead, look for the shank or the butt end.

You’ll need about a third- to a half-pound per person for bone-in hams or a quarter- to a third-pound per person for boneless hams. Want tips on how much of everything to make for your next party? We’ve got you covered.

Shank or Butt?

For a traditional Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving ham, go for the shank (leg portion). The shank end sports that classic ham profile, so it’s a good choice for a picture-perfect table. The meat tends to be fattier and it has one long bone, which makes carving easier.

While the shank looks pretty as a picture, the butt end (the top half of the ham) is leaner and offers a little extra meat. However, it does have a T-shaped bone inside that can be tricky to carve around. Don’t worry about that, though, because we have tips on how to carve it perfectly.

Bone-in or Boneless?

If you’re comfortable with the work of carving a ham, choosing bone-in is worth the effort. The bone provides the meat with better flavor and texture. As a bonus, the leftover bone is great for making soups and stews.

A semi-boneless ham (the shank bone is removed, but the leg bone is left in) offers a win-win combination of easier carving without the loss of flavor contributed by the bone.

If convenience is more important to you than presentation and bone-in flavor, boneless ham is always an option. With this type, the bone is removed and the ham is pressed into that familiar oval shape. Boneless ham looks like a solid piece of meat because the added salt breaks down its proteins, causing it to re-form, in a sense. Obviously, this makes for the easiest carving.

Spiral Cut?

If you’re not super confident about carving but consider bone-in flavor a must, try a spiral-cut ham. These are sold already cut into thin slices, which then just need to be carved away from the bone. If you want big chunks of ham, this isn’t the way to go; instead, it provides nice, thin slices (perfect for sandwiches the next day).

It’s worth noting that many spiral-sliced hams come glazed, so they’re not a good choice if you’re following a specific recipe. Be sure to read the label to make sure you’re getting an unglazed ham.

City or Country?

One more consideration before you get cooking: Do you want a city ham or a country ham?

A city ham is what’s generally available at the grocery store. These are usually cured by brining and sold fully cooked. City hams may come with added liquids that can dilute the flavor, so check the label.

Country hams are cured with a dry rub, hung to dry and sold uncooked. They may or may not be smoked and can be very salty. Understandably, they’re much drier than city ham. They are either served in very thin slices or soaked for 24 hours before cooking. The chewy, intensely flavored meat is an acquired taste, but country hams (Virginia hams, for example, are considered country) have a passionate following.

Whatever type of ham you try this holiday season, we’re confident you can pull it off! And if you need more tips, our experts have broken down how to cook a ham step by step.

Article by Cathy Jakicic from Taste of Home.


Here’s How To Cook Burgers In The Middle Of Winter

Photo: Shutterstock / koss13

If you’ve always wondered how to cook a burger when the weather is too rough to head outdoors, you’ll be happy to know there are plenty of options. From getting grill marks to re-creating that juicy, smoky flavor, we have you covered.

Use the broiler.

The heat’s coming from the opposite direction, but it’ll get the job done. You can boost the smoky flavor with the right spice blend and a touch of liquid smoke in the ground beef. You’ll have to use a Sharpie for the grill marks—just kidding. You’ll have to use your imagination for those.

Use a broiler pan.

A sturdy foil pan or a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil is an option. Position the pan about six inches from the flames. Leave the broiler door open just far enough for frequent checks on the burgers. Flip them halfway through. For most burgers, you’ll cook 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Work the stovetop.

If you’re committed to grill marks, try a grill pan on the stove top. The ridges of the pan will create lines if the pan’s hot enough and will allow the excess fat to drain away from the meat. A cast iron pan is your best bet; the heavier pan will conduct more heat and create better grill lines. First, season it according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then lightly coat it with cooking oil before each use. Remember to pat the burger patties dry and brush them with olive oil before putting them on the grill pan.

Get creative.

As an alternative to the grill pan, you might also consider a relatively small investment in a pancake griddle that has ridges on the underside. If you’re in the market for a new stove anyway—and are serious about your indoor grilling—many have built-in grills or griddles on the range top. But a grill pan will do the job just as well if you’re not up for the investment.

Open the oven.

Yep. If you’re looking for a little more speed and a little less smoke, you can grill inside the oven. Put a grill pan (or griddle) on the oven rack and preheat the oven to 500˙F. Place your burgers on the pan and turn halfway through cooking. Check your progress through the oven window; you won’t want to leave the door ajar here as you would with broiling.

Go the appliance route.

A countertop folding contact grill also can be used for a quick grilling. No need for flipping, and you’ll get grill marks on both sides simultaneously.

Spice it up.

It’s worth noting that while you still want the smoky flavor indoors, you don’t actually want the smoke. The way to ensure that? First, use a leaner ground beef to cut down on the fat dripping as much as possible. For flavor, using smoked paprika, a smoky salt or pepper blend, a spice rub with chipotle powder, an infused oil or a touch of liquid smoke will almost convince you that you have a sunburn from standing over the grill for too long. When paired with any one of these yummy potato salads, and maybe even a pitcher of our favorite sangria if you’re really feeling the need for “sunshine,” you can almost convince yourself that you’re at the perfect picnic.

Article by Cathy Jakicic from Taste of Home.