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From Martha and the Test Kitchen: The Best Cooking Advice from Our Moms

In honor of Mother’s Day, Martha and our food editors share the pearls of kitchen wisdom from their moms that they use to this day.

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Does Mom really know best in the kitchen? For Martha and our food editors, the answer is a resounding yes. Here are the tried-and-true tips they picked up from their moms, from how to avoid wasting food and getting the most out of your ingredients to creative ways to use leftovers and the trick to a perfectly balanced salad dressing. Just in time for Mother’s Day, too! We start with Martha’s mother, the beloved Mrs. Kostyras, whom we have to thank not only for sharing her beloved family recipes, but also for inspiring our mighty boss to become the woman she is today.

 

Get Family Recipes from Martha's Mom

Martha

I am always quoting my mother when I write about food or do television segments. Mom actually shaped my good kitchen habits, and I am sure that is how she would like to be remembered. One of her biggest pieces of advice: never waste food. These are just a few of Mom's very long list of how-to's:

  • Peel an onion without wasting layers of the onion.
  • Always use a rubber spatula when emptying a bowl.
  • Don't leave lots of batter or dough sticking to the bowl.
  • Measure carefully.
  • Clean up after each task.   
  • Use damp rags for wiping up, not paper towels.
  • Wipe up floor spills with a floor rag.

 

Greg Lofts, deputy food editor

My mom was very frugal and had to feed a large family on a tight budget. She would wash and reuse salsa jars and the like to store grains and such. I still do that to this day. She would also swish a little water into the empty can of tomatoes and pour that into the pot to get every last drop of tomato juice. She would freeze anything that wouldn’t be compromised in the freezer to extend its shelf life -- everything from hearty herbs and nuts, to bread, and overripe bananas for making banana bread.

 

Get Greg's Grandmother's Goldenrods Recipe

Shira Bocar, food editor at large

My mom made sure nothing went to waste in the kitchen. A tablespoon of leftover chopped onion or 1/4 cup of rice would get saved and used the next day. Same for leftovers -- she always found creative ways to incorporate them into new meals. (It helped that my sister and I were into savory breakfast, so we’d often polish off any leftovers the following morning.) We have a family joke that expiration dates are a recommendation, not a hard and fast rule. Mom taught us to smell everything to decide if it was past its prime!

 

Get Our Savory Breakfast Bowl Recipe

Lauryn Tyrell, Associate Food Editor

My mom always used to rub citrus peel on her wrists and behind her ears before throwing them away. I find myself doing that all the time now. In general, she had little tricks for making her surroundings smell extra good, like placing fresh gardenias or pieces of amber in the center console of her car. She also taught me to always add a tiny pinch of sugar to (homemade) salad dressing -- it balances out the acidity. Lastly, when in doubt, a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil will fix almost anything.

 

Get Our Best Salad Dressing Recipes

Lindsay Strand, Recipe Tester

When my mom went back to work, she taught me that a satisfying meal can be centered around one basic thing: a delicious, golden roast chicken. With a chicken in the oven, it was easy to make a couple of healthful, simple side dishes. My stepmom taught me the importance of crisp, DRY lettuce in a salad (there is nothing worse than a soggy salad!). She would lay out washed lettuce on clean kitchen towels (not wasting paper towels) to air dry. I’ve since bought her a salad spinner! 

 

Learn How to Make the Ultimate Roast Chicken

Kavita Thirupuvanam, test kitchen supervisor

Best advice I received is -- Don’t be afraid to experiment! Mix it up! Up until middle school, my mom stuck to the basics but still made sure my brother and I were introduced to a wide range of cuisines and ingredients. Then she started experimenting a lot, and we got to be her guinea pigs. Not a bad gig! Friends would come over for “second dinners” -- she was that good! She wasn’t afraid to try recipes for the first time and built up enough kitchen confidence to start tweaking and making them her own. She has a real knack for creating a delicious cohesive menu -- bringing in recipes from all over, but somehow tying them together as if they were always supposed to be eaten together.

 

Now, Cook Some of Our Moms' Favorite Recipes

And watch Martha and her mom make Angel Food Cake: