My friend Dan has been teaching me how to cook for a few months. Dan has been cooking for close to 20 years, and he apprenticed in a kitchen in Argentina. Nintendo DS's America's Test Kitchen, a popular PBS program turned into an instructional cooking "game" with 300 step-by-impossibly-detailed-step recipes, can also teach you how to cook, but does so without mentioning how many stamps are in its passport. I decided to pit man against machine to see who was the better instructor, the flesh-and-blood, South American-trained gourmand or the company that brought you The Legend of Zelda. After three competitions, a tomato-and-mozzarella tart, pork chops and a side dish of bacon-braised green beans, the machine was up two-to-one. This week we conquer chocolate pots de crème. Let's begin.
This has been brewing the whole time. Dan hates baking, always has, and has been secretly waiting for this final showdown with the machine to spring this on me; "It's just you tonight, bro. Let's see how you do without old Dan-O there to guide you." So, we open up a bottle of wine, and Dan says he'll watch (and lob insults, when appropriate). Luckily Julieanne is over again, so she plays the role of mother bird. (However she does not regurgitate alcohol into my mouth, unfortunately.)
The Nintendo tells me to chop chocolate. I figure this will be both easy and fun. Finally, I'm chopping something I would have no problem eating by the pound! Only, it's really hard to do. Like, impossible. Dan's going "hey, don't look at me, look at the machine." The machine has no ideas, it just keeps showing me the 45-degree angle method, but it's just not happening. The chocolate is cold from the fridge and can only be chopped by Thor himself. I grab a cuisinart and let the machine chop the shit out of that chocolate. Dan's got his nostrils in a-flare, eyes gleaming. "Ah, so he's learning to think outside the box," Dan's pointing to the machine. I get it, Dan, the Nintendo's the box.
Next up the machine tells me to whisk seven egg yolks in a saucepan. I'm about to crack the eggs and dump them in, when I realize I can add insult by brewing in Dan's gullet. I turn to the machine for guidance on how to separate a yolk from the rest of the egg, but it's mum. Julieanne shows me how to separate the yolk from the albumen. Albu-what? It's fun to do! You crack the egg, dump it into your hand, and let the sticky albumen slide through your fingers while keeping the yolk gently in your palm. Once this is in the bowl, I whisk it up with sugar and salt (both eye-balled, a Dan rule). The Nintendo has me bring some cream and milk to a simmer in a pan, then remove said pan and slowly whisk about a cup of the cream into the yolk mixture. Then I whisk the yolks back into the cream mixture. It's a whisky-heavy recipe.
I then return the pan to low heat and just whisk and whisk and whisk until it thickens enough to coat a spoon. I strain this into the bowl with the chocolate. I whisk this (can you believe all this goddamn whisking?), adding a bit of vanilla.
Then I divide this beautiful mixture among my ramekins and let cool for four hours (major bummer).
Outstanding. Creamy, rich, and cold. And it must be said—every single time—by following the Nintendo's instructions, the results were good. Even Dan admits as much. The machine is easy to use and has a ton of great recipes. The design flaws (like no pause button so it just keeps moving forward) and the fact that you'd need two of them to cook two different things at once are problematic, but ultimately, if you want to learn how to cook, slowly and surely, it's a good little device.
And in the end, the machine may have 'won', but really, as Dan says, there's no winning and losing in cooking, there's only flavor. They both win in my book.