Healthy Eating

Over the course of the last few years, but this most recent one especially, I've been pondering the question of eating healthy. For one, I'm getting to be middle aged. Had to happen sometime, unless I died first, and I suppose this is a better option. I figure sooner or later (although luckily it appears to be later) my metabolism is going to give out and I better be ready. Joseph's recent post about health food prompted me to finally put my theory down in words.

Something Alton Brown once said, I think it was in his slashdot interview, really caught my attention. Somebody asked about low and non-fat foods. He said that if it didn't affect the taste, sure why not. But sometimes there's just no substitute for cream. Oh boy, is he ever right. Ever put cream on your cereal? Were's that sound clip of Homer drooling...

If people would worry more about how well something tastes rather than following some diet of the week, they would feel more satisfied with their meal. They wouldn't need to double up their portions to get a hint of the taste. Going back to my cream on cereal reference, I tell you what, you'd be hard pressed to eat two bowls of that. But I could go through 3 or 4 bowls of cereal with just milk, no problem. Which one will really make me fatter?

Consider the low-fat craze that we're currently in. Most people I know like to poke fun at the Atkins diet, or the South Beach diet, or the Mayo and Peanut Butter diet (it must exist somewhere). But is the low-fat diet really much different? First margarine was in because it was low in saturated fats, now it's out because it's high in trans fats. Well who cares? Butter actually tastes good and doesn't make your popcorn all soggy. If we'd been following our tongues and noses, we could have avoided that whole mess.

People don't stick to their diets because it's not a lifestyle for them. In a safety meeting one time our instructor ingrained in our head how safety can't be a priority. There are just too many priorities to worry about, you can't think about safety when you're juggling all those. Safety has to be a value. How many times do you actually have to think about whether to put pants on? It's a value your mom taught you when you were small (and I bet you enjoyed tormenting her by running around butt naked).

Treat yourself right. Fix a meal that tastes good. Try some foods you've never had before. Just this week I made mac & cheese (no, not from a box) with shiitake mushrooms. Delicious! Mushrooms haven't really ever been my thing, but I think when I finally get home tonight I'll make a mushroom and jalapeno quesadilla, followed by some peaches and ice cream (made with real vanilla. And I won't feel guilty about it.

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Grilled Pizza

You may recall a while back I reviewed Alton Brown's book, Gear For Your Kitchen. There was a great little recipe in there for grilled pizza. Often when I read food books I will skim over the recipes, but never pay them much attention. That's was the case with Ruth Reichel's book (which it appears I never finished reviewing), but not so with AB. I made this one on an electric skillet and it was good.

Then my wife and I watched America's Test Kitchen make their version. It was pretty similar. I mean, how many ways can you drape a dough on a grill and call it pizza? They emphasized that the dough has to be rather thick and chewy to stay afloat on the grate, and that you have to be careful not to overload the pizza with too many toppings, especially wet ones like tomatoes, since the cooking time is so short.

We had some friends over the other day and cooked grilled pizzas for them. This time we got to use the real deal, our new 45,000 BTU grill. It's every boy's dream to cook with real live fire.

The toppings included mozzarella cheese, finely diced tomatoes, garden fresh spinach, and mushrooms. We also made a cheese and pepporoni pizza just for the kids (following Michael Chu's recommendation of microwaving the pepperoni to remove excess grease.

Preparation is simple enough. Roll out the dough. Wait, you need the dough recipe? OK, here's your ingredients. 1 pound flour, 1 package yeast, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar. Mix. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 cup hot water. Knead well, rise for an hour and a half.

Now you've got your dough rolled out into oblong shapes (let's face it, who can make round pizzas?). Coat one side with oil (I go cheap and just use canola). Lay oil side down on the grill. Paste on another coat of oil on the top side. Cook until it gets a nice color. Flip. Now add a layer of garlic and olive oil, and then any toppings you want. Chris Kimball says to put the cheese down first, but I found cheese last works better. Because the dough is already cooked and the toppings don't have much moisture, they tend to slide off. The cheese holds them in place nicely.

