Cyndy’s contest-winning Chicken Parmesan Stuffed Shells were love at first bite for us. Her signature comfort-food style has made her recipes a favorite with both readers and staff alike. We sat down with this spunky Florida kindergarten teacher to learn a bit more about her approach to cooking and recipe creation.
Taste of Home: Tell us how your love of cooking got started.
Cyndy Gerken: Originally, I had no interest in cooking—although I was very interested in eating. Then, one very happy and lucky, day I met this handsome man, destined to be my husband! Not only was it “love at first sight,” but at 34 years old, I was also suddenly hit with an uncontrollable desire to learn to cook and feed him beautiful meals. My passion for cooking has grown exponentially over the years, but I basically learned to cook by watching cooking shows and pouring over my ever-increasing number of cookbooks.
TOH: Do you have any sources of inspiration?
CG: Taste of Home, in particular, has been and continues to be a huge inspiration to me. It all started when I got my first Taste of Home Magazine and I tried my hand at one of their contests. To my delight, I had my Egg Mice published and won $100. I was so excited! Since then, I have become increasingly obsessed with the Taste of Home brand. Since becoming a Volunteer Field Editor in 2013, I have acquired not only countless Taste of Home cookbooks, and other media, but also many new friends.
TOH: What is your favorite cooking method and why?
CG: By far, my favorite method of cooking is the ‘make-ahead freezer pleaser method’. I am known by many as the Freezer Queen. Using the freezer gives me a plethora of menu choices at any given point in time. I very rarely make just one dinner. Practically all of my recipes are freezer-friendly; they’re either make-one-freeze-one or make-one-freeze-three…or four…or sixty, if I’m making meatballs.
I do a weekly menu plan, but it is very comforting to know that if I am in a pinch and need a quick menu change, I am able to peruse my freezer’s inventory and decide ‘what’s for dinner tonight’, with little or no cooking.
TOH: Do you have an indispensable kitchen gadget?
CG: My mini food processor. I use it almost every day to make quick work of chopping. Since I put onions and garlic in pretty much everything, it comes in very handy.
TOH: What is your favorite recipe to cook for your family?
CG: Hands down, of all the things I cook, my favorite to make and my families to eat are my marinara, meatballs and baked ziti. I almost always make all on the same day because they share ingredients. I buy a ton of parsley, basil and oregano, chop it up and it’s ready to be divided among the dishes. I also make all of these dishes in bulk, because not only are they freezer-friendly, but they are also in demand.
TOH: What is your favorite recipe to cook for yourself?
CG: Funny that I am being asked this now, as my hubby is going away to see his family for a few days! Since I can’t get away, I am cooking for one. Although, I am going to miss him terribly, it seems like any time I am on my own, I tend to resort back to my non-foodie/non-married days. This is probably not the culinary answer you are looking for but it sounds like a perfect excuse for frozen mac and cheese to me.
TOH: What’s your favorite season for cooking?
CG: Living in south Florida, it’s pretty much one season. When I lived up north though, it was probably be winter. I’d rather eat a big bowl of comfort food than a light summer salad any day.
TOH: If you were stuck on a desert island, what would be your last meal?
CG: Pepperoni pizza as an appetizer. For dinner, I can’t decide, (and I have given it a lot of thought) between roast beef, mashed potatoes and Yorkshire—or steak au poivre, loaded twice baked potato, corn on the cob, and grilled garlic bread. Mmmm! Now I am HUNGRY.
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