Cook of the Week: Natalie Herman takes nontraditional approaches to meals

Natalie Herman sat in the cozy kitchen in her Hamilton home with three different homemade dishes surrounding her on the table. This feast of muffins, noodle kugel and cookies represented just a small sample of her cooking creations each week for her family, who keeps this cook on her toes.

“My husband, Steve, works at 6:15 a.m. at Costco,” she began as she listed off the family’s crazy schedule. “My daughter Erin, who lives just a few minutes away, is a speech therapist with three children: Hannah, Caroline and Ryan. They all have school and activities–swimming, soccer. I help out with them, but I’m also cooking to feed my family.”

And despite this packed schedule, Herman doesn’t rely on restaurants or take-out to put food on the table.

“I cook seven days a week,” Herman said. “So far in 2022, we’ve eaten out twice.”

Going to a restaurant is so rare, Herman can tell you specific details about the events and why she’s not in a big rush to eat out again anytime soon.

“I took the grandkids to Wendy’s for drive-thru the other day after practices,” she shared. “They were shocked and said, ‘But we never do that!’ I got them some food and some Frostys and I couldn’t believe how much it all cost. I just feel eating out is expensive and time-consuming if you’re going to sit down for a nice dinner. It’s not a priority.”

To meet her family’s diverse schedule, Herman often takes a nontraditional approach to meals, especially breakfast. Because Steve works so early and has a long day, his first meal of the day has to sustain him for an extended time. His wife’s solution? Ditch the typical breakfast fare and serve up a dinner-style meal.

“Today he had barbecued chicken and some leftover vegetables from the corned beef and cabbage I made last night,” Herman said. “It’s a very easy meal from items I prepare ahead of time and then can give to him quickly in the mornings. We do what works for us.”

Herman said she taught herself how to cook when she married Steve.

“He liked to eat, so I had to learn,” she said with a laugh.

She prepares everything from scratch, whether it’s making a meal or baking a sweet treat for a special occasion, or just because one of the kids puts in a request. Herman gets inspiration from her three favorite cooking magazines: “All Recipes,” “Taste of Home” and “Food Network.”

“If you can read, you can cook,” she advised. “The more you do it, the easier and quicker it’s going to get. It’s a time-saver, overall, and you know you’re giving your family quality foods.”

What are Herman’s best tips for anyone wanting to cook at home more?

First, she recommends getting organized. Stock up on basic supplies for meals. If you keep your kitchen full of essentials for a meal (meats, veggies, spices, butter, rice, pasta), then you won’t risk running out when you want to make something. Plan your shopping trips based on the meals you want to make.

Next, homemade meals don’t necessarily mean big, elaborate preparations.

“I don’t make stuff that takes a long time,” Herman insisted. “Get a simple cookbook, go online, or get a magazine. I know what my family likes. And, I make enough for two days usually. The noodle kugel I’m sharing with readers takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it. The family loves it.”

And, making food ahead doesn’t necessarily mean having the same meal two days in a row, though.

“You reconfigure it so you don’t know they’re eating leftovers,” she said. “I reconstruct the chicken I make one day into a different meal, but part of it is already done, which saves time.”

Finally, Herman keeps a close eye on grocery deals to keep her food budget manageable. Sometimes, that means shopping at different stores, but she has a couple of reliable shops.

“With meat being so expensive, I shop at Aldi or Walmart,” she said. “I always look at the meat prices and think ‘how many meals can I get out of this?’ and compare that to what I have in my freezer right now.”

For Herman, though, her cooking and baking aren’t a chore. She looks at it as a privilege to be able to serve her family this way and knows it’s a labor of love.

“I cook and bake to make them happy,” she said with a smile.


Do you know an outstanding cook or chef? We may want to feature them in the Journal-News. Email information to

Natalie Herman’s noodle kugel recipe


12 ounces egg noodles

½ pound cream cheese

1 stick of butter

3 eggs

½ cup sugar

12 ounces apricot juice (use the juice from two 15 ½ oz cans of apricots in heavy syrup–reserve apricots for another use)

1 cup sour cream


1 ½ cups crushed corn flakes

½ cup brown sugar

8 tablespoons melted margarine

Dash of cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cook egg noodles according to package directions. Drain well. Set aside.

Cream butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl.

Add remaining ingredients including noodles (but not topping ingredients.) Mix well.

Pour into 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish

In a separate bowl, combine topping ingredients. Sprinkle topping mixture over the noodle mixture.

Bake in oven for 45 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Serves 8

About the Author