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In the Kitchen with Chef Natasha Miller

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For many people, the kitchen is the heartbeat of a home. It’s where families gather to share a meal and tell stories about the day, and it’s where a lot of time and planning goes into caring for people in the most basic and essential way: through nourishment.

At Hooverwood, Natasha Miller is the woman responsible for a lot of that time and caring that happens in the kitchen. On a daily basis, she oversees the production of all the meals and supervises 28-person kitchen staff, including four cooks. She also creates new menus twice a year with input from our residents and family members, the registered dietitian, and our Director of Nutritional and Dining Services.

The most popular dishes at Hooverwood

In fact, Hooverwood has a monthly food committee meeting where residents discuss what they liked and what they didn’t like. And the most popular dish? “Fried chicken,” says Natasha. “Everyone likes fried chicken.”

Among the other clear winners at Hooverwood are Natasha’s eggplant parmesan and Mexican wedding cookies. She has also perfected a list of dessert successes that could make Betty Crocker jealous.

“We have apple crumb cake, cherry crisp, bread pudding, chocolate cake, Texas sheet cake, strawberry shortcake, apple walnut cake, and pretzel salad—just to name a few.”

A unique cooking challenge for an expert

Part of the unique challenge of baking and cooking at Hooverwood is our home’s commitment to prepare and serve all our meals in accordance with Kosher tradition. On a basic level, that means keeping dairy and meat separated all the way from the kitchen to the table. Dairy and meat each have their own separate set of pots, pans, tableware, and utensils, and both food groups cannot be served in the same meal.

Additionally, Natasha has to plan her menus to provide the necessary nutrients for a senior lifestyle and to serve the needs of residents’ special diets. She regularly sits down with Peter Mellas, Hooverwood’s Director Nutritional and Dining Services and Erin Colman, Registered Dietitian, to verify that each menu is nutritionally balanced.

To keep kosher while also crafting meals that are both crowd-pleasing and nutritious may sound like a difficult task, but for an expert chef like Natasha, these requirements are fuel for her culinary imagination.

“Coming up with menus that meet everybody’s needs, incorporate different cultures, and give everybody variety—it keeps my creative juices alive.”

Hooverwood Matzo Ball Soup Recipe

For Natasha and the rest of the dining staff, flu and cold season in the winter months is an especially important time to focus on nutrition and make sure meals are warm and nourishing. Below, Natasha shares Hooverwood’s recipe for one of our winter favorites, matzo ball soup.

Makes four servings

3 quarts water

2 Tbsp. Olive oil

3/4 cup diced celery

3/4 cup diced onions

3/4 cup diced carrots

1 cup low sodium chicken base (or substitute four pieces of cut up chicken)

Salt/Pepper to taste

1 clove of garlic, minced

Teaspoon of your favorite dry herbs

Directions:  In a large pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil, garlic, onions, celery, and carrots. Saute until onions are translucent, add chicken base (or chicken pieces) and water, slowly being careful not to burn yourself; add salt, pepper and dry herbs to taste. Bring to a rapid boil and then reduce heat to simmer.  Cook for approximately 45 minutes to an hour; or until chicken pieces are done. (Always cook chicken until a read on thermometer reads a minimum of 170 degrees). 

Once chicken is completely done; taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Take a strainer and drain the liquid from the chicken mixture into another pot.

Serve broth over a precooked matzo ball.