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Posted on Wed. Nov. 21, 2012 - 12:47 am EDT

School chef puts focus on health

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I still want to learn…

A. How to play the piano.

I can’t wait to…

A. To get back to Arizona. I can’t wait to get back to the desert.

Fort Wayne — Jill Hoffelder, 48, enjoys cooking and children. Eleven years ago, when an opportunity arose for Hoffelder to enjoy both, she accepted an offer by Oak Farm Montessori School in Avilla to be its chef.

“My grandfather purchased the St. James (restaurant). It’s still in my family. My three uncles are there and my brothers are there. I left there,” says Hoffelder, a graduate of Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne.

“I’ve always loved children, and when I saw Oak Farm added the Victorian House, I put my application in July 2001,” she says.

Opening up one of her binders, Hoffelder shows her mission statement, which reads, “To provide our students with quality organic, nutritious, healthy, whole foods that enable them to work to their fullest potential.”

Hoffelder says about 200 students attend the school and she makes up the menu for 50 to 104 students.

“Yes, they trust me. They know I won’t feed them anything harmful. We do organic and natural here. I don’t cook anything from a box, right down to my macaroni and cheese. And I’ll do a gluten-free (meal),” she says, adding that she just finished making 68 quarts of applesauce.

“I love babies and toddlers and ages 3 to 6. They’re always so happy,” Hoffelder says, continuing, “The toddlers even eat the salad. We’re exposing those palates.”

Hoffelder is asked whether the students help prepare meals.

“The classrooms cook once a month. … The students always help, except Monday. It’s pasta day, and I don’t have enough for them to do,” she says.

One day a little girl mentioned to Hoffelder how much she loved the scones and suggested that they be made every day.

“I said, ‘How about if I give you the recipe?’ That’s what it’s about, sharing,” she says.

During the summer, Hoffelder says, the school offers camps – one for primary students and another for elementary students. She says the students work in a garden during the morning and then go into the kitchen.

“At that age, you teach them reality-based. It teaches them grace and (to be) courteous, just like cooking, a life skill. With a garden, they see where the food comes from. I have them eating fennel seeds. Tastes just like black licorice,” she says.

Hoffelder has been married seven years to her husband, Jim. She has a son, Jake, 14. When she has a little free time, Hoffelder likes to do cross-stitch, work in her garden and travel.

“I like to travel two to three weeks in the summer. Someday when I grow up, I want to live in Arizona. I love the desert,” she says.

Q. Do you have a favorite cookbook?

A. No I don’t. I get online. I can give you my favorite websites. I like How Sweet It Is, Faith in the Kitchen, 101 Cookbooks, and

Q. What’s a favorite meal here at the school?

A. They like the pasta, my turkey burgers, grilled chicken breasts – anything on the grill.

Q. What vegetable do you eat most often?

A. Brussels sprouts. My family, we love Brussels sprouts.

Q. What’s your favorite cooking utensil?

A. A pair of tongs. Love those tongs – the OXO (brand). It’s fun to (pretends to whack the tongs on her leg) and let them open up. Yeah, that’s a fun tool.

Chopped Salad

2 heads of romaine, washed and chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and chopped

8 ounces baby carrots, chopped

1/2 cup frozen sweet corn, thawed

1 cups grape tomatoes cut in half

3 boiled eggs, chopped

1 whole dill pickle chopped into bite size pieces

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and toss. Serve with your dressing of choice. Makes 4 servings.

Macaroni and Cheese

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups milk

1 cup sharp shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup Gouda cheese, shredded

3/4 cup parmesan cheese

12 ounces macaroni

1/2 head of cabbage, steamed and pureed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in saucepan. Whisk in flour, dry mustard, onion powder and salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly.

When mixture is smooth and has cooked for a few minutes, begin adding milk 1/2 cup at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition.

Cook until thickened and hot, then add cheeses, one at a time till mixed in. Stir in macaroni. Makes 4 servings.

Mixed Berries with Honey and Cinnamon

1 cup strawberries, hulled and halved

1 cup raspberries

1 cup blueberries

1 cup blackberries

1 cup of honey

1 tablespoon of cinnamon

1/2 cup of orange juice

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts, optional

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup of honey, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 1/2 cup of orange juice. Wash berries and add to honey mixture. Fold gently to mix.

Sprinkle with walnuts. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Grilled Cedar Planked Salmon

1 (2-pound) salmon fillet

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Juice of 1 lemon

1 cedar plank, soaked in water for at least one hour

Place salmon on soaked cedar plank. Combine garlic, parsley and olive oil in bowl. Sprinkle salt over salmon then lemon juice. Spread garlic and parsley mixture over salmon.

Place on 375-degree grill and grill until done. Salmon can be eaten medium to medium rare. Makes 4 servings.

White Chicken Enchiladas

3 chicken breasts

10 flour tortillas

16 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

3/4 cup chopped onion

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup butter

1 cup flour

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup light sour cream

1 (4-ounce) can green chilies

1 tablespoon cumin

Salt, to taste

White pepper, to taste

Boil chicken and reserve stock. Shred chicken. Place cheese and chicken in tortilla and roll tightly. Place seam side down in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish after adding a little bit of sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Melt butter in pot; add onions and garlic. Sauté until onions are soft, blend in flour thoroughly and simmer for a couple of minutes. Slowly add stock, whisking constantly until mixtures thickens. Stir in sour cream, chilies and cumin and salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour over tortillas and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Makes 10 servings.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-0088; fax 461-8648; or email

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