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Shish Kabobs

Did you know that "shish kabob" is Turkish for "meat on a stick"? Surprisingly "kabob" is the "meat" part. So the next time somebody offers you some chicken kabobs or veggie kabobs, you can point out that useless bit of trivia. I'm sure you'll get all the same blank stares and hushed whispers that I do.

But shish kabobs are yummy. These ones are round steak, mushrooms, olives, onion, green pepper and pineapple. You may notice that olives and pineapple are not pictures. That's because those are nasty. We marinated the meat in Yoshida's Gourmet Sauce, and we used some more to baste all over as the kabobs cook.

The rice was dead simple. I sauted onions and green pepper in butter, browned the rice and dumped a can of vegetable stock in. Not quite a risotto, but not too different either. I used basmati rice. Not sure if that added anything in particular, but it was good.

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Roast Pork Loin

As I was shopping last week, I needed another meal to fill in an empty spot on our calendar. A cute little pork loin roast struck my eye. Surprisingly my local Walmart carries a nice line of delicious, hormone-free pork products from Salmon Creek Farms out of Twin Falls. I've long been a fan of their ribs, which it appears I also need to post about.

I made up a wet rub of garlic (lots!), brown mustard, brown sugar, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, and thyme. I meant to add some olive oil as well, but I ran out yesterday making pizza (yes, I've got pictures. Hold your horses!). Slathered the rub on and let it site for a few hours. I really should have brined the roast too. I always forget that.

Then I moved it to the grill, seared it on high for a few minutes each side and cooked it at ~300 degrees for an hour and a half. It smelled divine. The meat was somewhat dry, hence the need for brining. It needed some sort of sauce or gravy to accompany it. We ended up using just the brown mustard, which was good I guess. Helped with the dryness.

The accompaniment was a fresh pasta salad. It was hard to stop tossing stuff in. I think we finally settled on grilled kielbasa, ham, hard-boiled egg, mushrooms, spinach (from my garden, no less), green pepper, tomatoes, and colby jack and mozzarella cheese. Topped it with a vinegarette of canola oil (remember, I'm out of olive oil), garlic, parsley, basil, red wine vinegar and cider vinegar. We used to make this stuff out of a box, I think it was "Suddenly Salad". That stuff is crap compared to my salad. And these were all leftovers, so it was quite economical too.

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Spam Tactics

In my Exim logs this morning I noticed a new tactic spammers have started using.

2006-06-14 14:19:24 SMTP protocol violation: synchronization error (next input sent too soon: pipelining was not advertised): rejected "To: tensai@joanna.zmonkey.org" H=(tensai) [202.1.206.213] next input="..."

I get these every now and again because I don't support pipelining and I have a 4 second delay on my SMTP greeting, but that's not what I'm showing you. The curious part is "H=(tensai)". For quite a while spammers have been using a strange technique of passing a HELO name of the host they connect to. The logic of that really is beyond me, but I really don't care since the way to defeat it is easy. Now they've mutated and the solution to this one is just as simple:

acl_check_rcpt:
  ...
  drop    message = but that's my name
          condition = ${if eq {$sender_helo_name}{$local_part} {yes}{no}}

That config will drop any message where the sender identifies itself as one of my users. There's a small danger that some server's name will actually have the same name as me, but I'm kinda doubtful. Most hosts will use fully qualified names, I would think.

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Barracuda Snafu

I was welcomed to work this morning by a wonderful little failure. Our experience was pretty much like the story explains, only worse. After our two clusters built up a queue of 42,000 and 46,000 messages, we got the new antivirus definition installed. For one system that has antivirus on the back-end mail server, we disabled AV scanning completely and that sped things up drastically. Still, considering that it had to handle its normally load and the backlog it took 4 hours to clear completely out. The other system took a good 7. "Service was fully operational about two hours later", my eye.

