Get to Know Community Cook Cyndy Gerken

Cyndy Gerken wasn't born with a love for cooking but with some determination and perseverance, she has become a Taste of Home favorite.

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.

(Now Cyndy has her original recipes featured regularly in Taste of Home.)

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 Community Cook 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.

Guess what? We’re a big fan of easy freezer meals too!

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.

(Hey, Cyndy! Here are 75 classic comfort food dinners just for you!)

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.

Want to know more about our Community Cook program? Check this out. 

Community Cook Cyndy Gerken’s Best Recipes
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Sue Stetzel
Sue has been working with Taste of Home since 2011. When she isn’t writing, she’s answering your burning cooking questions and working with our team of Community Cooks. She spends her free time cooking, crafting, and volunteering for various organizations in her home town.