My First Week at Natural Chef School

My first week at natural chef school

Hi guys!  I’m going to TRY (try is the operative word here, as it’s already week 2 and I’m barely getting this post together) and get out a weekly recap to you all about how schools going, as well as share with you all some helpful tips and insight as to what I’m learning, because I’m learning SO MUCH!  I’m totally LOVING school, but I will admit that it’s a big adjustment, like HUGE adjustment! I’m literally hitting the pillow at 9:00 most nights and getting up extra early to get everything done before school, like dinner prep, recipe testing, working out, life admin, you get it. Oh, and did I mention the homework? Yes, there’s HOMEWORK, and lots of it! I have to remember that it’s going to take me a couple of weeks, or maybe a couple of months, to get in the groove of things, but I don’t regret it for a minute, because as exhausted as I am, I know I’m following the right path and made the right decision to go to natural chef school.

Ok, so let’s get to the fun stuff. First off, I’m in total awe of all of my teachers. They’re all so dynamic, experts in their field and have these amazing careers and businesses outside of school. They’re extreme multi-taskers, passionate entrepreneurs and they reaffirmed that I made the right decision in choosing this program.

As far as my classmates go, there are 24 of us, (we break up into groups of 12) and we all range in age, culinary backgrounds and skill levels, but one thing we have in common is that we all love good food and are super excited to learn about nutritional and holistic cooking. It’s funny when you see what everyone brings to lunch, because everything is made from scratch and uber healthy. My classmates are topping their lunch with nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, seaweed and all sorts of crazy things. I actually feel like the oddball with my cute little “normal” lunches.

I wanted to share with you all some interesting facts that I’ve picked up on from class so far. Some of these facts you may already know, but they were new to me, so I thought if they were new to me, then they might be new to some of you. Wow, that was a mouthful!

Aluminum foil: Don’t use aluminum foil for cooking. Cooking your meat or veggies directly on aluminum foil leaches aluminum into your food, so it’s a big NO, NO!  Simple solution, use parchment paper instead! See, I’ve made the mistake in the past, so I just updated my “how to roast red peppers” post and told readers to switch over from foil to parchment paper. I actually just roasted a batch of red peppers on parchment paper the other day and they came out perfectly, so foil is not needed folks!

No to tin foil

Rimmed baking sheets:  Most commercial baking sheets (I think all of them actually) are made of heavy-duty aluminum, which like aluminum foil will leach into your food, so always line your rimmed baking sheets/sheet pans with parchment paper. For instance, if you’re roasting up sweet potato fries, cookies, chicken breasts or broccoli make sure to put a layer of parchment paper between the food and the baking sheet. The parchment paper prevents the aluminum from leaching into your food, so it’s basically a barrier.

I wanted to test this out because I know that certain things (like sweet potatoes) cook better on a well-oiled baking sheet, as they get crisper. I made up a batch of sweet potato fries and cooked them on the parchment paper instead of directly on the baking sheet, and I have to say that they turned out great, and the kids devoured them, so I’m a fan! Parchment paper is compostable, so you don’t have to feel too bad about using it.

Olive oil:  First off, never buy olive oil in a clear plastic bottle because light destroys it and will make it go rancid, and the plastic will change the flavor as well. Also, don’t store your olive oil on the stove top because heat also destroys it. Olive oil should be purchased in a dark glass container and stored in a cool dark place. Remember this: heat + light destroy olive oil and most oils as well. 

Interesting fact: Did you know that some supermarket brands of olive oil are not pure olive oil?  They actually have canola oil in them? WHAT??? This totally shocked me, so read the labels carefully! I never really paid much attention to olive oil, but when I heard that, I was converted, and now I’m only going to buy and support the pure stuff.  Pure extra virgin olive oil makes a world of difference, not only for health reasons, but it just tastes SO much better. I discovered an amazing local source for pure Olive Oil, Amphora Nueva.  They have a couple of stores in the Bay area including a new store in San Anselmo, which is 2 towns away from me, yay!  I’m noticing such a difference in my kale salad since purchasing this olive oil, and Zoe is a well.  She asked me the other night if I chad hanged the recipe somehow because the salad tasted SO good, and I just told her that I changed up the olive oil.

