doubling down…

…poor choices, iffy sushi, and a new steak recipe.

There is an art to knowing when to say when. There is also an art to ignoring that exact instinct. Or least to ignoring it well. Once you have summoned the bravery to almost cross the line, the trick is to flex your rebellion with discernment and restraint. It’s all about give and take. But I have this habit of trying to squeeze a little more fun, a little more joy, and a little more beauty out of every experience. I am a greedy consumer.

On the other hand, I also try to nudge flavor, technique, and presentation when I cook. I boost color, contrast, and clarity when I shoot photos, and I probably push the boundaries of humor, honesty, and syntax when I write. It seems that I create with a familiar amount of excess. The kids say I can be a bit extra, but at least I’m committed to my brand.

more is more, but extra is better

There is a lively exchange that exists at “the line” – it’s a playground where we can indulge our fancies and take a few risks. Assuming we don’t habitually cross or even ignore the line, society (and my kitchen) won’t fall into anarchy – guardrails like manners, common sense, mores (and recipes) are a good thing. And while I’m not really a line-crosser, I sure love to dance right up next to it as often as possible, gobbling up every little delight along the way.

The Bloody Mary, one of my all-time favorites and perhaps the quintessential Hair of the Dog

I’ve been a happy, hungry consumer most of my adult life and I’m quite good at it. Until I’m not. There is an olde English expression, “taking a hair from the dog that bit you,” which in our American vernacular means that a morning cocktail is the best cure for a night of boozy overindulgence. The phrase was actually referring to treating rabies, but I suppose a hangover could feel like the same thing. Regardless, I like the sentiment – don’t quit, challenge your failure, and try, try again. I aspire to that kind of resilience every day, but despite good intentions, some degree of failure is inevitable.

This brings me to the lovely sushi I made a few weeks ago, including that photo above of tekka maki. Now it might not have been the raw fish, and I don’t suppose it could have been rabies, but the meal really did not sit well. And yet in the spirit of obstinate stupidity I doubled-down the next morning with leftovers for breakfast. It was so pretty, how could I possibly throw it away? Well…it was definitely the raw fish and that “hair of the dog” sashimi did nothing to improve my disposition.

As a consumer I paid a price for my misplaced loyalty to day-old raw tuna. I really should have walked away and called it a loss, but look what my tenacity created: the sushi was an engineering success, a photographer’s dream and, if I don’t think about it too much, a delicious treat.

Japanese breakfast, aka learning the hard way

Even with errors and oversteps, I’ve begun to embrace the idea that I am also a producer. This is an important shift, given my long history of cheery, but often ill-fated consumption. Looking back at thousands of food photos, plus the body of work I churned out writing this blog, I actually did do more than shop, cook, and eat my way through the last three years. I produced.

Lately, a very real part of this shift is about my content, mandated by necessity, not choice. After all the drama last fall losing my beloved camera lens, Big Betty, I’ve had to confront an unwelcome reality. The reason I dropped Betty is the same reason I’m now taking a leave of absence from sports photography: severe tendonitis. In my stubborn attempt to push through the pain it seems I crossed a line, and an important one. I should have said when about 6 months ago, so apparently I’m a greedy producer as well. Score another point for brand consistency.

Just like in 2020, some hard limits have been imposed, so once again I’ve fled to my sanctuary, the kitchen. Back on restriction with extra time on my hands, I decided to revisit recipes that could have been extraordinary, but fell short. Maybe at the time I was rushed or unprepared or overconfident as I danced too close to the line. In some cases I wanted to break out with my own ideas but simply lacked the confidence as a cook. Now I’m a trapped, motivated producer with pent-up creative juices and nothing to lose.

Two pretty-good-but-not-divine recipes immediately jumped to mind this month. After suffering (twice) for my addiction to raw seafood, it seemed that a properly cooked steak dinner was a more appropriate antidote. That doesn’t mean that in my infirm state I played it safe. Nope, I ran right back to that line and started to scheme. The sushi episode really did linger a while, so the Japanese elements would remain foundational (more hair of the dog.)

After reading though Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” I wondered what other intersections existed with Japanese umami, the 5th meaty, savory taste. It seemed to me that if I could capitalize on the common savory glutamates found in mushrooms (yes, more mushrooms), I could reimagine a signature dish. Steak Diane is a thrilling French-American flambé-and-cream experience, so naturally I decided to play around with sake and miso, then pump it up with Sriracha.

“…Too often we look for tension in cooking; we like the excitement of contrasting flavors and textures. This wasn’t about that. This introduced complimentary tastes from two cultures by quietly boosting umami.”

About fusion, from Curiosity & Chemistry

My new fusion recipe best demonstrates my preference toward Asian flavors along with my adoration of European-inspired buttery decadence. I fully expected I’d go too far, but the effect was subtle rather than flamboyant, and I was shocked that I found a nice balance. After 3 or 4 irritating trial runs I finally pulled it off with my typical grace and humility. Then I named the dish after myself in honor of irony.

ステーキ エリザベス

(Steak Elizabeth)

Sutēki Erizabesu

ingredients (for 2)

  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 12 oz steak, such as tenderloin or ribeye
  • kosher salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh minced ginger
  • 8-10 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup sake
  • 2 Tbs white miso paste
  • ¼ to ½ cup Sriracha, to taste
  • 2 Tbs sliced scallions


If possible, season steaks with salt and pepper and place in refrigerator uncovered overnight to dry.

Preheat oven to 250°. Place steaks on a wire rack set in a lined baking sheet and cook for 30-45 minutes or until the internal temp is 125° for medium.

In a large cast iron skillet, melt olive oil and 1 Tbs butter on very high heat. Remove steaks from oven and sear in the hot skillet for 1 minute. Flip and cook for another minute. Set aside, cover, and allow to rest.

Reduce heat to medium and add minced shallots, stirring for a minute to soften. Add garlic and ginger, and continue to cook about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper to taste and cook until softened, about 2 more minutes. Add cilantro and stir.

Remove skillet from direct heat, add sake, and ignite carefully with a long match to burn off the alcohol and basically show off. When the flame extinguishes, turn the mushrooms onto the plate with the steaks.

Add 1 Tbs of butter to the skillet on medium heat. When melted, add miso paste and blend with a spatula until smooth, smashing it down to incorporate with the butter. Cook and stir for 3 minutes to essentially darken and toast the miso. Whisk in 1/4 cup of water and Sriracha and blend well. Add remaining 4 Tbs butter and continue to whisk the sauce until glossy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning with kosher salt.

Stir in any accumulated juices to the skillet. Simmer until heated through, about 1 minute. Slice steaks on the bias and layer onto to a serving dish. Top with mushrooms and spoon sriracha butter sauce on top. Garnish with sliced scallions and serve with rice or warm bread, depending on whether you’re feeling Japanese or French at the moment.

The short history of Steak Elizabeth is one of insistent trial and error, so much so that I don’t even want to make it for a long, long time. The creative process was a journey – it was nothing spiritual or life-altering, but a meaningful reminder of why I find so much joy in my efforts. I learned to respect the hard lessons taught and employ a little more of that discernment and restraint. But also, never quit.

As consumers we observe, we collect, we absorb, we read, we listen, we acquire, we watch, and of course, we eat. The only difference is where we go shopping for those commodities. As producers we wonder and scheme and test and push our creations out into the world. The difference there might only be the audience.

Either way, I’m still going to the line.

never gonna stop.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: