Home Grant


Food fanatic, IT professional, Cloud Computing Expert, Software Developer and Travel fan.


Sunday, 19 February 2012 14:53

Moussaka recipe is up

After a great deal of time I've put the Moussaka recipe up. The negative to posting photos of really nice meals is that it's inevitable that someone will want the recipe. An interesting story though - I lost my Moussaka recipe. So the one I just posted is a work in progress that's a result of taking some other online Moussaka recipes and twisting them to match my memory. I'm sure I'll have to modify it as time goes on to get it tasting the way I originally had it. However, for now this one is pretty good. 

In the future I'll be playing with pealing the Eggplant, breading and baking it. Primarily because the part of the Moussaka my kids like the least is the Eggplant skin. I'll also be playing with the spices, potatoes and wine. I've given hints about the Bechamel and I'll be playing with that more to decide exactly how I want it. I've folded in beaten egg whites and added grated cheese to it for added bulk and have liked the results. 

Continue to my Moussaka Recipe.

Sunday, 12 February 2012 22:26

Chimichangas Smothered in Heavy Cream

La Raza a small taqueria near Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood Washington that makes cream smothered Chimichanga. Let me just say that I'm aware that Chimichangas are no more Mexican than French toast is French. However, there's something very nice about deep fried tortilla with a heavy dose of cream. I think you could deep fry a Taco Bell burrito and smother it in cream and it would be edible (about the only way). Even though I like going to La Raza to pick up a Chimi at lunch I don't always like paying $10 per meal. Although the Chimichanga is large enough to share with someone else I don't always have someone there to share with.

So instead of spending $20 to take my family out for Chimichangas we make them ourselves. For $6.00 I made 7 Cream smothered Chimichangas or roughly 85 cents each. I get my 40% heavy cream from Cash and Carry, tortillas from anywhere, chicken on sale and the rice is dirt cheap no matter what. 

Loose instructions for Chimichangas. There's no real recipe because it's largely done by taste.


  • Roast 2 cloves of garlic and two Jalapenos on a comal
  • Combine garlic and peppers in a food processor with a bit of salt to make a paste
  • Add half lb of tomatoes and pulse
  • Heat a little oil in a dutch oven and when hot add 1 cup of medium grain rice and cook 5 minutes
  • Add tomato salsa from food processor and cook for 5 minutes
  • Add 3/4 cup of water or broth and place in oven for 25 minutes

Everything else

  • Grill small strips of chicken breast pieces
  • Pour 2 cups of heavy cream in fry pan on medium heat
  • Add enough sour cream to thicken
  • Add enough sugar to sweeten
  • Combine refried beans on large tortilla with rice, chicken and shredded cheese and close with toothpicks
  • Fry in deep fryer at 350 degrees until brown, turn over and repeat
  • Place Chimichanga on plate and pour cream over
  • Sprinkle paprika over cream

That's it really. Making the rice is the most work. If you double the rice recipe you can make these several times in a row or just eat the rice. For me this recipe made about 7 Chimichangas.




Note: Updated to work with XCP 1.5b/1.6

Install Type

  • Interactive
  • Network boot
  • Commandline
  • Paravirtualized


  • XCP/Xenserver
  • Access to Internet
  • Working DHCP server
  • Working DNS name resolution


This tutorial was written in the spirit of my CentOS 6 VM (64 bit) automated installation on XCP  howto. In that tutorial I do an automated network installation of CentOS 6. This has proven very popular since you can't install a paravirtualized domain using a physical install media. This has been a very nice installation howto because you don't have to download any install CD/DVDs and you could create VMs using nothing more than a commandline login. It's also very nice because it can be mirrored locally if you're doing a bunch of them just by rsyncing a CentOS mirror locally then downloading my files and editing them.

There became a need to do the same thing using OpenSuse thus this tutorial.  

Sunday, 05 February 2012 15:34

Nine hour smoked Brisket


Seattle temperatures nearly reached 60 degrees yesterday so I felt it time to fire up the smoker red hot and burn the living organic matter from it that accumulated during the wet winter. Once the inside was nice and clean and my bricks had lost their green fungus overtones I loaded the offset chamber with mesquite lump charcoal and brought the temp to 250. Once the temp

 had stabilized I loaded it with a heavily rubbed point beef brisket and smoked it with hickory fairly heavy for about 4 hrs at between 250-225 degrees which is longer than I usually do but I felt adventurous. To be honest after this winter I think I just missed the smell of the smoker running in the back yard. The Brisket was then double wrapped and put in the oven at 225. I probably should have pulled it at 8 hrs but it still turned out really great. The fat cap was mostly gone, the texture like melted butter and after resting very little juices ran off.  It has a great layer of bark and the flavor nice and smokey.

