Martha Stewart Living, Ranger Style

2 07 2009

My Aunt Karen has taken up a career as a culinary blogger, check her out at http://www.examiner.com/x-5885-Berkeley-Cooking-Examiner, her work inspired me to do a little culinary blogging of my own…Ranger style. 

Soldiers of all kinds have to suffer through eating MREs from time to time, at various points in my military career I have been forced to eat a few, sometimes even subsist on them for up to ten days or so, but for the most part MREs ar so terrible and soldiers so ingenious that they manage to avoid eating them for long periods of time.  It wasn’t until I went to Ranger School that I was forced to eat the MREday in and day out relishing them as the very means of my survival for two months that I truly gained a connoisseur’s taste for a good MRE.  As good Rangers do I learned to adapt and overcome and make the most of a bad situation…I learned some basic recipes to improve the MRE. 

If you simply heat the contents of an MRE and proceed to chow it down your stomach will churn in ways you never thought it could and you will begin to wonder which is better survival by eating the contents of these MREs or death by starvation?  (The answer in most cases is the later)  Their basic contents are meals like the pot roast with vegetables, a hunk of meat that was turned down by the dog food factory coated in thick globs of fat and ungodly preservatives flavored with a few rotten sticks of soggy celery stored in tin foil for a year.  The chicken breast meal is always good, a tasteless piece of pressed chicken breast, well not exactly breast more like everything that is not worth to become a Chicken McNugget served with the vaunted Wheat Snack Bread to make a sandwich, think flour and a little bit of salt compressed into a dense tasteless flour patty.  Kind of Civil War hard tack minus just soft and chewy instead of crunchy, the presence of weevils for protein varies from MRE to MRE.  The most infamous and most terrible MRE of all is the legendary Cheese and Veggie Omelet, if you don’t immediately see how taking a soggy crumbling fast food restaurant omelet and storing it in a foil pouch for a year could be terrible you do not need to be reading this culinary review.  The cheese and veggie omelet is in fact so terrible and ungodly that I have only taken one bite of it in my entire life, during Ranger School, while starving and emaciated I would gladly trade this entire meal away for a simple cracker.  MREs on the whole are so terrible (you should really write your congressman to complain) that when we tried to give away a few cases of them to some starving Iraqi families living in their own squalor digging through trash to find some rotting protein they rejected them telling us they are ‘Gross.’

Even the best meals require some simple improvements, for instance when heating up the Chili Mac (one of the more edible meals) also heat up the cheese spread (think cheese whiz only much thicker and less tasty) until it melts, squeeze into the Chili Mac, top with crushed red pepper and crumble a cracker into it.  Mix thoroughly.  Savor the hearty beef in the chili mac infused with cheese and enough cayenne kick to make your eyes water, until an RI spots you enjoying your heated meal and comes over and yells at you, “Hey Ranger, what in the hell do you think you are doing?  Heating up your MRE, since when did you have time for that?  If you don’t get back on security in thirty seconds I am going to write you a major minus spot report, and you’ll have to do Mountains all over again…would you like that Ranger?”  At that point you cease to taste your amazing creation and bolt it down without chewing and flop behind a tree cursing your luck that a RI had to spot you during the single best moment of the day. 

Another basic recipe for MRE success is the Chicken Fajitas.  The Chicken Fajita MRE is pretty decent but doesn’t bear much resemblance to the fajitas you order at your favorite Mexican hole in the wall.  This is soft pressed chicken with a sauce of congealed fat, a preservative liquid, with some unidentified vegetable chunks for flavor.  The key to enjoying this recipe is saving or trading.  It is absolutely essential that you get the picante sauce which only comes in the Beef Enchilada MRE (which is disgusting) and save it for when you have the Chicken Fajita.  If you didn’t have the self disciple to save the picante sauce the last time you were unlucky enough to get the Beef Enchilada you can usually find a buddy who has that meal, trade him half your pack of Peanut M&Ms and you’ll be in business.  *side note: you quickly learn which MREs have the good deserts, i.e. cherry blueberry cobbler is in the Spaghetti w/ Meat Sauce, and which MREs contain the M&Ms, there are peanut, peanut butter and regular.  Peanut Butter are the best, regular are found in the beef patty.*  Heat your tortilla shells at the same time you heat your filling.  Do your best to melt the cheese into a tasty sauce as well.  If you can’t find an ingredient trade for it, MRE trading during a meal with a bunch of Ranger students is more lively than a session in the bond pits on Wall Street after a new set of economic news.  Don’t get caught storing and hiding food though because that is cause for dismissal from the course.  Once your food is well heated spoon the chicken chunks out of the sauce, leaving most of what passes for a sauce behind.  Instead squeeze melted cheese over the chicken.  Top with the spicy picante sauce.  Prop yourself up against a tree, or your rucksack.  Let your eyes savor the blue sky. (if you are lucky enough to not be in the rain) Breathe in the crisp autumn air, or the muggy summer air that hangs on you like a wet blanket, and enjoy a true culinary delight with a delightful spicy kick and a rich creamy sauce over the top of warmed flour tortillas.  Warning: if you try to consume the Chicken Fajitas in any other way you will be sorely disappointed.

