My mom is the best cook I know, and what's more is that she has a wealth of information and advice to share about it. From watching my mom cook, I've gained many helpful kitchen tips, as well as an appreciation for her philosophy about cooking. Below are 6 of the most important insights my mom has given me on how to master the craft of cooking:

1) The first step in preparing a great meal is buying the right ingredients

Have you ever heard the phrase, "you can't get out what you don't put in"? This maxim is unquestionably true in the kitchen.

In order for the food to taste good, you need to know how to select high-quality foods at the supermarket. This means buying organic and locally grown if available, as well as avoiding foods that are overly-processed or have unnecessary additives. Buy foods from reputable brands that are transparent about the ingredients in their products. Or if possible, grow your own fruits and vegetables! Having a backyard garden, or a couple of indoor plants such as potted herbs to use in your food can make a huge difference in the overall taste of a meal.

raised bed vegetable garden

normanack on Flickr

2) Prepare all of the ingredients you need for the meal BEFORE you start cooking

The French term "mise en place" means "everything in its place." Preparing all of the ingredients needed to cook in advance will save time and stress once you actually begin cooking.

To use this strategy, make sure to gather all of ingredients, utensils, and equipment needed, and arrange it around your cooking station. One at a time, wash, cut, dice, chop, and measure all of the ingredients. You can choose to put each ingredient in appropriately sized dishes or bowls for easy grabbing.

Chickpea Salad mise en place

mealmakeovermoms on Flickr

3) Salt (and taste) as you go

Salt is an important component in almost any meal, and it should be added throughout the process of preparing and cooking the food, rather than at the end. This is because heat changes the chemical composition of salt, and has a better effect on the food during cooking than if sprinkled atop at the end. 

Pasta and vegetables cooked in water should be heavily salted, because most of the salt will be removed when the water is dumped out. Make sure to taste the meal as it is being cooked to see if enough salt has been added. Meats should be salted and left to sit at least a few hours before cooking, so the salt has time to work its magic. 

Sea Salt

Happy Krissy on Flickr

4) Simplicity is Key

Don't correlate complexity with better flavor in the kitchen. You can do a lot with a few essential ingredients. In fact, many of the best meals are made from limited ingredients. My mom's classic dishes of spaghetti and crabs, salad dressed with oil and vinegar, or sausage and peppers are examples of classic Italian recipes that combine few ingredients, but yield intense flavor. 

If you're still a beginner in the kitchen, it's best to stick to simple dishes, but feel free to branch out into more complex ones once you have the mastered the basics. 

Pasta, igen

Erik on Flickr

5) Make it your own

There is a creative component to cooking. All of the best chefs in the world have their own versions of their favorite foods, due to experimentation.

My mom does this with Christmas cookies (I know it's not technically cooking, but the same ideas apply). She started by following the original recipes, but over the years has made improvements and substitutions to each cookie recipes to make her ideal versions. With each batch, she tries a new alteration, such as swapping a cup of white flour for almond flour, or decreasing the amount of sugar, and determines if this change improves the recipe. As a result, we have an array of delicious homemade Christmas cookies that could easily beat any bakery. 

Hände pressen Saft aus Zitronen über einem Teller Miesmuscheln heraus

marcoverch on Flickr

6) Cook from the heart

A lot of people believe that home cooking takes too much time or energy, but in reality, cooking can be an extremely rewarding effort. Studies show that people who consume home-cooked meals are healthier both mentally and physically. At the end of the day, whether your'e cooking for yourself or for others, it is important to strive to find enjoyment in cooking creatively rather than rushing to get a meal on the table as soon as possible. 

Additionally, cooking can be an expression of love and celebration. We make comforting food for people when they are sick, or their favorite meals on special occasions. Most of my family's favorite foods are ones we make only for holidays, because they are only made once or twice a year and shared by everyone. Some examples include pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, or Apizza Gaina (an Italian ham pie served at Easter). 

Beautiful table with thanksgiving food

hildgrim on Flickr

This article is dedicated to my wonderful and creative mom! Thank you for everything you have taught me inside the kitchen and out. 

Happy cooking, everyone!