Growing up, I’d always sit at my kitchen counter and watch my mom make dinner every night. I’ve heard countless tips over the years that I didn’t even realize were so valuable until I started cooking for myself. Mom, if you’re reading this, you can say “I told you so.” So, here are ten tips my dearest mother taught me that will make your life so much easier and more flavorful.

1. Clean as you go


Photo by Evan Scoresby

I can’t even try to count how many times I’ve heard this over the years. I can literally hear my mom’s voice nagging me as I type this. But to this day, this phrase echoes in the back of my head whenever I cook.

It seriously makes such a difference, especially if you’re using more than one pot. Such a simple concept; once you’re done with a pot or pan, wash it and put it away. Don’t save it all until the end. It eliminates so much stress and makes clean up time such a breeze.

2. Always use room temperature eggs


Photo by Kai Huang

This is super essential when baking. It’s one of the most overlooked steps probably ever, but the science-y reason behind this is that the eggs will distribute more consistently into the batter so things cook more evenly with a lighter texture.

3. Preheat your pans


Photo by Alex Weiner

Again, super simple concept. Just make sure your pans are already hot, and warm up your olive oil before you add anything.  Whether it be just sautéing vegetables, or getting a good sear on a piece of meat, make sure your oil is hot. This is one of the most basic tips but it’s a total game-changer.

4. Early prep is the most important thing you can do


Photo by Regan Fitzgerald

Especially if you’re preparing a dinner, having all of your ducks in a row before your guests come makes things look so effortless. A stressed host makes for a stressful dinner party, am I right? So, if you can prepare a dish ahead of time and heat it up later, absolutely do it. If not, make sure to have all of your mise en place: a french word for “putting in place.” It’s basically a fancy way of saying have all of your ingredients washed/chopped/peeled and ready to go.

My mom goes so far as to put sticky notes on each semi-finished dish, listing the cooking time and oven temperature. She makes Thanksgiving look like a walk in the park, which is pretty absurd. Who does that? I don’t think she’s human.

5. Use the best quality olive oil


Photo by Jessica Kelly

If you’re going to splurge on one thing in the kitchen, this is it.  My mom and I use Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil; it’s delicious and you can find it in every major food store, which makes things pretty easy. In our house, olive oil goes on just about everything, so using the good stuff makes all the difference.

6. Save a cup of your pasta water


Photo by Katherine Richter

This is something I always assumed was common knowledge in the kitchen because it’s second nature to my mom (and now me). Almost every sauce or topping you add to your pasta needs some pasta water to blend everything together, so pretty please don’t just pour it down the drain.

7. Never underestimate the power of salt


Photo by Bobbi Lin

And salt every step. I feel like sometimes salt gets a lot of hate. Salt isn’t meant to make things taste salty, it’s meant to bring out the flavor of your ingredients. That’s why even sweet things need salt. So, if your food is tasting kinda bland, chances are you need some more salt.

8. Heavily salt your pasta water


Photo by Jocelyn Hsu

I always thought this was another given too. This is the only chance you get to actually flavor the pasta itself, so add a hefty dose of kosher salt to your boiling water. Make sure your water is already boiling though, or else it’ll take much longer to boil and we all know how it feels like an eternity already.

Side note – don’t add olive oil to your pasta water, sauce won’t want to stick to it.

9. Keep your food warm in the oven before serving


Photo courtesy of Lars Plougmann

If you’re making multiple dishes, this is the easiest way to ensure that all of your food is hot when you plate it. It eliminates all of the stress of trying to perfectly time the components of your meal to be ready at the same time.

All you do is put your oven on low (around 200°F), put your food on a sheet pan, and pop it right in. Unlike covering your food with foil, your meal doesn’t have to become soggy to stay warm.

10. Store your greens with a paper towel


Photo by Sara Mickow

Always wash your greens or herbs, dry them, and wrap them in paper towels to store them. This soaks up all of the extra moisture so they stay fresher longer. Nothing more frustrating than having to throw out half a bag of spinach because it’s already bad.