Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Note to Self:

If you insert a picture into an ordered list, Blogspot truncates it on the right (but it doesn't show up that way in the preview).

In a list, set img width to 97%. Grrrr.

Cooking Ribs on a Gas Grill

I say “cooking,” because it’s not really barbecuing. We have a gas grill that, had I read all about it first, we probably wouldn’t have. I always thought grills had four great advantages over oven-range combos: 1) exceptionally drippy messes stay outside, and you can just burn it off, 2) heat stays outside in summer 3) you can keep a grill hot for a long time with relatively little fuel, and 4) you can get some flavors unmatched by other cooking methods.

  1. Drippy messes. This grill’s user’s guide states that it is not designed for the burn-off cleaning method. Instead, you should let the grill cool somewhat and then use a wire brush while the grill is still warm. Let’s try that. Um, yeh, spreads the grease around real well—pretty swirly patterns—but it sure doesn’t get anything clean. I can just imagine the discussion that occurred between the marketing folks and the tech writer forced to write that drivel.

  2. Heat the outside, not the kitchen. Most instructions for doing ribs on a gas grill include either par-boiling, par-baking, or crocking them first. What’s the point, especially with par-boiling and crocking? Where’s the spice rub that puts all the lovely flavor into ribs?

  3. Keep the grill hot without a lot of additional fuel. Not only does our grill have no good way to install lava rocks for heat retention; the user’s guide expressly states that if you use them you void your warranty! Eh? I didn’t know there was such a grill, or I surely would’ve checked the guide before not buying!

  4. BBQ flavor. There’s no way to get smoke beneath the food, so you have to hope it gets there sideways from a smoke box that’s about six inches above the flame. Hmmmm.

Okay, tell me I need to buy a smoker. For one kind of food. I don’t think so. Having once had a great long-term relationship with a Weber Kettle and Kingsford, I guess I just don’t “get” gas grills. I’m actually starting to lose my aversion to having a charcoal grill on a deck. Am I crazy? Meanwhile, I guess instead of great ribs, I’ll just have to settle for pretty good ribs.

Here’s the sketch; ask if you want more detail.

  1. Remove the membrane from the concave side of the ribs. It’s a barrier to some of the flavors you want to add to the meat.

  2. Rub the ribs with a dry rub. It’s called a “rub,” not a “sprinkle,” so spend a little time and make sure all the surfaces are coated: rub it in there. This is a great one, http://www.bbqsearch.com/search/26655.shtm, although I usually halve the salt so I can taste the other spices. The cayenne and paprika in the chili powder give the ribs their deep red color.

  3. Let the ribs come up to room temperature for about two hours. If the sight of meat on a room temp counter bothers you, tent it with foil.

  4. Fire up the grill to about 225° F (107° C). Use the burners on one side of the grill only.

  5. Cut the racks to fit on a rib rack. Don’t have one? You can get one here, and, yes, it really makes a difference http://www.cookware.com/Grillpro-41614-GRL1015.html.

  6. Half fill a pan with water. This will go on the grill to help keep moisture in the ribs.

  7. Put the water pan on the flame side of the grill.

  8. Put the ribs on the cool side of the grill.

  9. Close the cover and sit back for at least 4 hours, 6 if you can wait that long; check the water occasionally and add more if necessary. Water is also a good indicator of grill temperature. If the water is forming bubbles at the bottom of the pan and generating steam, you’re in the right range; if you have a rolling boil, dial the heat down.

  10. About ten to twenty minutes before removing the ribs from the grill, brush them with your favorite sauce. I’ve become partial to Sweet Baby Ray’s.

(I couldn’t wait to eat long enough to take a picture of the finished product.)

If you want baked potatoes, allow an hour and a half to an hour and three quarters because of the low grill temperature.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Computer Failure

I had planned to skip Vista and go directly from XP to Windows 7. Wouldn’t you just know that fate would intervene.

I knew my computer was starting to fail. CHKDSK gave the “volume is dirty” notice; so there’s a new hard drive on order. Then, the dread “CPU Fan Failed.” Ack! Shut that thing down right now! And spend half a day at brick-and-mortar stores looking for a replacement fan, which, of course turned out to be a manufacturer’s special part.

The machine is a Dell. Long story short: I was very excited when I bought it; paid a lot of money for memory and power; have long come to the conclusion that I won’t buy another Dell for a host of reasons including the component failures and the need, within the first two months, to restore the system to its original state (and, of course, reload all my software again). It is the only machine I’ve ever owned that had any major component failure. An optical drive was the first to go (within the first year). Now the fan and the hard drive.

So, on Sunday I had to answer this question: do I order the fan and wait several days for it to arrive, or do we dredge up a Vista machine (an Acer Aspire) that’s been lying around for a year or so in order to get up and running right away? Yeah, it’ll be faster to just get that machine running…heh, heh.

Never has the process of setting up a new computer been so painful. It has been two full days, and I still don’t have all my software loaded. Not to mention data files. I made an image of the Dell shortly before the fan died, so I can browse the image to restore my data files. Or at least, I could if the image management software were Vista compatible. Yeah. I can see the image, but I can’t play with it. The trouble is, all the Plan Bs we come up with involve waiting. Fortunately, my partner also runs the imaging software and has graciously offered to extract all my files from the image to another external drive, and that will probably happen this evening.

Then, I’ll be able to restore my data files, including software application downloads. And only then will I be able to find out the hard way 1) which of those applications are not Vista compatible and 2) which were purchased as upgrades requiring a full version. Although I still have all the full versions for which I purchased upgrades, so I could theoretically load the full version and then the upgrade, what are the chances that the full versions, several years old, are Vista compatible? Fun! At least I was able to load Office 2007. And I had backed up my main pst (Outlook) file separately, so that’s running now. Some consolation.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Being unemployed with no access to your resume, personal reference files, application history, etc. is frustrating. Note to self: put all job search information on a USB flash drive, the way you used to do.