Olive oil with salad

Omega-6 & Omega-3: It’s important to get a ratio of 2:1 when it comes to Omega-6 and Omega-3 (2 Omega-6 to 1 Omega-3) and the best sources are from actual food, not supplements. We tend to have a much higher ratio of Omega 6 in our diets and not enough Omega 3, which can lead to all sorts of problems, but I won’t go into detail as to what those problems are because I’m learning about it all, and don’t want to give you wrong info.

Good sources of Omega-6 are; olive oil, nuts, olives, avocado, avocado oil, grains and seeds.

Good sources of Omega-3 are; chia seeds, flax seeds, flax-seed oil (only purchase flax-seed oil that is sold in the refrigerated section and in dark bottles, as flax-seed oil will go rancid when exposed to heat and light) hemp seeds, fatty cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines.

So with all that being said, I went a bit crazy the next day at lunch. I topped some toasted Dave’s killer bread (I had 2 slices incase anyone is wondering) with a smashed avocado, coarse sea salt, hemp seeds and raw sunflower seeds.  Wow, it was an amazing lunch, and I was licking my plate clean!  The hemp and sunflower seeds added a great crunchy texture and a salty and nutty flavor.

Avocado Toast

Oats: Did you know that oats are naturally gluten-free? They don’t contain gluten in their natural form. They’re typically processed in facilities that also process wheat and other gluten grains, so there’s where the gluten comes into play. So that’s why you pay more for gluten-free oats, because they have to be processed at a certified facility that only processes them alone. Basically the only difference between regular oats and gluten-free oats is the facility where they are processed. Pretty cool!

I’ve also been topping my overnight steel-cut oats with a tablespoon or two of raw whole flaxseeds, (I’ve just learned that we need to grind them first for better absorption, (see we’re learning new things every day) but it’s better to grind them fresh with a spice grinder than to buy ground flaxseed, but do what you gotta do, it’s all good in the end) paired with strawberries and almond butter!  The flaxseeds add a great crunchy texture to the oats. LOVE THEM!  I’ve even been tossing in some ground flaxseed into Zoe’s morning yogurt parfait, and chia seeds into Eli’s morning oats. Both kids are digging them, and don’t mind the addition!  AWESOME!   Yes, I still drink a cup or two of black coffee, but it’s all about balance, right?

Overnight oats with strawberries and almond butter

Speaking of balance, I ate so well last week that Eli and I treated ourselves to a cupcake from Kara’s Cupcakes in Palo Alto last weekend during his soccer tournament. Oh my gosh, those cupcakes are the BOMB!  I’m so getting the recipe and making them. I had the chocolate one with the coconut frosting, so good!  I’m still dreaming about that cupcake.

Eli holding Kara's cupcakes

Nuts: I’m sure most of you know this, but you should store your nuts in the refrigerator, as they will last longer.  Also buy your nuts raw and toast/roast them yourself, as most store-bought toasted/roasted nuts are over-toasted. Raw nuts have a longer shelf life as well.

End note: Basically what I keep hearing is that we need to have a varied and balanced diet. It’s important for us to diversify our food (not to just eat kale all the time) and eat seasonally and organically when possible. We should also vary the way we cook our food as well. Also, it’s better to get our vitamins and nutrients from natural whole food sources that to take vitamins or supplements. The absorption rate of over the counter vitamins is 10%, which is pretty lame.

I hope to get some recipes out to you all soon, but I honestly haven’t had too much time to get creative in the kitchen, as I’ve been too busy with this whole readjustment process. I’ve been making quick, easy and healthy dishes such as these One-pan Mexican quinoa wraps.

Mexican quinoa wraps

I’ve also been making and eating tons of these gluten-free healthy cookie bites, as I find myself needing a bit of a mid-day sweet while at school to keep me energized! SO GOOD!

Healthy cookie bites

I hope you all have an amazing weekend, and for those of you that have been coming up to me in the grocery store or on the street to say hi and introduce yourselves, keep doing that! I honestly love meeting you all in person!  It’s so wonderful to meet local readers! It seriously makes my day! 🙂

With love Jackie

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31 thoughts on “My First Week at Natural Chef School”

  1. Hi there. These are some great tips, especially the aluminum foil! I use it from time to time and am always roasting directly on the pan. I will switch to parchment for sure! Also, I totally feel your transition. I am 2 weeks in to a new job and a single mom to a little boy who just started kindergarten. Adjustments all around. Anyway, congratulations on your new adventure and I can’t wait to vicariously soak up your knowledge!!

