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Mess Night at the Museum: MRE Challenge

Nichole here. "You get what you get." With that line in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writeup promoting the Wisconsin Veterans Museum's quarterly "Mess Night," I was hooked.

I think I'd heard about the previous dinners, but German-Americans in WWI and Great Lakes history didn't enlist my attention quite as fast as the opportunity to eat rations. Or at least, see what the heck a couple good Madison chefs would bring to the table when given the raw ingredients of MREs - "Meal, Ready to Eat." AKA Meals Rejected by Everyone, or worse.

Surprise! This is what they came up with. Matt Pace used a chicken fajita meal (maybe like this one), plus enough fresh food to almost hide that fact, to make a chicken enchilada. He might have used the tortilla from an MRE, because this one had a gummy texture. He said he stewed the chicken in a pepper sauce, which did give it a nice flavor and a beef-like appearance. The whole deal was topped with more chili sauce, crema, cheese, and herb salad of cliantro, radish and onion.

Chicken fajita MRE = chicken enchiladas

Second course was Michael Pruett's cheese tortellini. Or rather, 2 noodles from an MRE, washed clean of their own sauce, and surrounded by carrot puree, roasted carrots, herbs, and duck. Duck! Way to stretch rations with some foraging.

Cheese tortellini MRE = duck, carrot puree, & 2 noodles

Along with the food, there was delightful conversation and an edifying presentation from museum staff and a National Guardsman who gave us eaters some helpful tips for the MREs we got to take home. Plus some recipes (cherry drink powder + cheese + cookies = cheesecake) and valuable life advice ("No one likes a rat-f*cker").


So I opened my Beef Patty, Jalapeno Pepper Jack (Menu 19) MRE at the museum, then packed it all back in for an opportune mealtime.

MRE contents

It came soon enough. Here's the entree and heater leaning on "a rock or something" (those are the precise directions) while it warms up.

Put it on a rock or something

They were right, you get bored and eat dessert first. This was a cherry blueberry cobbler. I read on the packet that there were shortbread cookies inside and didn't believe it. Didn't really see them in there, either. But the flavor wasn't bad. (There was also a chocolate oatmeal cookie, but I still haven't opened it. I have a few years yet.)

Also drank the lemonade mix while waiting, which was a lot like Crystal Light. Wished for coffee, then sucked it up and gave thanks I was indoors, with plumbing nearby, and probably wouldn't need the moist towelette and TP provided. Not that these aren't also called, for good reason (spoiler alert), Meals Refusing to Exit.


I prepped my snack bread (better than lembas) with bacon cheese spread, Heinz yellow mustard, and ketchup, using the main pouch as a placemat/meal tray. After observing 15 minutes of hissing and popping from the heating element, it was time to squeeze the jalapeno pepper jack beef flavored patty out of its pouch.

Snack breadCheez
SpreadablesSandwich time

It was food.

I'd go to another Mess Night at the Museum. (The next one is in October, with authors Doug Bradley and Craig Werner talking about their book We Gotta Get Out of This Place.) The presentation was great, the idea was interesting, and it felt good to this Army brat to be around a table sharing a meal like this. Next time I might dress up a little more.


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Listen to The Corner Table podcast "Remembering Restaurants," aired December 24, 2020, where Chris and Lindsay talk with us "about the menus and memories left behind when restaurants go away."

Madison Food coverInfo about our book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is here, or read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook.



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