It’s been a painful few days that seem to have lasted for weeks. But it could be worse: I could be using Vista and a Dell.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Baltimore: Day Four

While we were planning this trip, I looked for submarines in the area (you’re welcome, sweety) and found the Torsk, a WWII tin can moored in the inner harbor. It has the distinction of having fired the last torpedo of the war. So Saturday morning was sub time. I’m pretty sure that’s not the regulation paint job on her bow:

But that was not the only fearsome ship in the water on this day: it seems there was some sort of pirate convention in town:

We ambled around enjoying the sights until lunch time; for me this was the second picture perfect day at the harbor.

We went to the well-known Phillips Seafood right on the harbor for lunch and took our time just enjoying the moment. I decided to have just appetizers. Mussels and scallops, and what a contrast. The scallops were a daily special that sounded much better than it turned out to be. A handful of bay scallops (think mini-marshmallows for size) and some little chunks of under-ripe mango, not prepared in any way other than having been cut up. But served in an oh- so-chic martini glass. Yyyyyeah, okay. The mussels, however, were utterly delectable in their Thai chili sauce with a coconut milk base. Should’ve just had two orders of those!

As we finished, we thought we had about two hours to stroll around the harbor before we had to leave for the airport. Just for shucks and grins, I thought I’d check the flight time on our tickets. Aaaaaaaaaah! We have to leave right now! Someone mistook arrival time for departure time! It cut our day pretty short, but at least we weren’t going to miss the plane!

Baltimore: Day Three

Slept in and grabbed a cup of Starbucks for breakfast in the hotel lobby. We had intended to take the MARC train from the airport to D.C., so we asked the concierge about the hotel shuttle to the airport. The next one wouldn’t come for over half an hour. Not wanting to wait, we decided to drive. Got to town, parked, and headed for the first order of business: lunch. We ate at the Capital Grille. Nice place; lots of dark wood, ornate gilded picture frames, very old Washingtony feeling, uncomfortable little wooden chairs, nice menu. I had the daily seafood special, which was a sandwich with chunks of crab. Very tasty.

Then we started the National Mall walk on the east end, the capitol. Then it started to get warm out. Very warm. I do not tolerate heat well at all. Less than halfway across the mall, I was ready to call it a day, but I hated to disappoint, so I bought a bunch of water and we kept going. Professional photographers have taken far better ones than most tourists, so I will refer you to the Web to find thousands of postcard-perfect pictures and share just this one:

Dinner was just a bite at Ruby Tuesday. Of course, being in Maryland, this RT’s menu included crab cakes. It’s the culture. Crab cakes are everywhere, and seem to be on the tip of the tongue at all times no matter the occasion. They are so important in the state that even McDonald’s sells them. What’s a trip to Maryland without a crab cake or two? They’re okay for a change, but not really my cup of tea. Seem to mask, rather than enhance, the flavor of the crab.

Baltimore: Day Two

The meeting was on Thursday, so I was on my own for the day. We were staying at the Hilton near the airport in Linthicum, so I drove into the city to spend some time with my friend Cheryl, whom I hadn’t seen in over fifteen years. It was as though she had never left. We fell right into a comfortable companionship and time just flew. We met at the inner harbor, a highly developed recreational area with much to see and do—and we really didn’t “do” any of it except have lunch at one of the myriad restaurants. The rest of the time we just walked and talked and had a wonderful time. The weather was perfect.

I arrived back at the hotel just in time to pick up my partner for dinner with the Northrop folks at a local brew house. One of the guys took it upon himself to order appetizers for the group. You know the guy--orders the boring cheese plate (come on—I’m from Wisconsin!) and cold cuts (do they taste better when they’re billed as “charcuterie?”). I had come for seafood, so I ordered a nice appetizer of mussels with garlic, chiles, and orange peel. Guess who was the most willing to share those with me? Actually, he was a really nice guy, just misguided in his appetizer selection. I was tempted to get another order as my entrĂ©e, but then I would have missed the perfection of what Americans call the “Cuban sandwich.” This one was made with Black Forest ham, Gruyere, and a luscious mango salsa. I highly recommend Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia, should you ever be out in that area.

I was driving back to the hotel, and as we approached a road sign pointing the way to D.C, I said, “Hey, want to go to D.C.?” To my nearly overwhelming astonishment, I thought I heard, “Sure, what the heck?” Was I hearing things? This is a person who usually doesn’t want to divert even a block out of the way to go to a Walgreens on the way home. D.C.? And, we were planning to go to D.C. the next day, anyway. Well, I took the exit and we drove down, saw some city lights, got the lay of the land (as much as you can get in an hour in the dark) and then headed back to the hotel.

Baltimore: Day One

My cooking partner had a meeting scheduled in Baltimore for the third Thursday in April. This would be the first opportunity, in over two years on the job, to meet the packaging manager face to face: the hiring process was done via phone. With one company paid airfare and hotel room, we decided I should tag along and we’d make a long weekend of it as sort of a birthday celebration.

I procrastinated so long in writing this, that I have to admit I’ve forgotten much of the food aspect of the trip. I do remember that I was very excited about the prospect of copious seafood, and that the reality did not live up to the image. Might have something to do with it being a tad early for crab season. Still, it was a great trip.

We arrived late Wednesday afternoon, starving. The hotel restaurant, Acqua, had closed, but they came up with a couple of fabulous burgers for us. Normally, I don’t like hotel restaurants, but this one was really good! Although I’d never heard of “Rockford” cheese before. We met with the group from Northrop for dinner there as well, where I had a nice piece of salmon. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I had to try the local brew, Clipper City, and I must say it was quite smooth.