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How to Cook Simply

The 1 Thing I Learned From My Mom That Changed the Way I Cook

Through my experience with cooking, I've gathered that more complicated doesn't equate to more delicious. For me, it's sort of the opposite! I've been to culinary school, worked in restaurants, made advanced recipes out of cookbooks, and experimented with exotic produce and spices, but none of that holds a candle to this crucial lesson I learned from my mom:

Good food starts with good ingredients, and good ingredients hardly need seasoning.

My mom has a very Italian approach to her cooking that I've emulated. Having grown up in an era where it was trendy to eat processed, canned, and frozen foods, she really resisted all of that as an adult. Everything had to be fresh — freshly-squeezed orange juice, fresh veggies (steamed), fresh chicken (baked). She took pride in buying local and seasonal for the main reason that it tasted better without manipulating it too much. Sure, frozen broccoli tastes great if you melt a bunch of cheddar cheese on it and canned green beans are devilishly good doused in cream of mushroom soup, but my mom really believes that good ingredients have distinct flavors and textures that should be celebrated, not covered up.

That paves the way to the seasonings. My mom's pantry is very basic, and I've followed suit. A good butter and extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, some kosher salt, and freshly-ground pepper are essential to doctoring up just about everything. A basil plant resting by the sink, a robust balsamic vinegar, and a large nob of Parmesan are a few other ingredients that she always keeps stocked. Here's an example of what dinner looks like: brown rice and steamed broccoli topped with melted butter, baked chicken or fish seasoned with butter, lemon zest, and pepper, and a lettuce salad tossed in a homemade balsamic vinaigrette with a few peeled, diced tomatoes and parmesan shavings. The preparation is easy and doable, the food is tasty, and a fresh, homemade meal is made without fuss or stress. As an adult with a busy schedule who can't always carve out time to prepare elaborate recipes, I find myself relying on this standby method of cooking that she instilled in me every day, for nearly every meal.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Anna Monette Roberts
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