Editor’s note: Beginning this week, the WJ brings back a column that was loved by readers in the past: Cook’s Corner will offer tips, insights and recipes for towboat cooks—and anyone interested in good food and towboat life. The column is planned to appear monthly.
Introduction: My name is Mary Ann Kuper. I currently work as a cook for American Commercial Barge Line. I have proudly worked here for 3-1/2 years. The vessel I work on is the mv. Capt. Carl Page. I am a young grandma at age 60 who enjoys her job very much. Prior to my years on the boats, I was a family and consumer science teacher in the bootheel of Missouri. A family and consumer science teacher is the good old home economics class where you learn to cook, sew and understand child care as well as health classes.
I am married and live in a cute little log cabin home. Being married to my husband has brought me 32 years of blissful love and three grown kids. OK, that sounds a little corny, but I’ve got a great family. I also have three brothers and three sisters. We all love to cook. Family gatherings bring plenty of food with always exchanging recipes. I grew up in Wisconsin and moved to Missouri. I mostly enjoy and cook comfort foods. My husband’s favorite meal is meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans and pecan pie, but I’m pretty good at making homemade apple pies.
During my education years I had the opportunity to prepare foods for the hospitality room, veterans dinner and the school board. I also guided my students in lessons on how to run a restaurant and prepare foods. Before being a teacher, I worked at a nursing home as an activity director. During this job, I engaged the elderly in cooking. This brought them many memories. Before that, in my early 20s, I was a flight attendant serving food on airplanes.
I enjoy developing strong relationships, professionally and personally. My crew I work for today is like family. They are terrific people to be with for 28 days on the river. The sunrises and sunsets on the river are remarkably beautiful. With that I would like to close with stating:
Live well, laugh often and eat much!
Cooks Add Variety To Weekly Meal Routine
Being a barge cook, my crew members rely on my ability to serve nutritious and tasty meals. This also means I need to follow the norms and expectations that each boat follows. Because the vessel works 24 hours a day, meals are offered at 5 a.m., 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day. In addition to that, weekends also have their expectations. Friday night is fish fry. Saturday is steak day, and Sunday is fried chicken day. We like to roll in taco Tuesday.
However, there is nothing worse than eating the same old thing every week. Yes, it is easier to cook something that you know how to prepare. However, how about trying something new? Still offer the same fried fish that is expected, but sneak in a little twist on the side to see how well it goes. I worked for a captain for a couple of years who shared a shrimp étouffée recipe with me. It is really good and better than a couple of restaurants that serve this. The recipe may call for a few canned goods, but it is very tasty. Best of all, this recipe is so simple, it won’t take away too much time from your busy day frying fish.
Mark’s Shrimp Étouffée
2 lbs. shrimp (peeled and deveined is best)
1 stick butter
1 large sweet onion, largely chopped
1 large red pepper, largely chopped
1 large green pepper, largely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning or Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon all-purpose Greek seasoning
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can Rotel tomatoes
Peel and prepare shrimp. Melt ½ stick butter in a kettle over medium heat. Add onion, peppers and garlic. Cook until tender. Remove vegetables from kettle. Add peeled shrimp to kettle and rest of butter. Cook until pink. Add seasonings, soups and Rotel tomatoes. Return vegetables to kettle. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice. Serves 4-6.
How Well Should A Cook Know The Crew?
Being a cook on a boat is just like being a cook anywhere. However, the galley is yours. You’re pretty clear to cook what you want with the exception of your weekend expectations of fish (Friday), steak (Saturday) and chicken (Sunday).
It is a good idea to know your crew. Why is this important? Someone could be severely allergic to mushrooms and may not have seen this in the food you have prepared. Now you have a problem. So get to know your crew! This makes for great introduction conversation if you’re just starting or a new person comes aboard. Showing a real appreciation for them with the foods they like and dislike will build a sense of trust. Besides, you’re there to cook for them just like a cook anywhere.
Try to understand a diet your crew member may be on so you can fulfill those needs. By offering healthy eating choices that work with someone’s diet, the food will be eaten. Why prepare something that will not be eaten? When at the workplace, you will want your crewmembers to feel comfortable and tell you what they like to eat. This only gives you ideas what to make, so roll with it.
One captain I worked with liked the Keto diet. This is a fun diet because you get to eat foods high in fats but low in carbohydrates. The recipe below calls for cream cheese, which is a good source of vitamin A, low in lactose and a good source of antioxidants.
Rodney’s Lemon Fluff
3 bricks of cream cheese (8 ounces each)
1 quart heavy cream
2 boxes sugar free lemon pudding (1 ounce boxes)
¾ cup Splenda
Use a standard mixer with whisk attachment. Be sure to chill the bowl. This can be done quickly with ice for a minute. Cut up your cream cheese into small, 1-inch chunks. Add one brick of cream cheese and 1/3 of the heavy cream. Whip until smooth. Continue to add rest of cream cheese and heavy cream until all is whipped. Mix in pudding and Splenda until fully combined. Continue to whip until soft, smooth and silky. Using a spatula, spread into a 9 x 13 pan. (I like using a glass pan.) This dessert is really good with any chopped up fruit.