Monthly Archives: October 2008

Recipe: Toffee Apple Muffins

I stole this from a Gordon Ramsey recipe on a Website, but with the sheer volume of Windfalls at this time of year, it’s a fun and tasty recipe to try out!

Makes 12

350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice
240g golden caster sugar
3 dessert apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
120ml vegetable oil
100ml milk
150g soft toffees, chopped into small pieces

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases. Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a large bowl and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the dry ingredients.

2 Add the chopped apples, eggs, oil and milk in the middle of the well, and fold the mixture together with a large metal spoon, using as few strokes as possible. Don’t worry if the mixture is lumpy, the trick behind the lightest muffins is not to overwork the batter.

3 Half-fill the paper cases with the mixture, then sprinkle over the chopped toffee pieces. Cover the toffee with the remaining batter, then bake for 25-30 minutes or until the muffins are well risen and golden.

Recipe: Eggy Bread

This is a great comfort food!  and is quick and easy to boot, even if it CAN be a little messy!  🙂

I like to use a plain Brioche loaf, but that’s because I’m not keen on the Sultana’s etc in it.

Mix 3-4 eggs, a splash of milk or cream, a dash of Vanilla Essence and a tablespoon of Caster sugar for each egg you use, and whisk vigorously!   Pour in to a flat receptacle with sides deep enough to let you dip in!

Heat a frying pan with a knob of butter (unsalted is best).

Take a roughly 1.5cm slice of the Brioche loaf, and dip it in the Egg Mixture on both sides, then using a fish slice suitable for use in a hot frying pan, transfer the soggy slice in to the frying pan, cooking gently so that it’s light brown on both sides.

As you serve it should look something like the above, with a nice soggy centre that tastes somewhat like custard and a lightly caremelised outside!


Technology: MSN Woes

I’m a fairly big MSN Windows Live Messenger user, but I’m starting to think that might change fairly soon.

I started to experience some annoyances with the current 8.5 version of WLM.  It started to “jump” to focus, if I was merrily doing something in another application like Word, Excel, or even Notepad, and someone sent me a message it’d pop up and change the input focus to the chat bar, so if I was (as I regularly tend to do) typing away without looking at the screen to see what was going on, I could mistakenly send whoever spoke to me some totally irellevant and boring drivel!

So, I tried upgrading to the beta of Version 9, in the hope that particular problem would be fixed, and sure enough it does seem to have gone away, only now WLM itself seems to be exceedingly flaky.

Quite regularly I can be on line and in mid-conversation with someone when my messages start to bounce back as undelivered.   Sometimes WLM decides to e-mail them to my recipient rather than using the Chat window.  For no apparent reason the chat service will sign out and refuse to sign in again, and according to the “Service Status” pages there’s no problem, and everything is running normally.

Anyway, I decided to uninstall the Beta of WLM 9, and go back to 8.5 which was reliable for the most part even if it was damned annoying, only to find that the bouncing messages and e-mailed chats aren’t limited to v9, it’s going on with v8.5 as well.

I assume it’s because MS are preparing the back-end for the rollout of v9, but I hope to god they get it all sorted out soon, It’s driving me mad!!

Technology: SPLUNK! Take the SH out of IT….

Yes, you read it correctly!That’s one of many clever tag lines used by Splunk’s Marketers!  And it’s not half as clever by far as the Application!

It’s another free product!  Amazingly, the basic version of Splunk is gratis!  and can be downloaded from

It’s at it’s most basic level a log crunching tool, but it can do so very much more!  It’s one of those concepts that seems really simple, but the mind boggles at the complexity behind it.

I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had to wade through hundreds of Mb’s of SYSLOG’s grepping (looking!) for a particular IP address or two, and thought to myself “there has to be an easier way than this!”  and there is!

I’ll have to explain a little about what I did to make it work, but after no more than half a day’s tinkering, I was up and running with an amazingly powerful tool.  And the half day included messing about setting up VMWare ESXi Server and a Virtual Machine running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 to host it on!

Anyway, I had to do a bit of messing about from the base RHEL5 Webserver build to get it up and running, including tweaks to SELinux for the Security (yes, I ended up turning it OFF!) and installing a few PERL packages that I needed for some of the plugins, and installing the SYSLOG-NG package so I could do some clever filtering (More on that another time!)

Anyway, I set up SYSLOG-NG to filter different types of device identified by IP Address to different SYSLOG files.   I identified 2-3 specific categories of device that I wanted to filter;

  • Cisco PIX Firewalls
  • Nokia IP Security Appliances
  • Windows Boxes (using the SNARE Agent to convert Windows Event Logs to SYSLOG!)
  • Cisco Routers & Switches

I started with these for reasons that should become apparent as I explain further.

I then used good old “mkfifo” to create fifo handles for these Syslogs.

Then having installed Splunk, which was as simple as downloading and installing the RPM, and tweaking the RC files to ensure SYSLOG-NG and Splunk started automagically, I was in business.

Connecting to the server using a Web Browser on Port 8000, and added each of my FIFO’s as an Input Source and I was ready to go!  Splunk has a number of free packages that you can install that can influence it’s understanding of various different types of log, (this is why I separated the types of log to different pipes), so by appying these filters to the different input sources from SYSLOG meant that Splunk understood much more about the data it was actually receiving.

Then I simply swapped the Splunk Box for the IP Address of a UNIX box that sits there gathering SYSLOG’s all day, rather than revisit hundreds of Network Devices and tell them to send their SYSLOG’s somewhere else!