The photo to the right is cut against the grain. You can see the substantial bark and the looseness of the muscle fiber.

Friday, 03 February 2012 22:53

Sweet Potato Smackdown!

I've been wanting to discus the venerable sweet potato for quite a while. Having read Chilies to Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave to the World and History of Food I've been curious about the confusion surrounding sweet potatoes. I've also wanted to learn a bit more about them and see if there were difference between the available varieties.

In the last 100 years there's been a trend to shrink the genetic biodiversity of our food resulting in less choice. After growing tomatoes and many herbs I have become well aware that you grow food so you can have the right food, not necessarily to save money. It is cheaper to grow your own but if you factor in your labor a garden you probably costs you twice as much as just buying the food but the advantage is better quality and more choice. There are paste tomatoes, slicing tomatoes and sauce tomatoes depending on your needs. There are many different varieties of mint (chocolate mint is very nice), basil and other herbs. You can grow pumpkins for Halloween and pumpkins to eat (not the same thing, see my previous articles on pumpkins). However, we're nearing a disaster of epidemic proportions. Not only are we engineering seeds that can't produce more seeds and then patenting them so other people can't grow food without paying for the seeds but the plants can't survive without us making them subject to our commercial interests. There are seed banks trying to combat this but that will only allow us to plant these various crops, it won't give anyone the incentive to do it.

We are narrowing our biodiversity for commercial profit. It's just easier to grow and ship two types of tomatoes than 10. Likewise it's easier to provide one type of basil, one type of mint, one type of sage etc... Another reason may be that people are just further removed from their food than they once were so we don't pay attention to the different types of foods we have available. If you've never studied sweet potatoes you may think there's only one type – labeled Sweet Potatoes in the store. In fact there are over 6,500 varieties of sweet potatoes. Obviously we can't try them all so I focused on the three varieties commonly available in super markets – Beauregard, Garnet and Jersey. I've seen the Jewel variety in stores too on occasion but they weren't available for this comparison so I may do a follow up when I can find some.

I tested three varieties cooked in 4 different ways and noted the difference. Before you skip the rest of the article because you think they're all the same you might want to reconsider. Read the article after the jump.

Saturday, 28 January 2012 00:59

Boniatillo - Sweet Potatoes for Dessert!

In the U.S. desserts usually fall under the categories of cake, pie or ice cream. I'm sure there are desserts that don't belong in these categories but they're the exception, not the rule. This dessert is a breath of fresh air and not (that) bad for you either. At least it has something in it besides sugar that your body can use including Vitamin A. It may seem strange to use a vegetable for dessert but we do it all the time when we make Pumpkin Pie (or Sweet Potato pie in the south). And what better than to use a tuber that purees nicely and is already reasonably sweet.

Boniatillo is a Latin American dessert described as a Cuban tropical sweet potato pudding. The Cuban version uses the white fleshed Boniato sweet potato. This rendition uses the more commonly available Jewel or Beauregard Sweet Potato most often mislabeled as Yam in American grocery stores. It also infuses the sugar syrup with lemon, orange and cinnamon creating a nice fruity sweet sensation along with pleasant Sweet Potato overtones. To add richness butter and egg yolks are beaten into it then whipped egg whites are fluffed and folded with the pudding to give it body. A sprinkle of cinnamon and a little cream and you have a nice tropical dessert pudding.

 Link to the Recipe: Boniatillo

Thursday, 26 January 2012 22:40

Bus Maintainance

There are times we get ourselves into situations where we're giving every ounce of our strength to those we're taking care of. This to us is a selfless act and we can't ever imagine doing anything else. We eventually get worn down to the point that we just can't go on and we eventually fail. This is not an uncommon occurance and usually happens to those single parents who have the world on their shoulders or maybe the "unevenly yoked" people who care not only for the children but the other adult in the relationship. We may even extend this situation to total strangers who need help, co-workers, people from church etc.

We help until we've nearly destroyed ourselves because if we were to do anything for us it would be selfish which goes against our very nature.  Or would it? That's where bus maintenance comes in. 

Bus Maintenance

Let's assume for a moment that you live on the edge of death valley and you own a bus. You make your living by carrying passengers from one side of the valley to the other in this bus. You care a great deal about your passengers and you'd do anything for them. In order to keep them safe you need to take good care of your bus because if you neglect it at all you and your passengers could end up stranded in the middle of the desert and people could get hurt or worse. 