That is all for this installment of my culinary review, future editions will include more complex recipes such as Cherry Cheese Cake and the famous Ranger Pudding.  I know you are on the edge of your seat waiting for my next installment of delightful and easy to make recipes which make for easy entertaining in a delightful forest glade (read: propped up next to your miserable buddy in a mosquito infested swamp) or for a quick and refreshing snack after an afternoon hike. (read: eating at 0400 in the freezing cold and dark after walking up and down steep mountains with a hundred pound pack since 1000 yesterday)  In the mean time I’ll be honest with you, in the year and a half since earning the coveted Ranger Tab I’ve managed to only consume a single MRE (which was the Chili with Beans a new menu item and one of the best) despite spending over ten months in the field and deployed, but if you really want to know what America’s finest go through you should try an MRE sometime, you won’t like it, but you will gain a new appreciation for our nation’s service members.


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7 responses

3 07 2009
Solomon2

Why limit yourself to complaining on your blog when you can contact the people responsible for creating your MRE’s directly via email? Natick R&D: Combat Feeding Directorate

Positive feedback from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom and field tests indicate that Warfighters are giving the MRE™ high approval rates — and the more acceptable an item, the greater the likelihood it will be consumed.

3 07 2009
3 07 2009
Ant Karen

Dude, you make me look like a piker! Your ingenuity is brilliant; I thought I was being clever when I substituted yogurt cream for cream cheese. It’s clear that you have a refined palate and the instincts of a gourmand. Do I have permission to post your recipes? I’ll give you full credit.

3 07 2009
amansman

Aunt Karen,
I am hardly a gourmand, simply a bored soldier entertaining himself in a far away land. I do however have a finely honed appreciation for good beer and tasty food. You can certainly use my MRE recipes, people everywhere, even in Berkely, deserve to know how to concoct a good MRE meal from a bad MRE.

3 07 2009
Sarah

You make me laugh! I really enjoy your perspective on life.

6 07 2009
1SG Walt

Your recipes sound pretty yummy to this old soldier. In the pre-MRE days, we had the old C-Rations. Individual boxes of canned goodies. Given that they weighed too much, I would select out certain cans to carry in the ruck, perhaps a can of Spaghetti w/ Meat Sauce, canned fruit, hard crackers and peanut butter or cheese spread. Also, the hard chocolate. Packets of coffee and hot chocolate heated in a canteen cup over a chunk of C4 completed the meal. Of course the ubiquitous can opener was always on the dog tag chain. Dates on the C-ration cases often were of the Korea era.
On later tours with SF, given that we were working with the Indig we would have Indigenous Rations, plastic bags of dried rice, you added water, tied it off and stuffed it under your belt in your jungle fatigues to warm up , when ready to eat, dumped in a tin of mackerel, hot sauce, and a good portion of the famous Vietnamese delicacy fish sauce, nuoc mam. Among our teams we believed that nuoc mam had the additional benefit of being an excellent anti-mosquito prophylactic. Once ingested its aroma mixed with one’s sweat and out of your pores. It was better than the big anti-malarial pills that were issued. Actually, when out with the Yards, we lived off of the land, these jungle tribesmen were excellent jungle hunters; snakes, monkeys, and other critters were often on the menu.

Best wishes to you Young Warrior, Keep Safe

7 07 2009
ray

Man, Good job on the post. We had 12 MRE’s when they first came out, period and no variations. There was a dried beef patty, that is one very memorable lol. They’ve improved dramatically since but I’ve eaten those you’re talking about and you do need to get creative. Great explanation. I will share this link with my friends to let them know what the troops go through. Hang tough ranger HOOAH!

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