The Access Hollywood host has been gracing television screens for two decades, but now she's showing off another side of herself—her culinary skills.

By Shay Spence
February 23, 2018 12:59 PM
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Natalie Morales has been gracing television screens for two decades as a news anchor, but now she’s showing off another side—her culinary skills.

“I’ve always loved cooking and the kitchen to me is really the heart of my home,” Morales tells PEOPLE in the latest issue, on newsstands Friday. “I get really excited about experimenting and trying new things.”

For Morales, whose debut cookbook At Home with Natalie hits shelves April 17, this hobby was born of necessity. “When I was living in my first New York City apartment and making $18,000 a year working in local TV, my roommates and I would swap cooking nights to save money,” she says.

Now a mom of two, Morales, 45, has moved to Los Angeles after transitioning from Today coanchor to Access Hollywood host, and she is embracing the city’s advantages. “Living here, I have great food influences all around me,” she says. “Everything is fresh, organic and straight from the farm year-round. My family is eating so much cleaner.”

Credit: Amanda Marsalis

Morales says her new position has afforded her more time with her husband Joe, a 47-year-old investment banker, and sons Josh, 14, and Luke, 9. “The hardest part about doing the Today show was all of the travel and breaking news, which meant missing out on so much of my kids’ lives. I still have a busy schedule, but I can be out the door at 5:30 instead of 4 a.m.”

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Credit: Amanda Marsalis

She’s also been able to distance herself from the drama that rocked Today following the firing of Matt Lauer in November over allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. Though Morales says that particular news left her “in shock,” she has experienced the struggle of being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field.

“I think every woman in the workforce can relate, whether it’s gender pay disparity—I’ve often been paid less than my male counterparts—or sexual harassment,” she says. “That’s why I talk to my boys all the time about making sure they’re raised with the right ideas, to know how to treat women in a way that’s respectful and equal. I believe they will never know the difference and there shouldn’t be a difference.”

Though this is her first time as a permanent west-coast resident, she is no stranger to making big moves. “The hardest question for me to answer is where I’m from,” says the self-described Air Force brat who was born in Taiwan to a Puerto Rican father and a Brazilian mother and lived in Panama, Brazil and Spain before moving to New Jersey to study journalism at Rutgers.

Her cookbook highlights cuisine from this diverse heritage with some of her family-favorite recipes like pulled chicken tacos (below).

“Having lived in these places and traveled so much as a child really is what shaped my narrative, not only just as a journalist but as a mom and a home cook,” says Morales. “That’s sort of the inspiration for the book. You know, global cuisine made easy.”

Credit: Amanda Marsalis

Natalie Morales’ Pulled Chicken Tacos

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1½ lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ cup chopped white onion (from 1 small onion)
1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. red-wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
8 to 12 soft tortillas

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and cook in skillet until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, oregano, sugar, vinegar and garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

2. Transfer chicken to a cutting board, and shred using 2 forks. Return to skillet and add lime juice. Bring to a simmer over medium, and cook until thickened and chicken has absorbed most of the liquid, 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Warm the tortillas, sandwiched between damp paper towels, for about 30 seconds in the microwave. Divide filling evenly among tortillas, and serve with your taco toppings of choice.

Serves: 4 to 6
Active time: 25 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes