Wednesday, November 22

Winter Draws On

According to figures in a recent Guardian article “Since January 2004, average household energy bills have risen by 69% or £407.” We all need to try and cut our energy consumption.

We recently had thermostatic valves put on to the individual radiators in our house. Prior to this we were controlling the heat by turning the main thermostat in the hall up or down as required.

Take a tip from us. If you get the chance, make sure you get the main thermostat sited in the living room, not in the hall. Nobody stays in the hall, you only ever pass through it. It is absolutely crazy allowing the ouput of your central heating system to be governed by the ambient temperature in a room that nobody ever uses. In our case the biggest rad in the house was bang opposite the thermostat. Net result being the thermostat got lovely and warm and switched the heating off. Downstairs on the hard concrete floor we were slowly freezing.

Thankfully we can now adjust the individual rads, and get the heat just right in each room. We have actually managed to turn the main thermostat down by six degrees and still feel warmer. Our bank balances should feel healthier too, especially as gas has gone up in price so many times recently.

We all need to make more efforts to save on energy consumption (and I don’t mean get up later). Just switching off unneeded electrical items will save a considerable amount. I was talking to the senior I.T. technician at my college this morning. His department have worked out that by just shutting down all the PCs in the college at night and at weekends they will make a saving of £15,000 a month on the energy bill.
That’s enough to buy an awful lot of books for the students.

Tuesday, November 21

Ferry Good News?

As someone who has suffered more than his share of rough channel crossings, the Guardian of Monday week had good news. A Dutch court case may mean that we can import goods from France over the internet without paying U.K. Duty. The days of the “Booze Cruise” may well be numbered.

We used to go over on coach trips to Calais organised by our union, the late and much lamented N.U.P.E. They would normally be about now, late November. Getting to Calais and back via coach and cross-channel ferry meant a start at about 6.00 am, getting home around seventeen hours later. (On one never-to-be-lived-down occasion the Phantom literally missed the boat, arriving home about three hours later than everyone else. In the Doghouse wasn’t in it. I was wishing I was allowed near the Doghouse).

Recently we haven’t bothered. The relaxation of the rules over personal consumption had lead to people going over with vans and the atmosphere on the ferries has become grim, professional and obnoxious. To be honest, we mostly went over for the food anyway – Boudins Blanc and Noir, Duck Confit, Lardon pork, and the cheeses. Camembert, Brie, Roquefort…. Not to mention jars and bottles of fish soup and rouille…. Lovely reminders of how good food should be.

Mind you, if we can end up buying bottles of Gewurtztraminer for £4.00 each, we’ll be on the internet ordering a couple of cases before you can say V.A.T.

Liver and Bacon

My good friend the Welsh Dog is on a diet. Not unusually he is practically unable to think about anything other than food. I do hope he will forgive me for posting the photo below. We both have a great love of "wet" food, - stews, soups and casseroles.

Liver and bacon casserole, with Kabocha squash mash and stir fried kale and mushrooms.

Hope the diet is going well Mate!

By the way, it tasted Lovely!

Wednesday, November 15

The Roast Beef of Old England

One of the joys of doing a roast at the weekend is having leftovers to play with later on in the week.

Cold roast pork we normally eat as it is. I think pork actually has a better flavour cold. Lamb is more tricky. The amount of fat, especially on a shoulder, indicates that it needs to be served hot. (Serving it cold means spending a considerable amount of time going over the meat removing the excess fat before it can be served).

With beef, however, we have the best of both worlds. Delicious hot and cold, even the fat is tasty. It also lends itself to one of the great leftover meals, cottage pie.

There is very little more comforting on a wet and dreary night than knowing that there is a cottage pie waiting to be popped in the oven, emerging golden brown and bubbling in just about the time it takes to drink a couple of glasses of wine and unwind a bit.

Cottage pie should be simple to make. Take cold leftover beef, mince finely, then add to fried onions, carrot and celery, fry briefly, then add stock, Worcestershire sauce, a small amount of tomato, and simmer till thickened and volcanically erupting. Top with mash, whack into oven and heat at gas 5 till bubbling. Finish off if necessary under the grill.

Hang on though – “mince finely”??

How many people actually have a mincer any more? In the kitchens of our parents and grandparents a mincer would have been a standard item of equipment. Now they are so unusual the spellchecker thinks the word should be “mince” or “miner”.

Not so long ago the name SPONG was proudly displayed in kitchens across the land! You can use a food processor to chop the leftover beef, but it can easily over work the meat. The beauty of the mincer is that it guarantees to break any meat fibres up into manageable pieces, especially if you run the meat through the mincer twice.

It’s not uncommon to find these lovely metal and wood mincers in second hand shops. If you do see one, give it a good home. I can assure you your cottage pies will taste all the better for it!

Sunday, November 12

Souperman Replies

My old friend Welsh Dog, now resident in Australia, posted this reply to my most recent post on his own blog. I felt I should reply in the same way. (Please forgive what may read like a mutual flattery sesssion. Normal cynicism will resume shortly).

Welsh Dog! Many thanks for your compliments. I am humbled. I always had great respect for your culinary talents. I remember thinking that I didn’t like parsnips until I tasted your roasted ones!

Mrs P. remembers your good lady saying she only ate for fuel many years ago. It must be soul destroying!

I have to say though that I only cook because I love to eat. If you are going to eat, you should eat as well as you can. And if you want to eat as well as you can, you need to cook.

I grew up eating simple food, simply cooked. My mother always says she wouldn’t let me anywhere near the kitchen when I was growing up. I certainly don’t remember ever being involved in cooking when I was at home.

Even when I moved in with a girlfriend it took a while to find where the kitchen was. I distinctly remember that one of our standard meals was frozen beefburgers served with boiled (frozen) diced peppers and dried noodles!

I wouldn’t worry about your youngsters and their food fussiness. Just serve them tasty food made with love. It might not happen ‘til they leave home for uni, but they will remember your cooking, remember how good it was, and start trying for themselves. If they are eating home made burgers, grilled or roast chicken and steaks you are doing fine. Sounds like good, tasty food.

Don't let the high carbohydrate diet get you down either. Any diet that encourages you to eat macaroni cheese can't be bad!

Friday, November 10


I felt terribly guilty at lunchtime. I was in the staffroom. As usual the discussion centred around the canteen food, and how awful it was. (I was tucking into a bowl of home-made soup).

“This soup is terribly salty” my colleague finally announced, looking at the Styrofoam cup half full of red glop that had cost him nearly two pounds.

“In fact all I can taste is salt.”

The consensus was that the soup had probably come out of a packet. In that case though, why was it so expensive?

The Phantom’s First Law of Catering was formulated at this point.

This states “You can have quick or you can have good.”

That packet soup had probably been made in about 30 minutes, assuming it wasn’t a cup-a-soup type instant job. The soup I was consuming had been considerably longer in the making.

I started off with a roast shoulder of British lamb on Sunday. On Monday evening I made stock by simmering the left over shoulder (still on the bone), with onions, leek, carrot and celery. I left this to cool overnight. The next day the fat had risen to the surface and solidified. This was taken off to leave a fat free stock. Next I took the remaining meat off the bone and put most of it aside. (Tigger, the Visiting Cat had the rest!)

Fresh organic leek, onion, carrot and potato were added to the stock and simmered until cooked. The meat was put back, and I thickened the soup with some pearl barley that I had cooked separately. (I often find barley catches and burns, so I don’t risk destroying a soup or stew by cooking the two together).

The lamb broth had been in the making for three days, had cost very little per portion, and it was delicious.

My colleague was not so happy.

His last words as he left the staffroom, hungry and feeling ripped-off?

“I can’t feel my mouth any more”!

Wednesday, November 8

Blog On Log On

Working in a modern college library means working with computers. Lots of them. And working with computers means passwords and log-ins. I thought today I would actually keep a running tally of how many times I had to enter a password or log in.

I was only doing 9-5, nothing unusual.

Half an hour after lunch and I was already up to 18 times.

By “close of play” I had typed my security details 34 times.

The sooner they introduce iris recognition software the better!

Sunday, November 5

No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition.

This blog normally and quite happily avoids comment on religious matters. However, as I have already referred to religious intolerance in Iraq, I couldn’t resist drawing your attention to an example closer to home. Please see this article in today’s Guardian which my wife spotted.

Note that the group in question was formed by a disgruntled catholic barrister. He must be one of the few catholic barristers who isn’t in the current Labour government. No wonder he is unhappy.

Then again, my maternal grandfather was a druid, so maybe I’m biased.

Saturday, November 4

Fear and Loathing in Iraq

News is filtering through that Iraq is being locked down in anticipation of a death sentence being passed upon Saddam Hussein, ex mad butcher of Persia.

According to the BBC "their are fears of outbreaks of violence..."

Ahem! Excuse me but hasn't there been nothing but death and destruction for the last couple of years?

The ridiculous internecine murdering between sunni and shia muslim factions has been going on since shortly after the death of Muhammed. It makes the divisions of Northern Ireland look like a minor family dispute.

The only peaceful future for Iraq is a secular one, and that isn't likely to happen any time soon.