Sounds like fun, no? The only thing that makes it even better is that they did the same thing to us yesterday through some new feature they pushed out. Apparently it does a checksum on images and then looks that up in DNS. Sounds like a pretty good tactic, but something about it overwhelmed the system with DNS lookups.

Wish me luck for whatever bug I get to fight tomorrow.

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Cheese Stuffed Jalapenos

A friend of mine described this delectably spicy dish. I started with neufchatel cheese which we had sitting around in the fridge. I mixed in a bit of garlic powder (garlic salt is evil!) and dried chopped onion. I think I tossed in a pinch of kosher salt as well. Mixed that around real good. It was pretty good by itself. I'm considering making a sandwich with the leftovers.

The hard part was getting the guts out of the peppers. I wanted to stuff them whole, rather than in halves as I saw a few recipes call for. The trick is to split them just enough to cut to dig the innards out. I used a combination of a paring knife and a small spoon.

Originally I figured I would secure the pepper together with a toothpick but it turned out the cheese made a great glue and the toothpick was unnecessary. I grilled them over medium heat for 5-7 minutes rotating every once in a while.

The first bite I had was spicy. I modified my eating pattern to get a bigger bite of cheese and that balanced it out. Still, not for the faint of heart.

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Strawberry Cheesecake

Following the Unified Theory of Cheesecake (don't forget the crust), I put together a nice treat yesterday. Actually it was my birthday cake. It was based off 16oz of cream cheese and I put it in a 9 inch round pie pan. I really like the idea of using a spring form pan, but alas I have no such item in my house.

The only complication was that I forgot to start until way too late. We cut the cake after it had been in the fridge for only 3 hours. It was cool throughout and I didn't notice any problems. It cut just fine and the slices came free of the pan in one beautiful piece.

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Disaster!

Building on my previous smoking experience I decided my next step would be a little chicken. Eventually I'll move on to ribs, boston butt, etc., but I figured chicken would be pretty simple and I know how chicken should taste.

First I brined the chicken with some salt (duh!), sugar and cayenne pepper for an hour. I dried the chicken with a paper towel and sprinkled liberally with my favorite rub. I didn't have a lot of time since I started late, so I only let it sit for an hour. Boy did it smell good when I pulled it out.

And that's pretty much where that story ends and the depressing one starts. The smoker caught on fire. Luckily I had my fire extinguisher on hand so it didn't turn into anything. Here's what I've learned.

  • Wood chips should be soaked. I've heard of that, and in fact it's what I did for the salmon, but I didn't see anywhere that it was required or even strongly encouraged so I figured I'd experiment a bit. Lesson learned, it doesn't work.
  • Fire extinguisher good, cardy-board bad. I'm going to be on the watch for something non-flammable to put my next smoker in. I still want to do the terra cotta, but I've more or less given up hope of finding a lid.
  • Don't leave it unattended. I actually had stepped into the kitched to grab the fire extinguisher when the fire started. I wasn't gone long which was good, but I should have been all ready before I started.
  • No smokers on the table. It left a funky film, which was easily cleaned up, but I think my wife would have killed me if I had ruined the table.

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Spying

A great article about why President Bush's warrantless spying program, and the recently revealed phone record database, are a bad idea. I'm all for catching terrorists but let's not through out the baby (democracy) with the bath water (murderers). cue cliched use of Jefferson quote about trading freedom for security. What really ticks me off the most is when the Whitehouse whines about how we've let "the enemy" know about this weapon. Well excuse me, but I thought we lived in an open society here. And in other news, open source programmers are worried sick about Microsoft reading their code, possibly finding bugs. Duh, that's just part of the deal. The idea is there are more of us working on solutions than there are of them breaking stuff. Introducing heinous policies like these is like saving a tree from a diseased branch by chopping it down. Yeah, that's bound to work out well.

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