    1. Hi Lynne! I know, can you believe the aluminum foil tip? I know its just a simple tip, but I wanted to share it because it freaked me out, and I know tons of people that use it because it makes clean up easy, so I wanted to pass along that tidbit! Wow, you have your hands full as well, and I feel you girl! Being a single mom/parent is difficult, because you’re basically the mom/dad and take care of everything! Congratulations on your new job and your son starting kindergarten, so exciting! Have a great weekend and I’ll be sure to keep sharing any new cool and useful tips with you all! xoxo, Jacquelyn

  2. Wow! Those are interesting facts you are learning. Thank you so much for sharing. Looking forward to more updates and recipes, thank you Marin Mama.

    1. Hi Crystal! Thanks girl! I’m jotting down cool facts as I hear them at school, so I can share them with you all. I’m glad you’re finding them helpful! xoxo, Jacquelyn

  3. Great to hear how it is all going! You are always so positive and happy, such a pleasure to read your blog and look forward to more updates when you get time.

    1. Awww… thanks for the super sweet comment! I did laugh when I read your comment as I’ve been one tired mama lately and not my usual upbeat sparkly self 😉 I’m going to do my best to blog at least once a week because honestly I just love sharing with you all. It makes me happy! Have a fabulous weekend and thanks for your sweet comment! xoxo, Jacquelyn

  4. Always love reading your posts and trying recipes, BUT this information on healthy foods and natural eating is wonderful!
    Love gaining information that your are learning in class. Thank you! and I can’t wait to see what you learn next!

    1. Thanks so much! I really love learning new information as well, and figure if it’s interesting and useful to me, then it will be interesting and useful to others. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the tips and info, and I will best sure to keep posting and sharing all that I learn! I mean if you think about it, that’s why I blog, to share things I love with all of you! Have a great weekend! xoxo, Jacquelyn

  5. I have a tip for about parchment paper!! You know how difficult it can be to get it to fit in a pan with sides. No problem. Get a piece of parchment paper large enough to go up the sides of your pan. Screw it all up in a tight ball and then run it under cold water getting it good and wet. Now take it and carefully unfold it, it’s really not too delicate but still you don’t want to rip it. I usually take it outside and shake it off really good. It will now fit in any pan because it has been all wrinkled up and you just need to straighten out most of those wrinkles. Food does not stick to the slightly wet parchment paper. Works every time! Learned this trick in Italy where I live.

  6. Wow, I definitely learned something new today. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us… so glad your first week went well! Very exciting stuff. One question for you as you’ve mentioned flax seeds: I once read somewhere that unless the flax seeds are ground in some way (not in their whole, shelled form), our bodies cannot absorb the nutrients from them. Is this a myth?
    Thanks- have a wonderful weekend! Cynthia

    1. Hi Cynthia! You know, let me ask one of my teachers about the flaxseeds. I know it’s better to grind them fresh with a spice grinder than to buy the pre-ground flaxseed, (which I was buying before) so that’s why I purchased them whole, but you might totally be right about the absorption rate. Great question! I’ll let you know what I find out! xoxo, Jacquelyn

    1. Thanks Cheryl! I promise to keep sharing and I’m excited to see where this all leads as well. 🙂 xoxo, Jacquelyn

  7. Thanks so much for sharing all these great tips. I’m so excited for you getting to do this! Congrats and best of luck. I am sure you will do great and cannot wait to see what you will share with us! xo Kim

  8. Sounds like you’re learning a ton! All things worth doing are not easy, so good for you taking this huge step! In my nutrition class back in 2007 I learned that our bodies can’t absorb the nutrients in flax seeds unless they are ground. I guess our teeth can’t grind them down enough so usually it’s a waste if it’s not ground. I’d definitely check with the teacher on that one. I see someone else already mentioned it to you as well. I always roasted my veggies directly on my baking sheets! We always did in culinary school, too. I’ll have to switch it up and start trying parchment paper!