Doing regular maintenance on the bus is a necessity to keeping those who you care about safe. Sometimes it's hard to put money into it because it's YOUR bus and it feels a little selfish. It seems like you're only thinking of your own possessions so buying parts and spending time tuning it seems a little self serving. However, you have to keep reminding yourself that if your bus breaks down people could get hurt so you keep it in as good a shape as you can.

The bus is you

This bus is YOU. You have to take care of yourself or the people who are counting on you will get stranded in the middle of the desert. YOU can't fail, it's not an option. The more people who rely on you the more you have to maintain your bus. 

What does maintaining your bus really mean?

Maintaining your bus means different things to different people. What does maintaining your bus really mean?. I personally have a desire for deep thought so I need to spend a certain amount of my time every week surrounded by people with like minds. This recharges me. For you it may be that you need to go shopping or go on a date or just get your nails done. It all depends on who you are and what you need to recharge but the point is if you don't do it you're bus will at some point break down.

Spending a little time on yourself is a necessary thing in order to be able to continue taking care of those who need you.

Saturday, 21 January 2012 22:29

the Man, the Myth, the Legend traffic progress

Last August I decided to get serious about SEO/SEF and getting rid of bottlenecks in my site. A fast site gets indexed and just now in January am I getting the site close to what I want it to do. The gallery's are still a mess and I have some other issues I need to deal with (disqus comments still don't attach to the old articles) but I'm working on them. The Disqus problem will get taken care of in the coming weeks. The Galleries I'm not sure what I'll do about. I'd really like to move away from embedded Gallery2 but haven't found a Joomla gallery that was anything more than a lightbox showing photos in a folder. I really don't think that will work for 6000 photos. 

Anyway here's the results of the work I've been putting into this. Let it be known that it took four years to get to my first million hits. Now I'm doing 200k - 250k per month. 


Friday, 20 January 2012 17:13

Point and Shoot Photography

I've always been a proponent of learning as much as you can about a subject before running off and buying more equipment and photography is no different. A lot of times people think they can't take great photos without having great equipment but I've found that you can do a great deal by KNOWING what you're doing first. Years ago when I skated we'd go to Woolworth's and buy a pair of Roller Derby Phantoms to which we'd replace the liner with a Reidel or Rollerblade version, replace the wheels and bearings then tear up the track. Whomever just got owned would always come up and ask what we were skating on which we'd respond with "Roller Derby Phantoms, I got them from Woolworths for $39". Perhaps this caused a few people to give up on their dreams and live out their days serving 7 layer burritos at Taco Bell if you believe in the Butterfly Effect - I don't know. Anyway my philosophy is this.

"Be as good as you can with what you have and only replace it when IT becomes the limitation"

I live this with my photography. Sure a DSLR will take better photos than a point and shoot, nobody's arguing that. However, if you can't aim a point and shoot at a subject and make art out of it then it's doubtful that something as complex as a DSLR will help you any. Most point and shoot cameras will take decent photos within context. That context usually has to do with lighting and depth of field. With a small sensor they just can't take in enough light so anything over about 200 ISO they're done. They also have a very wide depth of field and the recent trend of adding wide angle lenses to them has made this worse. It's nearly impossible to do those very dramatic narrow depth of field closeups using a point and shoot camera with a wide angle lens. Other issues they have depend on the make of the camera but I'll list the general ones and attack them one at a time

  1. Noise at any ISO above base
  2. Limited zoom
  3. Purple fringing
  4. Inaccurate white balance
  5. Color blowout
  6. Overexposure

1. Noise: Because of their small sensors they struggle at taking photos in low light conditions so don't. That's right, just don't do it. If you have to then manually set your ISO as low as it will go then place the camera on a tripod and fire the shutter using a timer. My Jobi Gorillapod has allowed me to capture some great nighttime shots because it will stick to about anything. At least two of the shots in the gallery below would not have been possible without it. 

2. Limited Zoom: get closer or take the cleanest shot possible and crop. That's really what it comes down to. A zoom provides optical magnification which your point and shoot may not have. Optical is always better than taking a large photo and cropping it because the magnification is being done in the lens thus leaving all your pixels to still take in light. If you take a photo and crop it to simulate a 4x zoom with a 10 MP photo you'll end up with a 2.5 MP photo that's not very sharp. This is the limitation so you'll have to live with it.

Purple Fringing

3. Color Fringing: There's not a lot you can do besides avoiding the types of photos where it's prevalent ie. leaves backed by sky. The photo to the right shows fringing around the leaves.



