I always told myself if I was doing nothing with my life when I turned 28, the cut-off age for joining the military, I would step up and join. When the time came, I joined the Marine Corps. While joining was the best decision I ever made, I have never missed good food like I did during my time in the military.
The endless chow hall food through boot camp and Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) School left something to be desired. I enjoyed going into the field and doing training exercises, but the field rations and MREs (meals ready to eat) can wreak havoc on the stomach.
Once out, I was looking for something to fill the void left by the fast-paced, high-stress environment of the Marine Corps. I am now using my G.I. bill to attend The Culinary Institute of Montana at FVCC, and the program has filled that void.
I love the food we are making. I’m enjoying working with ingredients I never thought of using and many I never knew of.
There is just so much to take in, it is mind blowing. For instance, I had no idea how intense getting ready for our weekly Chef’s Table dinners and multiple catering events could be. All the work and preparation that goes into every aspect of the meal is astounding – and it’s all pulled off by students in the program.
With the knowledge I am gaining every day in class and with the catering and Chef’s Table events, I am building the skills to get a career in higher-end dining.
I made this appetizer for a recent Chef’s Table dinner. I started with a base recipe and tweaked it to create just the right combination. (Remember that a recipe is a foundation – you can always find a way to make any dish your own.)
- 4 slices thick sliced pancetta or peppered bacon
- 24 medium to large mushrooms, stems removed and chopped, caps saved
- 1/4 oil packed sundried tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh fennel bulb, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 cup fontina cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 large egg
- Olive oil, as needed
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Cook pancetta or bacon over low to medium heat until crispy and most fat has cooked out. Remove from pan, reserving fat.
- Add chopped mushroom stems, fennel, tomatoes and garlic to bacon fat. Increase heat to medium high and sauté until mushrooms and fennel are tender and begin to brown. (If mixture dries out, add olive oil or oil from sundried tomatoes.)
- Remove mixture from pan and place in bowl to cool for 10 minutes.
- Mix cheeses, basil, oregano and egg into mixture.
- Brush oil onto cookie sheet or baking dish and place mushrooms cavity side up. Brush mushroom cavity with olive oil.
- Spoon filling into mushrooms until heaping, and press into mushrooms to make ensure it stays.
- Bake until mushrooms are tender and filling is heated through (about 20 minutes).
For more information about the program, visit www.culinaryinstituteofmt.com or call Instructor Hillary Ginepra at 756-3862.
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