One luxury we just don’t have in the fire department is being in control of our schedule while at work. Life in the fire house revolves around the bell. When the bell hits for an alarm, we have to drop whatever it is that we’re doing and respond to that alarm. It could be a simple aid call, which means that we’ll be back to the station in about 20 to 30 minutes. It could be for a medic response, where we could be working on someone who has no pulse and no respirations, which means that we’ll be gone for well over an hour. Or the bell could hit for a fire, which means if it’s a working structure fire, we could be gone for anywhere from a couple of hours to 8 hours or more. This part of the job definitely affects what happens in the beanery on the stove or in the oven. When the bell hits at our stations in Seattle, there is a circuit that trips and shuts off the range and oven automatically. Before this safety feature was installed, there were several incidents in our department’s history where a crew would return from an alarm to find another crew at their station putting out a fire in the beanery!
Needless to say, when we have an alarm and I’m in the middle of cooking dinner, there is always the chance that dinner will be drastically affected by our absence. The most minor effect is that dinner will simply be late; the worst is that we’ll be heading to the store to buy frozen pizzas! I try to always have a bit extra saved up in our clutch just in case we end up at a big fire and don’t get back to the barn until late in the evening to find dinner spoiled. It has happened more than I care to remember…but it comes with the territory.
So, in this New Year, here’s to uninterrupted dinners! Happy New Year! Here is a scalloped potato recipe that is one of my favorite side dishes. Enjoy! – Suey
Suey’s Scalloped Potatoes
By Michael “Suey” Sulak, Seattle Fire Department, Station 8, Ladder 6
1 qt heavy cream
20 fresh sage leaves
1 lb bacon
3 sweet onions, peeled and sliced thinly
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
4 lbs russet potatoes
3 cups Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
2 cups Swiss cheese, grated
4 green onions, chopped
Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine the heavy cream with the sage leaves in a large saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the bacon and fry in a large skillet over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper, cooking the onions until they become translucent. Add the garlic, stir thoroughly, then remove from heat.
Peel the potatoes and, using a food processor or mandolin, slice the potatoes into ⅛ inch slices. Butter a large baking dish (you may need two) and spread a layer of potatoes in the bottom, overlapping the slices just a bit. Sprinkle this layer lightly with some smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, kosher salt and about ½ cup of Pecorino Romano cheese. Place a layer of the bacon/onion mixture on top of this. Repeat two to three more times.
Remove the sage leaves from the cream and pour the cream over the top. Sprinkle with the Swiss cheese. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 70 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes to brown the top. Remove from oven and let the dish rest, tented with foil for 10 minutes. Sprinkle top with green onions and serve. Makes 8 servings.
*Note: The term “Beanery” is still alive and well in the Seattle Fire Department and is still the name we apply to the kitchen today. Because of low wages early in SFD’s history, the firefighters could often only afford to buy beans for their meals. Beans were cheap and provided a high source of protein. The procedure was to soak the beans overnight and simmer them all day long in the kitchen…thus the term “Beanery.”