A journey through the culinary world

 

The Syrup Simplicity

Excuse me while I ramble on here for a bit about simple syrups…

The beauty of a simple syrup is exactly what the name suggests, how simple it is to make. Adding equal parts sugar and water to a pot and letting it reduce couldn’t be any…easier (trying very hard not to overuse the simple here). I recently made a lemon verbena syrup that I’ve been joyfully adding to my afternoon cup of rooibos tea. For those not familiar with lemon verbena, its a small South American shrub which is now found worldwide and has small glossy leaves which exude the most amazing lemon scent when rubbed. I used this particular syrup to make a confit of clementine (more on that some other time).

Anyway, I now have this large tub of lemon scented syrup sitting in my kitchen next to my smaller tub of cinnamon & star anise syrup. Of course that’s not enough for me. So, I went out and foraged for some lavender and made a lavender syrup to add to my lil collection.

What am I going to do with all this syrup? Good question. I’m still trying to decide. There are plenty of uses for syrup, from confit to cocktails to cakes, its quite a versatile item to have in ones pantry.

So, if you feel the urge to make a simple syrup, here’s a quick recipe:

INGREDIENTS

1 part* sugar
1 part water

METHOD

1. In a small pot, combine sugar & water. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has all dissolved. Allow to cool

To make a flavoured syrup, its best to add your choice of flavour halfway through the boiling process.

*This could be anything from 1 cup to 10 buckets as long as you have equal amounts of both water & sugar

When I started this blog, my intentions were to share my experiences in this crazy world of food. Inspired by a pair of beat down All Stars and Chef Anthony Bourdain’s critically acclaimed book “Kitchen Confidential”, I started this blog and shared all I could, pictures, recipes and experiences. Well, I’ve tried to…

Some time ago, I posted a picture of an African Horned Melon that has garnered some attention from fellow food bloggers but I’d never actually seen this seemingly mythical fruit. I’d seen it on an episode of ‘Chopped’ and was fascinated by the fact that this was an AFRICAN fruit and I’d NEVER so much as seen, smelt, touched, heard about or let alone even tasted it. It made no sense. Where in Africa was this fruit? In the desolate deserts of Egypt? In food deprived regions of Ethiopia? In the remote jungles of the Congo? Nope. It was right here in South Africa. Practically in my back yard.

On a journey to complete an already overdue assignment with my friend, Matthew Williams, we took a shortcut through a construction site of some kind. While walking and general shit talking, I spotted a horned melon on the dashboard of a parked truck. I immediately stopped and (politely) demanded to speak to the driver. After asking his co-workers, they directed me to him. I found him in the midst of bushes and dried out shrubs with a handful of snails that he was obviously still searching for and we (Matt & I) politely interrupted him to determine where in seven hells he’d found this fruit.

He had a look to him that made me think of a member of the Khoi San tribes and combined with the 2 snails he was clutching fiercely, I knew I’d found him. A true hunter gatherer. He gave me crude directions that I didn’t quite understand but committed to memory.

After the tedious and exhausting part of our assignment was done, Matt & I set out to find this rare fruit. We followed his directions to travel through the bushes following a small stream till we found the small bridge that he’d told us would herald the location of the Horned Melon. We walked, making jokes about our quest until we found the ‘small bridge’. We searched and searched, almost being attacked by a random dog and trudging through burnt veld until we found a “vineyard” of these fruits amongst the charred remains of the surrounding veld.

We quickly harvested/ravaged the little “vineyard” and wrapped the semi-ripe fruits in our jerseys and happily carried them home, gleefully awaiting the moment we’d taste our horned treasure.

The outside is covered with sporadically spaced thorns on a thick rind. I was not ready for the taste or texture. It tasted like a combination of kiwi and banana with the texture of a cucumber and at first taste, I struggled to find a way to use this in a dish of any kind. But after a 2nd, 3rd and 17th taste, I was hooked and now can’t wait to put it to good use.

Prepare For Glory

I firmly believe that fate favours the prepared and that its ones choice to either prepare for success or allow themselves to suffer failure. Why am I talking about fate & glory & success & failure? Because I have a skills challenge to face today :)

I’m not an extremely competitive person but I can’t deny that I get a certain thrill from competing in culinary skills challenges. Whether its recreating a dish or using a specific ingredient to its fullest. I love the rush that comes with.

And today I get to face the aptly named “Mystery Box”. For those who don’t know, a mystery box challenge contains ingredients unknown to the challenger that they then have to use in a variety of ways. What makes it so challenging is that you have no idea what’s in the box, so its not easy to prepare for. It could be anything from Abalone to Mopani worms, from Nutella to Zucchini, the possibilities are endless!

You can feel the excitement building before the challenge. Chefs getting dressed in the changing rooms, talking about what they hope is in the box, what they’re prepared for or not, all while hoping for something challenging in the box to prove themselves and achieve glory.

The kitchen becomes unnaturally quiet as each chef prepares in their own way. Some mutter prayers to their Gods, others bounce around nervously (or excitedly in my case) and others talk shit to mask their fear. The most prominent sound being the sound of steel on steel as knives get sharpened to deadly precision. The air is almost electric with anticipation!

To experience that excitement is its own reward, regardless of the eventual outcome, the thrill of competition is glory that I prepare for.