Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chili Con Carne (WCJO - DS)

The British, it seems, are just as enthusiastic about chili con carne as America normally is. Why else would Heston Blumenthal include it among his dishes for the second In Search of Perfection series?

So it naturally follows that Jamie Oliver would have a version, which he included in What's Cooking with Jamie Oliver for Nintendo DS. And what's it like? Well . . .

Ingredients. You know that old saw about beans in chili being a hanging offence in Texas? Well, if such people were to see Jamie's recipe, they'd draw and quarter him too.

You see, in addition to red kidney beans, there's sweet potato in Jamie's chili.

Sweet potato?!

I had to check around about this, and yes, there are recipes around for chili with sweet potato. Usually, though, they're for vegetarian versions of chili. And since this one uses ground beef it's definitely one for the unusual, "not quite the done thing" type of dishes.

Variations? Well, the recipe here called for ground cumin. I have cumin seed; if you bruise it with your hands by rubbing vigorously it'll work just fine. Cilantro and green chile pepper are listed for a garnish; I didn't bother with the former but got the latter. I didn't have smoked sweet paprika, but Hungarian hot struck me as being more appropriate for a chili anyway.

Techniques: Well, this is a "cook on the stove-top / bake in the oven" cooking style dish. Meaning the perfect opportunity to try out my new Corningware Stovetop 3-litre casserole dish.

This is the old-fashioned Corningware, the type known as pyroceramic cookware that works on both direct heat (stovetop) and oven without cracking. And, as it turns out, 3 litre is just enough room for everything to go in.

None of the steps are too intricate, and apart from the sweet potato (which go in cubed) none are surprising, with one exception: I had thought the green chile would be going in as part of the cooking process. Turns out it's a garnish. Oh well.

One last thing. Although it's not listed in the ingredients, the recipe calls for the chili to be served on top of rice. (Which leads me to suspect that somehow Mr. Oliver may have confused chili with gumbo.) It probably would have helped matters if Jamie were a bit more specific about the type of rice to be used.

Results: Over calrose rice, with a dollop of sour cream, this chili was -- well, it was okay. Over converted rice, with green onion chopped and sprinkled on top of the sour cream, it was much better. The sweet potato didn't really clash; in fact, it came out with a very nice texture. But I'm still not convinced that it adds anything, any more than adding a regular potato to chili.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Mulligatawny Soup (WCJO - DS)

It's probably oversimplifying matters to suggest that any soup with curry as a predominant flavor could be called mulligatawny. The recipe in What's Cooking with Jamie Oliver is a beef curry-flavoured soup.

And let me say at the outset that this is why DS game users buy WCJO. Not because they want to learn how to cook; WCJO presumes that you already know enough to use a stove, fridge and sink properly. No, you buy WCJO because you're a fan of Jamie Oliver and want a pocket-sized version of one of his cookbooks. (Seriously, I don't think I've ever come across a cookbook of his that isn't smaller than a packaged ream of letter-sized paper.)

Well, let's get on with it then:

Ingredients: And already we see a big difference between WCJO and Personal Trainer: Cooking. Even allowing for the fact that this is a spicy soup, the variety and volume listed ensures that bland, this ain't. Half a dozen garlic cloves, ginger, chili peppers, curry powder and black pepper, in proportions certainly much bigger than what Tsuji Academy would suggest.

As for modifications, the only one I made is a personal one: I'm not a big fan of cilantro, and so I left it out of this one.

Technique: WCJO also enables the microphone function in the Nintendo DS, so you can scroll from screen to screen simply by saying "Next" or "Previous." It's not as sensitive to other sounds as PTC, but it will also scroll automatically, which could be a problem if you're in the middle of a particular cooking step.

Now since this is a soup, preparation isn't all that hard: get a big enough saucepan, put it on heat, put in the solid ingredients, cook, then put in the liquid ingredients and seasonings, cook some more. The one step that surprised me was the one to puree the soup with a stick blender (or a food processor), for a smoother soup. I personally like my soups to be a bit on the chunky side, but to each his own. I have a Braun stick blender, which still works well after ten years; it still does a pretty good job.

Results: The recipe says to use natural yogurt for a garnish. I definitely call this a necessary step, but that could be because I used a bigger chili pepper than was illustrated or available from Jamie's garden. In other words, this is definitely a good-eating winter soup.

Unlike PTC, WCJO doesn't keep track of how many times you made a particular dish. Which is okay, because remember, PTC is more geared towards teaching, while WCJO isn't.