Steak Tips and ‘Shrooms

I don’t have any kind of story to go with this recipe so I’m going to do a before and after and see where it leads.  See, some photographers are able to get their images right in the camera. Perfect white balance, great lighting, exquisite staging, and food that photographs well.

In all the time that I’ve been taking photos of the food on my plate, I’ve yet to become one of those photographers.  And while technology makes that ok, I strive to be better.  I want my straight out of camera (sooc) images to be so close to my final image that you almost can’t tell them apart.  Looking at the example above, you can see I’ve got a ways to go yet.

Some constraints, like the photogenic nature of foods, are out of my hands.  But other things, like lighting and balance, I need to become more familiar with.  Even though I’ve taken my camera off of the fully automatic settings and gone into manual mode, and I manually set my white balance, I don’t yet have the sense to instinctively know when I’m on the right track or when I’m setting myself up for disappointment.

Take the Steak Tips and ‘Shrooms up there.  SOOC it’s a pretty boring image.  There’s no depth; the whole thing feels flat.  When I was previewing the images, I should have picked up on that and thrown a napkin or something with texture down to bring in some visual interest.  SOOC the color is also quite dull.  Yeah, I don’t know what I could have done about that.  But my point is that I should have tried to do something so that I didn’t have to rely on Photoshop to saturate the color of the food so that it doesn’t look so washed out.

I suppose that the photos are like the cooking…it takes practice to get the feel for what I’m doing behind the camera or in front of the stove.  I feel like I’m making progress where the food is concerned.  The challenge now is to get that to translate to the images on the screen.

Steak Tips and ‘Shrooms

Adapted from The Washington Post

BAH Note:  The recipe from The Post suggested substituting tenderloin tips for the center cut fillet.  Please don’t make the mistake of using plain old steak tips, like I did.  The first time I made this, I had to ask the meat counter at Giant if they had any center cut fillets because they weren’t in the case.  The version using a center cut was so far superior to the one I made with generic steak tips (because all The Fresh Market could offer me was a $20/pound fillet mignon) that it was worth every curse word that came out of my mouth as I trimmed the silver skin and tissue off that center cut scrap.  Even when it was reheated in the microwave, the center cut meat was still tender, soft, and tasted meaty.  Straight out of the dutch oven, the tips were tough, dry, and bland.

BAH Tip:  If you don’t have red wine, just use an additional 1/2 cup beef broth.  And if you don’t have, or don’t want to use brandy, substitute 2 teaspoons broth.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 ounces center cut beef tenderloin, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 16 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3/4 cup beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Heat half of the oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add half of the beef cubes and brown on all sides.  Transfer the first batch to a plate, brown the remaining beef, and transfer them to the plate as well.

Add the remaining oil to the pan.  Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the onion has softened.

Add the mushrooms, increase the heat to medium high, and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and begin to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the red wine to the pot and cook until the liquid reduces by half.

Whisk together the mustard and broth and add it to the pot once the wine has reduced.

Add the beef and any accumulated juices back to the pot.  Combine the cornstarch and brandy in a small bowl, stirring to make sure the cornstarch totally dissolves.  Add the cornstarch slurry to the pot and stir to combine.

Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes until everything is gently bubbling and the beef has just cooked through.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste before serving.

 {printable recipe}

13 thoughts on “Steak Tips and ‘Shrooms

  1. Your photos are lovely. You even won a contest! I am impressed with your patience with the styling. I always just want the food to get in my belly.

    And can I just join in on the silverskin hateration? I don’t care how many diagrams or helpful videos I see. It is always brutal removing that stuff.

    1. Silverskin is my personal nemesis. And you’re right, it’s never as easy as Alton makes it look on tv.

      The desire to get the food in my belly sometimes wins out and I am left photoless. Which explains some of the more “creative” images I post.

  2. Your before and after shots are amazing. They both look good enough to eat, but I’d definitely choose the after for my dinner! As with everything, practice makes everything better 🙂

      1. Wendi, your pictures are beautiful. And I think very few people use SOOC shots. Even famous old time fotogs like Ansel Adams used dark room tricks to get their famous shots 🙂

        1. Thanks Beth. I don’t mind post processing. I’d just hate relying on it to fix the things I should be catching in real time.

  3. can i i just say i ROLL MY EYES when ppl tell me that they don’t do post editting/processing of their pictures. i’m too polite to call BS to their face.
    i’ve always liked your pictures and it boggles my mind that you don’t submit your images to foodgawker or tastespotting.
    i have major issues with lighting, both the natural and man-made kind. i can take classes and read up on the stuff till i’m blue in the face but unless i actually DO it and practice, it doesn’t sink in.

    1. Lan, the reality is that I don’t really understand half of the stuff that I read about lighting, metering, etc. I learn better by doing and seeing what works for me. I’ve never had the desire to get into foodgawker or tastespotting especially after hearing people talk about the way they feel when their images (gorgeous images btw) get rejected. Me no likely rejection.

  4. I do small adjustments in Photoshop, but I’ve also really been working to get my photos how I want them right out of the camera. Since it’s usually dark in my kitchen I always rely on my external flash for an extra boost of light. I’ve really been trying to perfect my focus as well and I hope the efforts will pay off soon. =) Also, it’s dang HARD to photograph brown food (like your steak tips!). I usually add a sprinkling of herbs on top of brown things (parsley, chives, whatever) to add that little bit of color that can make it look more appealing.
    All that said, steak + mushrooms = my fave.

    1. Jenna, I’m fortunate that I have windows in the kitchen and dining room where I take the majority of my photos. Natural light makes a tremendous difference. I know that doesn’t really help you with the process shots but if you’ve got a balcony or window, it would definitely be worth it to stage your final shot there.

      I’m ready to stop cooking brown food since I can’t photograph it for squat.

  5. Wendi, I think you take lovely pictures. And that’s great that you’re thinking about the visual interest of your shots. If you didn’t come into blogging as a photographer (I didn’t either), I feel like it takes time to develop that visual sense. But honestly, it sounds and looks to me like you’ve developed a nice sense already.

  6. I really related to this post Wendi, while I’m confident enough with the cooking & the food & the presentation, I’ve got eons to go with learning about styling & photographing things well., great tips & points you’ve made. Excellent.

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