Sunday, January 18, 2009

New England Clam Chowder (PTC - DS)

The first recipe I'll talk about here is New England Clam Chowder, from Personal Trainer: Cooking. There are tons of recipes and variations for this clam-and-dairy soup, so it's very hard for a nit-picker to point an accusing finger and yell that it's not "authentic" -- whatever that means in this day and age. Which is why it's a natural inclusion for PTC, which is after all aimed at a more generalized audience than WCJO (i.e. an audience that's a bit more timid about actually making stuff in the kitchen).

Ingredients: Now bear in mind that this recipe isn't from some obscure game programmer geek in Japan riffing off of Iron Chef. PTC's recipe database comes directly from the Tsuji Cooking Academy,] which trains both homemakers and professional chefs in the art of cuisine. (One of their principals, Shizuo Tsuji, wrote a classic cookbook called Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, which is enamored by Nigella Lawson, among others.) So the recipe is written up by professionals, but at the same time it's geared towards a Japanese palate -- which tends not to be as appreciative of super-spiced foods as we are in the West.

Anyway, there are no surprises in the ingredient list: clams (of course), onion, potato, carrot, bacon, butter, stock (I used Campbell's Organic Chicken for this review), milk and cream. (Crackers and Italian parsley are listed, but as garnishes at the end.)

PTC illustrates its recipes with photos, so the clams used here were pretty big, even when canned. Canned baby clams are easier to come by than canned surf clams, so I used that.

Here I should say that using the shopping list function in the grocery store works just as well as using the one provided by WCJO. One major difference: there's a function in PTC that lets you look up a recipe based on the shopping list you've just completed. Very handy, if you don't carry your DS with you all the time.

Techniques: One thing PTC does during the step-by-step process is list the equipment used at the start of each step (i.e. a knife and block during the chopping phase, a saucepan during the actual cooking phase). If you've had a lot of experience cooking, you might find that annoying, but for novices I can see that it'd be an important feature.

There is a slight problem that you'll have to get used to: PTC's microphone function may be a little too sensitive, interpreting everything as a voice command -- including the sounds of the knife hitting the chopping block, getting bowls out of the cupboard, and so on. However, unlike WCJO, hands-free use is very easy, so long as you take care to enunciate when speaking to the DS.

As for the techniques themselves, they were pretty much standard: no fancy cutting techniques or equipment required. One step that I never encountered before when making clam chowder was a step to skim off the foam, which appears when adding the stock. (A nice feature of PTC is that, when prompted by voice, you can get more details on a technique or step, such as why it's important to skim the foam off a soup that was meant to be cream-based.)

One step that I think they left out: during the chopping phase (onion, potato, etc.), unless you're dumping the ingredients straight into the saucepan, you're going to want some bowls or containers to put the chopped ingredients in, until you're ready for the actual dumping. This is pure common dog for someone already used to working in the kitchen, but it's still a handy step to remember.

Results: Well, I did say it's a fairly standard recipe. You're not going to blow anyone's taste buds away with this one, but at the same time it's very satisfying. Especially when compared with chowder out of a can, which tends to be sodden with soggy vegs and all too heavy on the salt.

If I wanted to modify it, I might have added chopped celery at the same time as the onion and carrot. I might also add a pinch of something spicy -- curry powder, say, or nutmeg. Not too much, just enough to deliver a hint of a kick. (I did mention that Japanese palate tends to be a bit bland.)

Would I make this recipe again? Easily, with the modifications mentioned above. I'd call it a good beginning.

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