Being an only child, my mom has always been much more than just a mom to me. She's also my best friend. Sure, there were plenty of times when—as a parent—she dropped the iron hammer, but we've always had a closeness that was more like friendship.
Growing up she obviously taught me a lot of very important things: work hard, make good choices, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. But when it comes to cooking, the most important thing she instilled in me was small: Keep an organized work station, and clean up as you go.
Naturally, I hated this as a kid—who wants to waste time wiping down the counter or washing prep bowls in between licks of cake batter off the spoon? Couldn't everything wait until after we were done? No, my mom insisted. This was the way professional chefs worked. And it turns out she couldn't be more right.
So when I finally started living on my own in college (albeit with roommates), when I cooked, I couldn't help but make sure every part of the recipe had been prepped, do the dishes as I went, or wipe down spills and splatters as they happened. I'm a much more organized, prepared home cook as a result—not to mention, by the time I'm ready to eat, it's nice to know that most of the cleanup has already been taken care of.
Of course, my mom's not the only one with advice to spare. So in honor of Mother's Day, I asked the Food52 team to share the best cooking tips they've picked up from their moms. From game-changing ingredient swaps to timeless kitchen wisdom, here are the very best tricks and techniques we've picked up:
"Everyone feels their family's sugar cookies are the best, but my mom uses almond extract instead of vanilla extract and thinking about those cookies make my mouth water." —Brian Mahoney, people operations manager
"My mom taught me not to use elbow macaroni or "regular" cheese when making mac and cheese! She doesn't do anything "special" or have a magic trick, but somehow it's the best macaroni and cheese ever; she tends to use cellentani, fusilli, farfalle or rigatoni noodles with a minimum of three types of cheese, which always includes a nicer cheddar." —Danielle Curtis-Williams, marketing coordinator
"My mom taught me a million little tricks—like always add more vanilla than a cookie recipe tells you to, or eat pasta out of the serving bowl on the couch (it tastes better this way). But I think the biggest thing is: She taught me to love cooking." —Emma Laperruque, food writer and recipe developer
"My mom didn’t necessarily teach me this, but I definitely picked it up from her: Try new recipes on company. I know this is something most people suggest you should avoid at all costs, but it honestly makes cooking much more exhilarating and really teaches you to trust yourself in the kitchen. My mom did this all the time growing up (she still does), and there was definitely a flop or two, but it was so much fun trying new things." —Joanna Sciarrino, executive editor
"Make dishes that are good at room temperature for a dinner party." —Merrill Stubbs, co-founder and president
"Cook as much as earthly possible the night before; I used to think she was crazy leading up to Thanksgiving, but now I see the logic. And also, be alert while cutting bagels! She cut herself really badly with a dinner knife once and I think about it every time I have to cut something wobbly." — Cody Kestigian, data scientist
"Always keep your sink scrubbed clean so when you have a vegetable (or the like) to wash, it's ready to go and won't feel like a chore. Similarly, she would always wash and prep all produce as soon as she got home from the grocery store so she could pack it neatly into the fridge, and it was more likely to get used. Un-prepped vegetables have a way of being neglected until it's too late!" —Amanda Hesser, co-founder and CEO
"Make sure your water tastes like the ocean (aka very salty) when you are boiling it for pasta. And if you place a wooden spoon over the pot it will prevent boil-overs." —Angela Bartolotta, drop ship supply chain manager
"She taught me that cooking doesn’t need to be intimidating and that casual, unfussy meals at home can still be delicious and special. But more specifically, she taught me to constantly taste dishes as I'm preparing them and to make adjustments and build flavor as I go. Whenever I ask her how much of an ingredient to add to a dish, her response is invariably "to taste!" While pretty frustrating, I credit her for teaching me to be a more intuitive home cook." — Laura Wolfgang, senior product manager
"Order Thai food." —Mollie Doherty, account manager
"Read your recipe first and make adjustments where you see fit." —Sarah Yaffa, data analyst
"My mom is a big proponent of keeping recipes simple and really focusing on making sure every ingredient is prepared in a way that makes it maximally delicious. (She feels most recipes are not honest about how long you actually need to spend caramelizing onions.) Another one: The only acceptable thing to eat for dinner if you've been sick all day is homemade chicken noodle soup that's almost utilitarian in its final presentation. You might get two to three noodles total in your bowl and each is the most delicious thing you've ever tasted; the only other components are an excellent, thrice-strained broth and tiny pieces of carrot and shredded chicken. Served with cola that's been sitting out in a glass so it's flat." —Ella Quittner, lifestyle writer
"You can leave soups and stews out on the counter for as many days as you want, as long as you bring it to a boil each time you eat it to kill the germs." —Eric Kim, senior editor