Friday, February 4, 2011

Sunday Dinner Questionnaire: Megan Fizell

I find myself spending too much time on a newly discovered website-- a guilty pleasure when I'm supposed to be working.  It's called  Feasting on Art-- a blog devoted to art about food and making food inspired by art (and then photographing it).  The woman behind this blog is Megan Fizell-- art historian, photographer, writer, and cook.  

Photo courtesy Megan Fizell.
In each blog post, Megan presents a work of art (often a still life painting) and gives a brief biography of the artist and the historical background of the artwork.  She then offers up a recipe based on some aspect of the artwork, along with a a photograph of the completed dish. The featured recipe always incorporates at least one ingredient seen in the artwork, but sometimes her photograph of the completed dish is more about composition or another formal element of the work.  This was the case with the blog post that first got me hooked on her site--Gustavo Montoya-- Eggs Galette à la Mexicana.
My favorite part of her site is the Art Index, which shows thumbnail sized images of the art she discusses on her site.  I spend far too much time on her blog clicking on image after image to see what pops up.  Sometimes I find a new recipe I want to try.  Sometimes I revisit a favorite photograph or painting I'd forgotten about.  And sometimes I discover an old work of art that's new to me.  It's always an adventure.  

Thanks, Meg, for contributing this questionnaire, along with the beautiful photographs and your recipe for Ham, Gruyère, and Moutarde Palmiers that follows your response.  I'm always a sucker for any artwork or recipe that features ham!

The Official Eat Sunday Dinner Questionnaire


1.   What is your favorite food to eat?  Why?
After a month of research on Julie Green's Last Supper series, I have been posing the same question in slightly different wording to my friends, 'what would you eat for your last supper?' When this question was set to me, I immediately retorted 'Oysters!' without a prior moment of thought. I indulge in oysters for every celebratory meal and savour the salty taste of the sea with each slippery bite. 
Photograph courtesy of Megan Fizell.

2.   What is your favorite food to cook?  How often and under what circumstances do you make it?
I really enjoy making soup. It is a slow dish, chopping a pile of vegetables that are set to simmer all afternoon on the stovetop. I make soup all year long with the flavors and ingredients changing depending upon the season. A particular favorite is chipotle chicken chowder, spicy and bright - ideal for the dark days of winter.

3.   Who or what is your greatest culinary influence?  Why is he/she/ it an inspiration to you?
I am influenced by artists who use or depict food in their work. Considering cooking in an artistic and aesthetic sense has defined the way I approach recipes and eating. From the idealized still lifes of mid-18th century American artists reminding me to relish in the simple beauty of fresh fruits and vegetables to the opulent banquet scenes of the Dutch, an age-old lesson in moderation. 

4.   What is your favorite kitchen utensil and why do you love it?
My favorite utensil is my hand blender, makes pureeing sauces and soups incredibly quick and easy sans the messy cleanup of a food processor. 

5.  What did you eat for dinner this past weekend?
Photo courtesy Megan Fizzell.
This weekend I went to the Chinese New Year festival in Sydney. It was hard to decide between the slew of food stalls but the Indonesian vendor selling organic beef murtabak and mi goreng smelled too good to pass by, and luckily my nose didn't lead me astray. The following day after a visit to the White Rabbit Gallery, I had a lovely pot of red lychee tea that was beguilingly fragrant. 

6.  When you were growing up, did you eat Sunday dinner or another meal the brought your friends and family together on a regular basis?  If so, what did you eat?
In my family, Sunday afternoons were reserved to celebrate birthdays. The location of the meal would vary from week to week between the homes of grandparents and aunts and uncles. Often we would have a late lunch/early dinner and play card games after the cake, my favorite being my grandmother's ice cream roll. 

7.  Do you have a garden?  If so, what do you grow in it?
Sadly I don't have a garden. I live in a flat in Sydney with a tiny windowsill on which I am trying to grow some chilli plants from seeds of a particularly tasty specimen. I am also cultivating a rosemary cutting in a glass jam jar. 

8.  What is your ultimate food fantasy?
Freshly caught lobster, simply prepared, on a beach with a cold beer.

9.  If you could choose to have any person living or dead prepare a meal for you, who would it be?  What would you want to eat?
After reading M.F.K. Fisher's short essay 'Borderland', I would enjoy nothing more than for her to prepare her oranges toasted upon newspaper. Because her writing is so evocative, I will not even try to attempt to describe the dish myself,
"In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them...separate each plump little pregnant crescent...Take yesterday's paper (when we were in Strasbourg L'Ami du Peuple was the best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on the radiator...After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them...On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow on the sill. They are ready...I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell."
Photograph courtesy of Megan Fizell.
10.  Fill in the blank:  "The most important element of a good meal is __________."
Red wine.

Ham, Gruyère, and Moutarde Palmiers

By Megan Fizell
Edouard Manet, The Ham, 1875 oil on canvas, 13 x 16 cm.  The Glasgow Museum.

Palmiers are little cookies made of layers of puff pastry that are then folded to resemble palm leaves. The richness of the butter and cheese is perfectly contrasted by the vinegary tang of the seeded mustard. Wonderful as an appetizer or a light breakfast. Will keep 2-3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  This recipe was adapted from a dish featured on the American Public Radio Show, The Splendid Table.

Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients:
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
  • 1 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 12 slices of ham or prosciutto, thinly sliced

Instructions:
  • Preheat the oven to 430 degrees fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.   NOTE:  The oven temp isn't a typo.  It's a metric conversion so it's an unusual temp in the fahrenheit system.
  • Roll out the sheet of puff pastry on a floured surface. Spread the mustard (or moutarde) over the pastry. Sprinkle over the Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano being sure to evenly coat the entire surface. Arrange the ham or prosciutto in a single layer (you may have to cut to fit).
  • Cut the pastry in half and starting with the short sides, roll each end to the centre turning the pastry into a double scroll. Wet the pastry so the two rolls stick together. Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.
  • Slice each roll into 12  individual palmiers, each about 1-inch thick, and arrange on the baking sheet with 1/2 to 1 inch of space between each palmier. Bake until golden, around 10 to 12 minutes.