My Alaskan vacation was narrated rather oddly in the stilted accent of the Russian spy, Boris, from TV’s old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon. But instead of “Moose and Squirrel,” he kept talking about “Moose and Bear.”
After a week in Anchorage, I do not think there can be any moose or bear left in the Alaskan woods. They’re all either stuffed and towering over hotel lobbies and souvenir shops. Or they’re been reduced to fuzzy little stuffed shadows of their wild selves. Or they’ve become silly puns on sleep shirts (of which I now own several): “I Moose Have a Goodnight Kiss.” Or (picture a smiling bear on rough-hewn log chair sitting under an evergreen tree), saying — forgive me — “Does a Bear Sit in the Woods?” My Valentine’s Day present, on request, was an apron covered with cavorting moose declaring, “I Moose Cook! I Moose Cook!”
Well, if he moose, I wish he’d make me another serving of the extraordinary first course I enjoyed at Orso (get it? “Bear” In Italian), one of Anchorage’s most favored restaurants, serving contemporary Mediterranean food.
Don’t just picture this. Try to taste it in your imagination.
Take a winter pear. Cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the center. Stuff it with goat cheese. Wrap the pear in prosciutto (I imagine they secure it with skewers or toothpicks during cooking). Saute the pear halves gently in a little butter with halved ripe figs and green olives, cooking until the pieces are slighlty crisped and caramelized. There may be more to it — salt and pepper, perhaps some form of herb or spice — ecstasy affects my memory.
I enjoyed much of what I ate in Anchorage but this dish is a keeper — I’ll remember it and I’ll recreate it. Our small but productive dwarf fig has a half dozen proto-fruit on it now
On this self-indulgent trip, there were other good things: an exceptional chocolate cheesecake (Orso), a chocolate mousse so rich I insisted on taking it back to the hotel room and eating it for breakfast (Suite 100), son-in-law’s chicken and ricotta enchiladas (his kitchen), the Southwest Chicken Rice Bowl (Bear Tooth Grill), the wild blueberry jam (Alaska Wild Berry Co.) and some killer multi-grain bread (Carr’s rgrocery store) to spread it on.
When we got home, the situation was in distinct contrast: sad vegetables and past-prime fruit in the crisper, a bunch of leftovers I should have cleared out before we left crusted in plastic containers, a whole bag of flour tortillas that had been left half open in the fridge.
Darnit. When does the maid come in this hotel?
Never, apparently. I waited two whole days. Then I set about clearing away the detritus and, last night, decided to see what I could make happen with anything still edible. Tore up handfuls of dried-out tortilla. Chopped the end of a pork roast into small bits. Pulled a can of beans and another of chopped tomatoes out of the pantry; drained both. Found the end of a bag of frozen corn. Thanked heaven the grated cheese still looked good, and the sour cream. Made a casserole by lightly layering all these.
And it was really good. A couple of things happened: The tortilla bits at the top of the casserole crisped and caramelized where the cheese had melted on them. But the tortillas inside melted into a sort of smooth pudding or dumpling. The kidney beans contributed additional creaminess as well as a slight meatiness. The pork gave it weight. Very satisfying. And it didn’t cost an out-of-pocket penny.
I hope I’ll be able to remember how make this tortilla spoonbread casserole again, perhaps with spiced ground beef next time. So often — have you noticed? — you come up with something good from the depths of the larder, and then can never play the same notes again.
Yet another reason to blog: it’s my kitchen journal.