I’VE SPENT A lifetime staring at blank pieces of paper. The creative process is always a struggle. This comes to mind because my three favorite disciplines, writing, cooking and photography, all require a creative process and a starting point of staring, literally or figuratively, at a blank sheet of paper. To be in the creative mindset I need to be uncomfortable, in the here and now and aware of my inventory of experiences.
Writing is the easiest of these art forms. Whenever anything interesting or intriguing comes to mind I can write anytime, anywhere using pen and paper or a digital notepad. Jot down a key word, phrase or sentence and that’s all it takes to inspire and expand into paragraphs or stories later. Cooking has more restraints but the creative process begins with what will become a recipe. Usually that’s a fresh seasonal ingredient, and without looking at recipes, imagining it with what’s available anytime. For instance, with an abundance of end of season fresh basil, I made a batch of pecan pesto and froze it in cubes. Some time later, I bought butternut squash ravioli and it was just a matter of imagining a non-traditional sauce and “presto,” a delicious recipe in minutes.
Photography is a different animal. I have spent a career in photojournalism covering just about every subject—mostly documentary. I’ve photographed politicians, popes, presidents, poverty and even prostitution and have covered my fair share of fashion and food as well. The most demanding with the quirkiest skillset by far is food photography.
In a restaurant it’s easy to whip out your iPhone and snap a photo of the plate du jour that you’ve just been served and share it on social media. There’s a good chance that the item was prepared by a team of pros. An entirely different image is needed for dining guides, magazines and cookbooks and requires many more pixels in each image.
For a studio food photo shoot, an editor chooses a recipe then shops for ingredients. An art director or graphic designer may storyboard the page then gathers all of the accessories to take the photo—surface, service and complementary accents. They would then set lighting, angles and test exposures. The editor or chef who prepared the dish brings it in and it’s styled a final time and photographed. If you’re lucky, the dish won’t need glycerin to make it shiny, or Kitchen Bouquet to paint it uniformly brown or, heaven forbid, it’s an ice cream dessert and you had to hunt for a dry ice supplier to keep it from melting.
One day I hope to create a trifecta of writing a creative piece, cooking a dish from a recipe I’ve written, then photograph the work produced. I would then happily consume my art.
Enjoy my recipe for Steak Tips for Valentine’s and get creative with your own recipes as you enjoy the art of food.
Steak Tips for Valentine’s—For Two Of Course
2 pounds tri-tip or filet mignon cut into 1½ inch cubes
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 tablespoons butter, divided at room temperature
1 tablespoon canola or other vegetable oil
2 French shallots chopped fine
1 clove of garlic chopped fine
4 sprigs of thyme, tied with cotton twine
2 cups beef stock or broth
1 cup red wine, pinot noir or burgundy
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flou
1. In a bowl season the beef with salt and pepper and toss in oil.
2. Heat a sauté pan to very hot, add the olive oil then 2 tablespoons butter.
3. When the butter foams, add the cubes of beef and quickly brown the meat. Place on a plate.
4. Pour off the oil from the pan and reduce the heat to medium.
5. Saute’ shallots and garlic in 1 tablespoon butter for a minute or two until soft.
6. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan. Add the beef stock, thyme, salt, pepper and sugar.
7. Increase heat and evaporate the liquid to reduce by one half. Remove the thyme.
8. Combine 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of butter to make a beurre manie paste.
9. Lower to medium and whisk in beurre manie paste one teaspoon at a time to desired thickness.
You do not have to use all of the beurre manie, just enough to tighten the sauce.
10. Return the beef tips and juices to the pan and heat to desired doneness.
Serve with your favorite hearty, red Valentine wine.
Cauliflower au gratin, honey citrus carrots or creamed spinach make excellent sides.