Celebrating Hope

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Recipes for roast pork and vanilla birthday cake.

I was probably between 2-4 months old when I first met Elpida and she was about a month younger. Ours is one of these important, long-lasting relationships that define and continuously explain to us a lot about each other. Her name is Hope and my name is Good News. So you could say that our parents equipped us with names that could help us withstand trials and could positively influence our fate and the fate of those who we love.

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Ours is a relationship of many flavours and emotions. Elpida and I have played, cried and laughed together. We have grown up alongside each other and then apart, in different countries. We have risen above petty family feuds: our parents were siblings. We have lost touch and found each other again. And then we found ourselves living in the same UK city away from Greece, the same city where Elpida’s dad spend some of his time in the late seventies. And perhaps our bond was strengthened when by some divine intervention or just by chance we were present when each one of us suffered significant blows in our lives, first in 2001 and then again in 2007.

One of our chosen ways to savour life is through eating and cooking. After all we think that good appetite and culinary curiousity is a sign of appetite for life and having the capacity to enjoy it. Perhaps it is also because my dad would reward us with a bite of honey on toast when we got the times tables right! Or because my uncle would cook up a storm whilst we were playing in the background.  Or maybe it is also because we spend many hours at the sofra (small low round table) with our grandmother making filo pastry and cheese pies and listening to stories when we were children.

One of my first memories is Elpida grabbing anchovies and sucking lemons when we were about 3 on holiday, much to the entertainment of all the adults. Another is running naked on the beach and into the sea with Elpida, Chryssie (El’s sister) and Dimitri (my brother) whilst the grown ups were roasting sausages and freshly caught fish, when we were 5 or 6. Many ‘eating’ years  on  here we are, in our thirties, cooking in my kitchen, at a place called Cardiff.

Last night Cardiff friends and loved ones gathered around the table to celebrate Hope, our own Elpida’s birthday, a hope that we can hold, hug and love.  May this be the best year yet cous!

For Elpida’s birthday we enjoyed a roast pork shoulder with roast vegetable and a berry vanilla cake.

Hope’s pork roast and vegetable
A pork shoulder cut (1300 gr) from Slade Organic Farm stall at Roath Farmers’ market was Elpida’s choice of birthday dinner. This lady loves a traditional British roast: one of the most significant contributions to internationally recognised culinary delights.  I searched for the best recipe but concluded that simplicity is best for a cut of such good quality. Peter Davies, owner of Slade Organic Farm, is a likeable man who never rushes you off the stall, looks for the best cut and type of meat for your occasion and number of guests, and always hands out cooking instructions and good recipes.  It is a joy to spend time with Peter, and if you live in Cardiff and have never met him pay him a visit at any of the Farmers’ markets that Cardiff hosts.

The pork was scored and tied by Peter but in the rare occassion that you get a joint that is not scored, remember scoring is very important for a crusty pork crackling and when doing this it important to cut only half way through the skin.

To prepare the pork, I rubbed sea salt in the scores, turned the pork upside down and seasoned the meat with a generous amount of salt and pepper.  There were no herbs or spices added but 3 cloves of garlic were hidden in the pork shoulder without cutting into the meat.

I roasted the pork in an oven pot (covered baking dish) in high heat (gas mark 9) for 30-40 minutes until it was nicely browned on the top and then slow roasted it for another 3.5 hours at gas mark 5 (low heat). For the slow roasting I added between 1-2 cups of water and 4 bay leaves so that the pork does not dry out but to also prepare stock for a sauce or gravy. During the last two hours of the roasting I added garlic and celery to the stock.  If you don’t have an oven pot you can wrap the pork tightly in aluminum foil.

Pork takes longer to cook and the rule of thumb is that you need 30 min per 500gr plus a 30 min sizzle at the beginning of the roasting at high temperature. I prefer to slow cook pork for longer so that it does not require any carving but it can be easily be broken off with just a fork.

At the end of the roasting you can always cook the crackling separately in the oven until it is crunchy and yummy and serve with the pork. I am not expert in making crackling but this version seems tasty enough to me.

For our gravy or sauce I heated up all the tasty pork juices, added a bit more hot water and corn flower, and  keeping the garlic and celery I then blitzed with my mini-pimer into a creamy white sauce.

We enjoyed the pork with traditionally roast potatoes and roast butternut squash from Pantypwyddyn Farm .

Put aside at least 4 hours for preparation, cooking and letting the pork cool down before eating. With the additon of a small lasagne tray (contributed by Dr Dodds) and salad this dish served 7 people. There are no left overs!

Hope’s birthday cake
I came across this fantastic and simple celebratory vanilla cake recipe on bbc website. It is simple easy and delicious. The only variation in my recipe is that I added Einkorn flour as I had run out plain flour. I also would strongly recommend more vanilla syrup for the cake (at least 100ml). The crème fraiche and fruit version of the cake is delicious and a light alternative to the butter cream icing version of the cake.

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