Cook of the Week: Terri Baker

Calhoun Times - - N - Staff Re­ports

This week’s Cook of the Week is Terri Baker. Baker is a self­taught cook. At an early age she loved to be in the kitchen think­ing up her own recipes. Among her first ef­forts were cin­na­mon-peanut but­ter toast and jel­ly­cheese melts. Around age 10, she at­tempted to make bread from scratch on her own, and even though the at­tempt fell flat and be­came a fam­ily joke, she never gave up. To­day, she grinds her own flour from mul­ti­ple grains to make amaz­ing bread. She be­lieves that peo­ple should fol­low their pas­sions and gifts, and never give up try­ing un­til they ac­com­plish what they have set out to do.

In her early twen­ties, Baker was a flight at­ten­dant and trav­eled the world. This ex­pe­ri­ence in­tro­duced her to de­li­cious new foods from dif­fer­ent re­gions and cul­tures. Most of­ten, her meals re­flect a pref­er­ence for Asian and Mex­i­can dishes. She fa­vors stir-fry and sauté cook­ing us­ing olive oil, onions and gar­lic as a base for many recipes. Baker also makes her own salad dress­ing, mari­nades and sauces us­ing a va­ri­ety of vine­gars and herbs. Plain yo­gurt is also one of her ‘se­cret’ in­gre­di­ents. Her ad­vice to in­ex­pe­ri­enced cooks is to not be afraid to try new fresh foods and spice com­bi­na­tions; you just might dis­cover a new fam­ily fa­vorite.

Terri lives with Rex, her hus­band of 30 years, their daugh­ter Mikaila and their res­cue cat, Leo. Rex was born in Cal­houn, while Terri was born in Alabama and Mikaila in Ten­nessee. They moved to Cal­houn 10 years ago when Rex be­came the di­rec­tor of main­te­nance for the Gor­don County School Board. Rex en­joys be­ing around any­thing me­chan­i­cal from air­planes and vin­tage cars to farm trac­tors and earth mov­ing equip­ment. Mikaila en­joys writ­ing, cos­play and video edit­ing. Terri en­joys cook­ing, read­ing and try­ing new crafts. Terri and Mikaila both spend a lot of hours vol­un­teer­ing at the Cal­houn – Gor­don County Li­brary. They are very cre­ative and teach a lot of both Teen and Adult classes. The Bak­ers are de­vout Chris­tians and try to al­ways live their lives ac­cord­ing to the Bi­ble’s teach­ings.

Terri is what her hus­band calls a “cre­ative” cook. Trans­lated, it means that her phi­los­o­phy of cook­ing, with the ex­cep­tion of a few things such as the process of bak­ing cakes or the cook­ing time for meats, is more of a for­mula ap­proach ver­sus us­ing a recipe. She likes to use fresh foods and does her best to avoid waste. This mo­ti­vates her cre­ative mind to al­ways be search­ing for ways to use what­ever foods and in­gre­di­ents she has on hand.

For ex­am­ple, each week she shops what’s fresh and af­ford­able… poul­try, ground or whole meats, fish; fresh veg­eta­bles and salad greens; whole grains in their sim­plest forms such as brown rice, freshly rolled oats, or some­thing lesser known such as quinoa or mil­let; plus a choice of beans, pin­tos are a fam­ily fa­vorite, but white north­ern, black, red kid­ney, chick­peas and oth­ers are ro­tated around along with home­made breads, tortillas, muffins, bis­cuits and corn­bread.

Then it’s just a mat­ter of com­bin­ing them with a se­lec­tion of spices, condi­ments and fruits to pre­pare meals with South­ern, Louisiana- Ca­jun, TexMex, Ital­ian, Asian, Greek, In­dian and other eth­nic fa­vorites ac­cord­ing to plan or spon­tane­ity.

Be­low are some of Baker’s fa­vorite recipes.