4. Inaccurate White Balance: Light metering in point and shoot cameras leaves a lot to be desired and has to do with the software in the camera more than anything else so two cameras using the same sensor may not be equal in this regard. There's a simple solution that most cameras allow. Take the whitest piece of paper you can find and hold that in front of the image you're wanting to photograph and select "Evaluate White Balance" in your settings. Even cheap point and shoot cameras usually have this. This will tell the camera to change settings so the sheet of paper is considered white. This works really really well and I can't recommend it enough. This is especially useful for taking indoor shots under artificial lights because they're all different. I recommend this setting over changing to the pre-configured Tungsten, Fluorescent or other settings. Just remember to change it back when you're move to a new lighting condition. You may even do this several times during shooting to let it recalculate. 



5. Color Blowout: What I mean by this is some cameras prefer certain colors over others. This is a designed in feature of the camera manufacturer to satisfy the point and shoot market. Manufacturers of cameras designed for the common non-photographer folks like to make cameras that output bright over-sharpened photos with punchy colors because this is what consumers want. However, seasoned photographers know this isn't a good base to start your post processing with. It's better to have an image closer to raw so you can do the processing yourself. 

Just keep this in mind when you take photos. The photo of a rose to the right was taken by my Canon S90 which is one of the best point and shoot cameras you can but. The rose is really peach colored so you can see how bad the camera mangled it.


Over exposure

6. Overexposure: This is a real problem on a point and shoot because their sensors are so small and have very limited dynamic range. If your camera has auto-exposure bracketing (not likely) then turn it on. This takes three photos every time you press the shutter button at different exposures. This will allow you to choose the right one later or possibly even combine them in HDR software to make one High Dynamic Range image. If your camera doesn't have auto-exposure bracketing you might want to see if you can assign exposure settings to a hot button (ie. on Canon it's the print button) so you can take a photo, adjust exposure and take another quickly.  In more cases than not you'll be adjusting down and not up. I take most of my point and shoot photos at -2/3 exposure. Experiment and take lots of photos with different settings to see what works. You can always decide later what to keep.


With all of that in mind you can take decent photos with your point and shoot. I've had photos published in magazines that were taken with a 3.2 MP point and shoot camera with a 2x zoom. It IS possible. 

Why not just go to a DSLR?

I still carry around a point and shoot camera although a higher end one - Canon S90 because I can get it in my pocket. A camera that I have on me is a camera I'll take photos with. A bulky DSLR left at home will never get used. I will probably be replacing the S90 with an S100 or doing more research on the Canon G1X even though it pushes my envelope of what I want to carry around.

The moral of the story is learn how to use all the features of your camera and don't be afraid to experiment. The photo at the beginning of this article was taken using the gorillapod, a two second shutter and the exposure on the pre-configured Fireworks setting. 

 Point and Shoot Photo Gallery: click for lightbox




Thursday, 19 January 2012 01:38

Don't stop learning in cooking or photography

I was working on putting my Moussaka recipe back up on the new site and took one look at the photo I had on file for it and knew I couldn't do it. It's amazing how much of a difference just knowing a bit about what you're doing makes in many things. In this case it's both cooking and photography. My current camera is a bit better than my old one in that it takes better low light photos. However because of the wide angle lens it has a wider depth of field making it hard to get those really dramatic close-up images with the foreground and the background blurred out. However, how I took the new Moussaka photo I could have taken with the old camera too. I also don't have any more of a food photography studio than I ever did. One hundred percent of the difference between the two photos below is knowledge and nothing more. I'm still using a point and shoot camera, I'm still taking photos under fluorescent lights, I'm still using a couple of books and a $3.99 tripod from an outlet store, and I still don't have any flash, props, umbrellas or any of that jazz. So look at the photos below and see the difference. If you're one to run out and buy better equipment because you want to take great photos you may want to just get really good with what you have first THEN go buy new gear. 










Obviously the plate is different. I bought the one on the right for $6.99 for four at TJ-Maxx. The ones on the left cost the same per plate a an Import store. The recipe is of course different and I spent more time making the Bechamel sauce thicker (whipped egg whites then folded them in) but the real difference is lighting, subtle backgrounds and matching up colors with dramatic patterns lacking in color. You don't have to spent a lot on the background either. I layed a group of fake grapes and grape leaves back there and you can see something but it doesn't draw attention. It has a presence but doesn't introduce itself to you. The photo on the left is bland and plain. I'm too zoomed out, the food looks sad, the plate looks empty and alone. It's just blah.