Bearing in mind you can send it just about any sort of textual log file, and can use Netcat, Nessus Scans, even TCP Dumps, or LEA Exports from your Checkpoint Firewalls (more on that in another post!), and the data actually starts to accumulate and flow.

This is where the sheer power of Splunk comes in to it’s own.  The best thing I can really do is point you at one of the Live Demo’s so you can play for yourself… so here:

Anyway, one day, a little tinkering and one “Enterprise Evaluation License” later, I’m wanting to reach for the proverbial Cheque book and buy licenses!  My colleagues have actually been using the tool to troubleshoot and fix real live problems on the Network, and they all love it too.

The three problems I have right now tho are that:

  1. It’s installed on a Virtual Machine, so the CPU and Disk Use are a concern!
  2. The Free Enterprise Eval License won’t allow me to index more than 5Gb of logs in a day
  3. I want it NOW NOW NOW!

Technology: VMWare ESXi Server

Good old VMWare has come a long way from the days when it used to run under a Guest Operating System (normally Windows or Linux) and allowed you to create a Virtual Machine with it’s own independent OS and footprint in a self contained virtual instance on your Desktop PC.   Originally the VMWare product was a purchasable item, but VMWare released it for free at about the same time as Microsoft released their Virtual PC offering (also gratis).

VMWare ESXi Server probably grew out of the Linux based implementations of VMWare Server, (but don’t quote me on that), ESXi Server is now also available for free, and is absolutely fantastic for Geeks like me who love to dabble!  The “Grown Up” and licensed version of EXSi Server is that which enterprises use to operate their “Virtual Infrastructure”, but of course the free version doesn’t support all the whistles and bells including Clustering, or the ability to “migrate” servers from real to Virtual, or to move them about while actually “live”  etc.

You can download it from

It’ll be a bootable CD .ISO image so you’ll need to burn it to disk with Nero or some such, and that will give you a CD that will allow the installation of the bespoke VMWare Hypervisor OS which is predictably enough based on Linux.  This is great because it takes much of the headache and bloat out of running it under a Guest OS, and once up and running will allow you to connect to the server using a Web Browser to download the management tools that will facilitate the creation and maintenance of the virtual machines.

I’m not going to harp on any longer, the main purpose of this post was to tell you that you could download EXSi for free!  yes, that means a free full uncrippled version of the basic product for you to use or abuse more or less as you choose!

What you do afterwards is up to you!  🙂

Recipe: Cider Chicken Tagliatelle

This recipe was adapted from the BBC TV Series “Ready Steady Cook” on BBC2, and with a few additions has been quite popular with my family and friends each time I prepare it.   My recipe’s aren’t too formulaic, they evolveeach time, so please read this through carefully first before attempting at home!

For this dish you don’t need to be too particular about the quantities of ingredients required.  It depends on your appetite, but I’d recommend per person roughly:

  • One reasonably sized Chicken Breast
  • One Medium sized Leek
  • A decent handful of Chestnut Mushrooms

Plus some standard ingredients:

  • Cider – a 330ml Bottle should be adequate for most purposes
  • Double Cream
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Some Unsalted Butter
  • a splash of Cooking Oil

And of course Tagliatelle according to appetite.  I like to mix the normal and Tagliatelle Verde.

You’ll need one Frying Pan, one deep bottomed Pan, and a Saucepan to cook the Pasta.


Prepare the Marinade by mixing a Chicken Oxo Cube, a clove or two of Garlic (to taste), 2-3 tsp of Dijon Mustard and a generous splash of the Cider, to a fairly runny paste.  The Chicken should be skinned, and the Skins discarded, and the pieces coated in the marinade, be sure to mix well by hand so that the Chicken is well covered.  Leave this for at least an hour in the refrigerator, covered with cling film or a clean plate.

Prepare the Leeks and Mushrooms by washing and chopping as required.   Prepare 2-3 Shallots with as fine a dice as you can manage, and another clove of Garlic.

Add some oil, the Shallots and Garlic to the deep pan, and heat to a moderate to high temperature, letting the Shallots become nice and translucent.  Drain the chicken pieces through a sieve if you have one, or so that they are reasonably free of any liquid jus and add to the pan to seal.   Don’t throw away the Jus, add more of the cider to it at this point so it becomes more liquid, and so that it will cover the bottom of the pan between 1.5 and 2cm deep.   Keep turning the chicken until it is all sealed, and then add the Cider/Jus.  Turn the heat down to medium and simmer gently for 20 mins or so, while you prepare the vegetables and the Pasta.

Prepare the saucepan with hot water from the Kettle and be prepared to cook the Pasta as per it’s instructions.

Add the unsalted butter to another frying pan, and turn up to a medium heat, and when ready gently warm the Leeks through so they become soft and translucent.

Add the Double Cream to the Chicken/Cider combination, and simmer for about 5-10 mins, allowing the sauce to reduce slightly.  You should taste the sauce at this point, and season according to taste.

Add the Mushrooms to the pan with the Leeks to warm for no more than 2-3 minutes.  At this point you should drain the Pasta as it should be ready to serve,  and add the Leeks & Mushrooms from the Frying Pan in to the Cider/Chicken/Cream combination.  Stir to coat everything with the Sauce, and simmer a little longer if the sauce is still too runny.

Serve it up either by adding the Tagliatelle to the sauce and turning it over in the pan, or by making a ring of Pasta on the plate and adding the Chicken & sauce over the top.