Eats: Firehouse fare 2014

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Rolling out more low-carb, high-protein meals at Auburn’s Engine 2 Station.

Over the years, many fire departments have evolved into highly developed public service agencies with ever-increasing workloads.

“Gone are the days of playing checkers waiting for a fire call,” said firefighter Pvt. Mark Tripp of the Auburn Fire Department. “Firefighters today are expected to be experienced on a seemingly endless combination of topics, such as apparatus and equipment operation and maintenance, emergency medical treatment and, of course, firefighting.”

Tripp explained that camaraderie at the firehouse is essential to working together as a busy team in this day and age.

“Camaraderie is commonly built during training, but it also comes from a place you may least expect it: the kitchen table,” he said. “It is much like the role of eating dinner together as a family.”

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He continued: “That time together gives you a strong foundation to build on as a group. A bond around the table is a strength that spills out onto our work. That person sitting next to you may be the person to have your back on a fire call. You need to trust that person; your life may depend on it.”

It’s been a long and proud tradition at the Auburn Fire Department to break bread together, and Tripp is one of the chefs when he is on duty.

“I love to cook,” he said. “And it’s important to feed the men satisfying and flavorful meals on a budget. So I jumped at the chance when they asked me to do it.”

Tripp has been cooking for the department at Engine 2 Station in New Auburn for the last four years. His fellow crew members, who are on duty 24 hours straight and then off for 72 hours, each chip in $10 per shift to their own food kitty to pay for meals.

Breakfast is pretty basic at Engine 2 Station, while lunches are usually in the form of a salad.

“Almost always, we add some type of protein. I’ll make grilled chicken or steak, chicken salad, tuna salad or ground beef with taco seasonings separately. It really gives the guys a better variety that way. Some of us may want the meat right in the salad, but there is also the option of having their protein on the side or in a sandwich or wrap. The ground beef with the seasoning can be made into a taco salad, or they can have taco shells and melt grated cheese on top.”

Tripp noted: “I am also a low-carbohydrate eater. By making items separately, it not only adds that variety, but it gives everyone the choice to add or not add carbs into their meals as well. The more I cook low carb, the more they seem to like it though, and we are seeing the benefits from it.”

Dinner is the big meal, and the planning is usually decided by meat prices and sale items.

“The menu is sometimes made right in the grocery store. We basically start at the meat counter and add veggies or whatever after that. If stew beef is on sale, we’ll grab carrots and peas for a soup or a stew. If chicken thighs are on sale, then I’ll whip up a barbecue sauce and maybe have cauliflower cheese patties to go on the side.”

Tripp was recently asked to cook at Central Station on Minot Avenue, which also houses the EMTs, administrative offices and the communications center.

“My biggest request is my chili, so that’s what I decided to cook. It is basically made with moose meat and moose sausage that I got while hunting last year, but I use sauteed sweet potatoes instead of the beans. Add crushed and diced tomatoes along with chili powder and other spices and it’s a great, hearty meal. Sometimes one of the guys will mix up some corn bread and I’ll bake it right in a skillet if anyone wants that in addition to the chili.”

The chili aside, what dinner does Tripp like best?

“My favorite meal to make and eat is zucchini lasagna. Anyone can make that with their own favorite spaghetti sauce and lasagna recipe. Just replace all the pasta with thinly sliced zucchini that has been salted and set aside for a little while to drain.”

What if the men get called out while he’s cooking?

“Depending on what we are eating and the type of call we get, we either shut if off or turn it down. While I was making the chili, we were called out three times. It stayed on simmer and someone was here to watch the corn bread on our last call-out, but that is usually not the case. One time we were called out and we returned to a well-charred steak on the grill. That’s just how it is. We didn’t care . . . we were hungry.”

Desserts are not on the menu too often for these local heroes.

“But the crew would never turn down brownies or goodies during a long shift!” Tripp said with a laugh. “We had the sweetest lady that we even called ‘the cookie lady’ and she used to bring us all a batch once a week.”

One of the benefits of being the chef at the fire department means never having to do the dishes.

“The guys always clean up after and do the dishes. There have even been a few times when I’ve gotten caught at the sink and was told to get out of the kitchen. It’s a form of respect I guess for the cook.”

For this firehouse cook, it’s all worth the whisk.

“I always wanted to be a firefighter,” he said. “But I always wanted to be a chef. Now, I have the best of both worlds. All I need now is to win a chili contest!”

Sweet potato and turnip bake

Ingredients:

3 sweet potatoes

1 large onion

1 large turnip

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded cheddar or desired cheese

Instructions:

Peel and cut all veggies into bite-sized pieces and saute in olive oil. Once they reach desired tenderness, place on a baking sheet and cover with the grated parmesan, then top with shredded cheese. Bake at 400 degrees until cheese is melted. Serves 4.

Cauliflower cheese patties

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower

2 large eggs

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Salt

Olive oil

Instructions:

Cut cauliflower into florets and cook in boiling water until tender — about 10 minutes. Drain well. Mash the cauliflower while it is still warm. Stir cheeses, eggs, panko, cayenne and salt to taste.

Coat the bottom of a griddle or skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat. Form the cauliflower mixture into patties about 3 inches across.

Cook until golden brown and set (about 3 minutes a side). Keep each batch warm in the oven while you cook the rest. Serves 4.

Sweet potato bombs

Ingredients:

3 medium sweet potatoes

1 pound ground sausage

1 medium onion

Salsa

Sour cream

Shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:

Bake sweet potatoes until done. Put sausage in skillet, add onion and cook until done. Once the sausage mixture is cooked, cut the sweet potato length wise and mash down the potato to make a pocket. Stuff the potato with the sausage mixture, place desired amount of salsa on top, top with shredded cheese and place back in the oven. Once cheese is melted, remove and top with sour cream. Serves 4.

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