Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Controlling Flash

Many of you kids may not remember The Big Cookie Scare about 10+ years ago. This was back before The Interwebs, when people sometimes called it the World Wide Web (so that's what "www" stands for!). The browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft were in full swing, and there was an epidemic of sites using these scary things called cookies. As far as a lot of people knew, there was no good that could come from cookies. I knew people who seriously thought that cookies were used as trojan horses, and that you could get viruses from them. I even worked for one of these people for two months, before finding myself a new job. Four months after I left, his company went out of business. Are we surprised?

Most people still don't know what browser cookies are, but the scare has lessened. Quite honestly, I think people just found new things to worry themselves about, especially when the browsers started introducing so-called "privacy controls". Now people can delete their cookies, block them from ever appearing on their computer in the first place, even edit them if they feel like it. The Intertubes are stuffed with rainbows and goodness. Or so we thought.

The cookie scare is back. People are suddenly finding out that this piece of goodness that Macromedia (and now Adobe, since the merger) has the ability to install cookies on your computer that your browser has no control over. Even worse, it's actually possible to have Flash install a cookie on your computer without you knowing that Flash is even running on a site. And if you delete a browser cookie, some sites keep a backup in the Flash cookie jar. Oh no! The tragedy! Webmasters have turned evil again!

I was already laughing. First of all, there's not much to worry about. Cookies are largely used as browser-side configuration to help maintain a consistent user experience, and as a mechanism to display ads to you that you actually care about, based on the types of sites you look at. This is little to worry about unless you're offended by content providers trying to use advertising to help pay for their employees and bandwidth, or you look at naughty sites while your boss/spouse/parents/etc are away. Shame on you.

But there are other reasons why I'm not worried. Thanks to a buddy of mine, I installed Flashblock a while back, which is a Firefox plug-in that keeps Flash files from loading unless you explicitly allow them to. I didn't initially install this because of some deep-seeded vendetta against Flash. It turns out that when Firefox 3 came out, certain Flash content would cause mplayer and Rhythmbox to stop working until I closed my browser. Since some sneaky sites think it's okay to automatically play videos when you open them, and certain friends have deluded themselves into thinking that I'm okay with this, I had to restart Firefox a lot.

Now that I'm running Flashblock, I don't get tricked into watching lame YouTube videos, and nobody is setting Flash cookies behind my back. But what if I was worried about cookies that were set before I installed Flashblock? Adobe's got you covered. They have on their site a Settings Manager for Flash cookies. It allows you to set rules and limits, and delete cookies that already exist on your computer.

So stop worrying about Flash cookies. Actually, stop worrying about cookies in general, you baby. If you're really paranoid, there are much, much worse things in the world to be worried about. Big brother's got plenty of other ways to keep tabs on you, and he probably thinks that cookies are an inefficient method anyway.

Hey, you've got something on your face. No, the other side. Up... up... yeah--yeah, you've got it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cascabel Pork Tenderloin

I've been wanting to make this for a while, but cascabel chiles are amazingly hard to find in Salt Lake. The closest that I've come is some company that labels their guajillos as cascabels. It's tragic. I finally ordered some off of Amazon, and I'm ready to experiment.

I had three components that I needed: a pork tenderloin, a dry rub to put on the tenderloin before cooking it, and a sauce to put on the tenderloin after cooking it. I also needed some sides to go with the pork. They weren't as important, and unfortunately I think they suffered a little because of it. But I think they could be brought up to par. Let's get those out of the way first.

I needed some veg. I wanted something quick and simple. I decided to go with a medley of red bell pepper, zucchini and orange cauliflower (white will work just fine too, though). About a cup of each, cut into 3/4-inch pieces. I dropped these onto a sheet of foil, with some salt, oil, and Worcestershire sauce. This was folded up and set aside for later.

Next up, I needed some starch. Fortunately, I found some purple potatoes at the local grocery store. Have you ever had purple potatoes? They're so awesome. If you can't find them, you can use red potatoes. Put them in a zip-top bag with some oil and salt, toss them around, and when we're ready we'll toss them on the grill. Take them out of the bag first, though.

Next up, we need to get some sauce going. And for the sauce, we need a red bell pepper. And it needs to be roasted. Fire up the grill and put the pepper on it. Keep turning it every couple of minutes until the outside is nice and charred. Then put it in a bowl and cover it for a couple of minutes. That'll make them sweat, and the skin will peel right off.

Don't wash the skin off. You've worked hard (kind of) to get all that roasted flavor, and the last thing you want to do is wash it all off. Get the seeds out and set it aside. You'll need it in a moment, though. Add a bit of oil and salt, and a cup of mirepoix to a sauce pan over medium-high and get it nice and caramelized. Add a cup and a half of chicken broth to cool down the pan a little and drop it to medium-low. Add the roasted red bell pepper, a quarter cup of brown sugar, a canned chipotle, and four dried cascabel chiles (seeds removed). Let it simmer for a while. After about ten minutes, take an immersion blender to it, and get everything all nice and broken up. Let it sit on low until it reduces down into a nice, saucy consistency.

While that's happening, we need to get a dry rub together for the pork. Toss the following into a coffee grinder:

1 guajillo chile (dried)
1 New Mexico chile (dried)
1 chipotle chile (dried)
3 cascabel chiles (dried)
1/2 tsp minced garlic (dried)
1/2 tsp whole coriander seed
1/2 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp onion flakes
1 tsp mixed peppercorns

Now it's time to get down to business. First, toss the potatoes and the veg pouch on the grill. The veg pouch can go on an upper rack if you have one. If you have a gas grill, the heat should be on low. Then oil up the tenderloin, salt it, and rub it down with the spices. Toss it on the grill.

Isn't that a beautiful thing? You'll be wanting to cook the pork until it's somewhere around 155F or so. Then pull it and let it rest for a few minutes; it'll coast the rest of the way to doneness. While it's resting, you're going to toss together some mashed potatoes. The potatoes went on the grill before the pork, and with any luck should finish about the same time. You know the drill: a skewer should go in with a little resistance, but not much. Add them to a bowl with a quarter to a half cup of whole milk or cream, and a couple of tablespoons of the sauce, and mash 'em on up.

The veg steamed itself in the foil pouch, and is already ready to serve as is. I laid down a bed of purple mashers, laid a few slices of pork across the middle, sauced 'em, and added some veg around the side.

Thoughts: the spice rub was perfect. The leftover pork is sliced and in the fridge, and I can't help myself from snacking on the cold slices. The sauce was good, but mine had two chipotles in it and was way too hot. Drop it a little, and you're left with a nice, sweet chile-based sauce that still has some decent heat.

My potatoes were a little overcooked, but they tasted awesome otherwise. But I may have to come up with something a little better the next time around. Maybe something a little more garlicky and buttery.

The veg needed a lot of help. The red bell peppers were dead on perfect, but the zucchini and cauliflower were definitely lacking in flavor. I think this might be partially because they're pretty bland as it is. Something like Red, Purple and Bacon would be great. I just wanted to pull this all together on the grill. And I know this is going to sound crazy, but I was trying to avoid bacon on this one. Clearly, avoiding bacon leads only to disaster.

The plate that you see in the photo is pretty generously-portioned. But before you judge me, I should tell you that this was actually put together for me and my wife. We have plenty of leftovers, for meals to come. And tasty leftovers at that. I think that if you up the veggies a little, you could probably serve four to six people with this.