Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pull out your DS for some serious cookin'

"America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking"

Developed by Indies Zero
Published by Nintendo
Available: NOW
Platforms: DS
Rated E
Price: $19.99

Move over, momma, there's a new cook in town.

The DS is one of the most popular handheld gaming systems on the planet. You can play as Mario saving Princess Peach (you need to invest in a security detail, lady), you can keep your brain mental sharp with the Brain Age games (though that's open to debate, science experts say) and even save innocent souls in court as an ace attorney (OBJECTION!). Yes, you can use your DS to play as a cook (ala 'Cooking Mama') but I can't recall using a video game to cook a real meal.

The result? Let's just say if I had the time and money, I'd never order takeout again.

Developed by Indies Zero and published by Nintendo, "America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking" is an interactive program that allows users of all ages (up to six people can play) to have some serious fun in the kitchen (and not just newlyweds either). The game has over 300 recipes that are searchable by ingredients or by keyword. The recipes are as thorough as you'd find in a cookbook, but what makes this shine is the interactive videos that are attached to recipes (you can watch how pro chefs perform several tasks). You can even save your recipe that you want to cook for later and take your DS with you to the grocery store, so you will remember what ingredients you need for your concoction. You can also change course and select a new recipe while you are at the store and search for the ingredients.

This is one of the few reviews where I was able to get the family involved. My wife isn't into gaming, but my children - my son is 6, my daughter is 3 - love playing games. I created profiles for them - and noticed something interesting. The game asked if the *chefs* could use a knife and fire. Of course my children are too young for that, and the game kept track of that. For certain recipes, I could have them assist me, but because they can't use knives and fire, they can't be the head chef. Bummer for them, but they'll be cooking soon enough.

You have over 300 recipes you can choose to create, from appetizers to main dishes. I settled on cooking three main dishes, as well as a dessert, using my DS and "America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking" to lead the way. The results were actually tasty and quite good. I have been cooking for about 25 years - thanks, Mrs. Rosan Jefferson - so I know my way around the kitchen and never really use measuring cups and don't really have to follow instructions. My meals turn out good, most times. If they don't, I learn from my mistakes.

The first dish I tried with "Test Kitchen" was the beef stir-fry. I deviated slightly from the recipe, opting to use honey butter spread, along with Daddy's BBQ™ Sweet Love™ Rub (www.daddysbbqsauce.com) and some fresh cilantro to add some kick to the meat. Browning the beef was no problem, nor was cooking the stir-fried veggies. What I found most interesting was creating the sauce to go into the concoction. It called for a host of things that I never knew was in the sauce because I buy the sauce already made. The prep time was about an hour and 15 minutes - the actual cook time was about 45 minutes. So, from start to me sitting down and eating my creation was about two hours. The taste? Excellent - better than Pei Wei and P.F. Chang's - and even better than Van Loc's. More on this later.

The second dish I tried cooking was sesame-crusted pork chops. The original recipe called for sesame-crusted tuna steaks, but I decided to swap out the meats and use the pork chops instead. Bad move. Even with my years of experience in the kitchen, I was not ready for the plume of smoke that came from the stove top. My sister-in-law helped me out, though the pork chop I cooked tasted awesome, even with the burnt, crusty sesame seeds. The one she cooked has less sesame seed and she cooked it a lot slower as well. Pork and beef cook differently than seafood. The tuna steaks, had I cooked them with the sesame seeds, would have cooked together and been ready at the same time.

Score one for the game.

This is one of the areas I think the game could have been expanded. Some recipes should allow for slight deviations - nothing major - but one with multiple ingredients if you want to experiment or try something different. The game offers the method programmed and no exceptions. That's fine, though recipe books often will offer substitute changes on some recipes.

The third dish I cooked was pan-seared shrimp. Again, I used some elements and methods from the game but added my own twists. I used honey butter, Daddy's BBQ™ Sweet Love™ Rub (daddysbbqsauce.com) and a dash of sherry cooking wine and fresh garlic cloves (everything I used, except the honey butter and Daddy's BBQ rub came from Rice Epicurean) to the mix. I also added some sliced mushrooms and olive oil and cooked it to perfection.

On some of the recipes, if you have another DS, you can beam recipes to your friends, even if they don't own the game.

A few of the steps in the recipes also include videos that show players how to oil and heat the pan properly, mince and the like.

Now, as cool as this game is, and it's only $19.99, I do have a few concerns. The chef's voice is like nails on a chalkboard, and though you can adjust the volume and speed of his speech, you can not adjust the sensitivity to your voice commands. For me, I have a loud, public speaking voice. It is booming at times, and when I was telling the children to leave the kitchen, the *chef* says 'OK!' and goes on to the next step. While this is a welcome benefit to be able to give voice commands to the DS to advance vs. using the stylus and getting it smeared with food residue - the same goes for a real cookbook - it can hear pretty much everything, including the not-so-nice thoughts I had for it. All he said to me was 'OK!' If there was a way to adjust the sensitivity, it would be nearly flawless.

Another concern are the costs associated with cooking the meals. It's not cheap. If you follow the recipe instructions, it will likely cost MORE than ordering the same meal as takeout. Plus, the prep times are no joke. It's best to play this game if you a. can afford to buy all of the ingredients and b. if you don't mind waiting a while for a great meal. If you can stomach those factors, please proceed.

The other concern I have is the lack of substitutions. The game manual and box tell players that all of the recipes were cooked in their test kitchen with the recommended equipment. But what if you don't have the necessary equipment? I had to use a deep pot because a recipe called for a Dutch oven. I didn't have a garlic press/mincer, so I used the back of a knife and a spoon. For a vet cook, you know how to improvise. However, for a struggling college student who wants to impress a date, things can get very expensive in a hurry.

However, in light of those concerns, the food all tasted excellent. You can buy ready-made sauces, bagged veggies and cook with them, but the taste from cooking everything from scratch was worth the prep time, the smoke and the pricey tab. And if you are like me, you will find yourself going to your DS often to play this game and experiment cooking all sorts of dishes.

Like my son's old talking toy, Bobby Q, screams "Hey, come on, let's fire up the grill!' Let's get cooking!

The verdict: 3 (out of 4 stars) The game is very informative, easy to pick up and learn a thing or two. The voice sensitivity can be aggravating at times, but the host of recipes makes this something to look at if you own a DS. Can it compare to a cookbook? Maybe, and you can even jot down notes with the recipes.

No comments: