Suggestions on building VM disks from scratch

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This may not be the best forum to ask, but it does
seem to be one where it is as likely as anywhere
that someone will have dealt with a similar problem.

I need to define a procedure for last resort disaster 
recovery from an incremental file level backup of the 
root partition (and any others that are critical.)

Now it is easy enough to create a raw virtual disk
with dd, then to losetup and do a cfdisk and mkfs, 
then mount it and rsync the backup onto it.

At this point I would like to be able to install
grub and make the virtual disk bootable. I have
'issues' with the way grub does things and the way
it seems to make certain assumptions for you. The
virtual disk is in actuality going to become an hd(0)
on the virtual machine; but my past experience with
grub is that it is going to assume you really
intend to install the MBR on your running system disk;
but if you tell it hd(1) then when you try to boot
it ain't gonna work.

Has anyone dealt with these issues? It's more than
just a VM one; I run up against it time and again. 
A few months ago I attempted to attach a brand
new SATA disk via a USB converter to my laptop so
I could build a system on it for a machine that
has not CD, no floppy, etc, etc. I damn near clobbered
my laptop but fortunately caught the problem in time
and fixed it before a reboot... in which case I'd
have *really* had issues.


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