  9. Jackie,
    You are on your way to the time of your life. Couldn’t be more pleased for you if you were my own granddaughter(I’m 72). I tell my grandchildren ” No is you and that is your power”.
    God Bless

  10. Jac, awesome tips – especially the foil and oil. Def going to try the sunflower on our avocado toast as Pat has for breakfast almost everyday. I’m so proud of you going after your dreams. Xo! Ker

  11. so whats the word on silpat? i rarely use foil cuz it seems wasteful to me…but always bake directly on cookie sheets – ugh!

    1. Hey Jyllzie! Sorry girl! I know, I was a bit bummed out at first as well, but I don’t want aluminum leaking into my food, so it’s just what you gotta do, right? I think silpat is totally fine, so go ahead and pick up one of those if you want. 🙂 xoxo, Jacquelyn

  12. Hey Jackie, so so happy you are enjoying the natural chef program! That’s so awesome!! Super excited to keep reading about your journey! Love to you! XOXO

    1. Hey girl! I’m so enjoying the program, but the homework load is crazy! I thought I was going to be able to work part-time while I went to school, but I have at least 20-30 hours a week of HW! It’s crazy! I may call you in the next week or so! I hope all is well with you 🙂

  13. What parchment paper do you use? I get the brown (non bleached) kind at Whole Foods. But I find at 450F temps it will burn. Don’t want a fire in the oven. So I’m curious what kind you use.

    My pans are stainless steel so I will just throw food on them to roast but am considering using parchment more.

    Congratulations on going back to school! And thanks for the tips. Love them!!

    1. Hi Charity! Sorry to get back to you so late in the game, but school has been a bit overwhelming and the home work load is just CRAZY! I’m feeling a bit crazed as a result! Ok, so I use the same brand of parchment paper as you and when I roast my sweet potato fries at 450 for 1/2 hour, the parchment is fine. It may brown and darken in color on the ends, but it hasn’t burned or started a fire, so I think you’re fine with what you have. I will check out what brand the school recommends, but I know we use the same brown parchment paper. If you’re going over 450 and are concerned, then just use the baking sheet as is. It’s fine to do that, they just recommended that we use parchment when we can, but if you’re making something and the oven temp is too high, then just skip the parchment. Stainless steel is great, don’t worry about that. It’s aluminum that leaches into food, not stainless steel. All baking sheets are made with aluminum (unless you have a brand that is made with stainless steel?) and most fry/sauté pans are made with stainless steel. If you have a stainless steel rimmed baking sheet, let me know the brand and I will check it out!

      Have a great week girl! xoxo, Jacquelyn

  14. Very cool that you are learning so much and sharing! Now you may have already talked about this at some point, but I thought I would mention that EVOO shouldn’t be used to cook with at high heat (roasting, sautéing, grilling, etc). At least I’ve read in many sources over the years that it becomes carcinogenic at a certain temp. Best to use it in raw dishes and as a finishing oil. When you taste the good stuff best! Like I said, you may know this and if not I thought you might be interested. So happy for your adventure, commitment, and all you are learning and sharing.

    1. Yes, I’ve heard that as well, but my instructors said that in the Mediterranean they use olive oil for everything and that includes cooking and they’re very healthy, so it’s difficult to really pin point if it’s a good thing, or a bad thing. Olive oil is not as solid in it’s molecular structure as higher heat oils or lards such as Ghee, butter, avocado oil and coconut oil. I’ve been using coconut oil to roast most of my vegetables lately and the kids have not noticed a difference, and actually say that it adds a bit of flavor, but you will have some savory dishes where you don’t want to use coconut oil, then I would either use Avocado oil as it has mild flavor, or just use extra-virgin oil. Some of my instructors still use it for everything, so it really depends on your preference, when it’s all said and done. I personally try and use coconut oil or avocado oil when cooking food in high temps. Thanks of your insight, it’s helpful for readers, so I appreciate it 🙂 I will keep sharing what I learn, but school is so crazy lately, that I haven’t had much time to get on the blog! I’m hoping to figure out a routine one of these days 🙂 xoxo, Jacquelyn

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