Gen­eral Tso’s Chicken

In­gre­di­ents: Sauce – 1 tbsp plus 2 tsp gran­u­lated sugar 1 tsp tomato paste 1 tsp potato starch 1-1/2 tbsp rice vine­gar 1 tbsp soy sauce 1- 1/ 2 tsp se­same oil 1/4 cup wa­ter For the sauce, com­bine the sugar, tomato paste, potato starch, rice vine­gar, soy sauce, se­same oil, and wa­ter in a small bowl. Stir un­til the potato starch has dis­solved and no more lumps are vis­i­ble. Set aside. Mari­nade – 1 tbsp soy sauce 1 tbsp orange juice 1 egg white, beaten 2 tbsp potato flour For the mari­nade, com­bine the soy sauce, orange juice, egg white, and potato starch in a large bowl. Add the chicken and mix well to coat. Other In­gre­di­ents – 1 pound ( 4 to 5) skin­less, bone­less chicken thighs cut into 1-inch chunks Veg­etable oil for fry­ing

8 dried red chilies, shoul­ders snipped and seeds re­moved

2 tsp finely chopped ginger (1×1-inch piece)

2 tsp minced gar­lic (2 large cloves)

Chopped green onions for gar­nish Di­rec­tions: Pour about 1- 1/ 2 inches oil into a 14” wok or Dutch oven and set over high heat un­til the oil reaches about 350 de­grees F. Care­fully lower the chicken into the oil ( prefer­ably piece by piece so they don’t stick) and fry in batches for 3 to 4 min­utes or un­til crisp and golden. Us­ing a metal spi­der or slot­ted spoon, trans­fer the chicken to a plate lined with pa­per tow­els. Re­peat un­til all the chicken is cooked, usu­ally 3 or more batches. Let the oil cool down a lit­tle and pour into a heat­proof con­tainer such as a glass jar. Wipe the cooker clean.

Set the cooker back on the stove over high heat. Add 2 ta­ble­spoons oil. When hot, toss in the chilies and stir for a few sec­onds, un­til they just start to darken in color, care­ful not to let them turn burn. Turn the heat down to medium and stir in the ginger and gar­lic; cook for about 30 sec­onds, or un­til fra­grant. Add the sauce, stirring as it thick­ens. Re­turn the chicken to the wok and stir con­tin­u­ously to coat. Re­move to a serv­ing dish and scat­ter with green onions. Serve with rice, a veg­etable side dish and fresh or­anges over salad greens with sliced al­monds and rice wine vinai­grette. Egg rolls and for­tune cook­ies op­tional.

Tra­di­tional Fried Rice

In­gre­di­ents: 5 cups cooked rice ( bet­ter if cooked the day be­fore and re­frig­er­ated) 2 large eggs ¼ tea­spoon pa­prika ¼ tea­spoon turmeric 2 ta­ble­spoons oil 1 medium onion, finely chopped

½ red bell pep­per, finely chopped 1 1/2 tea­spoons salt ¼ tea­spoon sugar ¼ tea­spoon black pep­per

2 scal­lions (or green onions), chopped Di­rec­tions: Use your hands to break up the cold rice clumps into in­di­vid­ual grains.

Beat the 2 eggs in a bowl, along with 2 ta­ble­spoons wa­ter, the pa­prika, and the turmeric. Set aside.

Heat wok or deep skil­let over high heat, and add the 2 ta­ble­spoons of oil. Add the diced onion and bell pep­per. Stir- fry for 12 min­utes..

Add the rice and stir­fry for 2 min­utes, us­ing a scoop­ing mo­tion to heat the rice uni­formly. Use your cook­ing spat­ula to flat­ten out and break up any rice clumps.

Pour the un­cooked egg and spice mix­ture over the rice, and stir­fry for about 1 minute, un­til all of the rice grains are coated in egg.

Next spread the salt, sugar, and black pep­per over the rice and mix. You should now see some steam com­ing off the rice, which means it is heated through.

If the rice looks a lit­tle dry, feel free to sprin­kle in some wa­ter or chicken stock. Adding some liq­uid di­rectly to any re­main­ing clumps of rice will also help to break them up. Mix in the scal­lions and serve with Tso’s Chicken and steamed broc­coli or green beans.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Cook of the Week Terri Baker is, what her hus­band, Rex, calls a “cre­ative” cook.

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