Loaded BLT Bowl

Loaded BLT Bowl

Print Recipe
Loaded BLT Bowl
bacon cooking in a skillet
Course Main Dish, Salads
Course Main Dish, Salads
bacon cooking in a skillet
  1. In 4 bowls, add romaine and spinach. Then evenly divide and add next 11 ingredients (red onion through apple).
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together remaining ingredients (oil through salt and pepper). Drizzle over each bowl and serve.
How to Clean and Maintain Your Garbage Disposal

How to Clean and Maintain Your Garbage Disposal

A lot of people these days have a garbage disposal, even those who shouldn’t.  What?!! Who “shouldn’t” have a disposal?

People with septic tanks if you listen to plumbers talk! Food scraps and especially fats and oils are terrible for septic tanks and while a disposal is to be avoided, there are likely a lot of homes with septic tanks that have garbage disposals.

Regardless, if you have a garbage disposal in your home, there are some steps you should take to properly maintain it so it lasts as long as possible.

Using Your Garbage Disposal

First, be aware of what you are putting in it.  

Remember, if you have a disposal and are on a septic system you need to use it as little as possible and avoid putting meats and other food products down the drain.  Animal fats turn solid and will clog the leech holes, or just the solids themselves will accumulate at the intake port and not break down, throwing off the bacterial balance needed for decomposition and making your system less efficient and needing more frequent pumping.  

If you have stuff in the sink, remove as much as you can by hand before flushing the remains down the disposal.

If you are on a sewer system you will be okay with most kitchen scraps, but you still want to avoid hard objects like shellfish shells, unpopped popcorn, bones, etc.  Not only will they dull the blades over time, but they will not break down fully and can cause more clogs down the line as a result.

Also, avoid fibrous or starchy items that can cause blockages.  

One Thanksgiving we had guests that wanted to help in the kitchen and pushed all the potato peelings down the disposal, totally blocking the drain under the sink.  It was handled quickly, but diving under the sink to take apart a P trap was not in the plans that day!

Any food particles that go into the disposal should be small and ground up in small increments.  Avoid some of the most common stuff like banana peels, celery, corn cobs and husks, pits from peaches or avocados, coffee grounds, egg shells, and onion skins.  

Most of them will do great in your garden compost anyway.  

Obviously, you want to avoid hard and non-vegetative items like plant clippings, hair, glass, pull tabs, bottle caps, etc. I had to say it–these are some of the common issues with garbage disposal dysfunction!

Whenever you use the disposal, make sure you are running cold water at the same time!  Without the water (or with hot water) the motor and bearings can overheat.  

Run the cold water, turn on the disposal, and after the all debris is cleared you still should run the water for 30-60 seconds to provide enough water to wash it all down the line, since it still has a long way to go.  

Also, hot water can melt any fat at first, but it will solidify down the line as it cools and create a blockage, so use cold only–even with fat.

Cleaning Your Garbage Disposal

Now believe it or not, that funky garbage disposal needs a little TLC and cleaning every now and again.

With the disposal turned off, you can simply use a paper towel to wipe off the rubber at the entry hole to reduce any potential debris and odors.  

For the interior chamber, ice cubes can be used to knock of any build-up on the blades to increase efficiency.  

If you are really ambitious you can make ice cubes with a mixture of vinegar, biodegradable cleanser, or lemon juice, making sure to still run the cold water and be sure not to confuse those ice cubes with your cocktails!  YIKES!

You can also slice up some orange, lemon or lime peels into small pieces and grind them up. They really take away any odors that might build up down there.  

Another trick is to pour in some baking soda and then vinegar, like the old science project.  The chemical reaction will do a fine job, but stand back though when you pour in the vinegar–it will bubble up big time.

Troubleshooting Your Garbage Disposal

And if your disposal ever stops working, don’t call an expensive plumber right away.  

First check to see if it has popped a circuit breaker at your electrical panel.

If all circuits are fine, then look for a small red button on the bottom of the disposal, since they usually have their own breaker in the unit itself. Push the red button and hold for 30 seconds. That usually does the trick.

If not, look for the small metal hexagonal wrench that looks like a lazy S that came with your disposal. Insert it into the center pivot hole on the bottom of the disposal so you can manually rotate the blades to break loose any hard refuse that might be binding the blades.  

You never want to put your hands down in the disposal for obvious reasons, and even with the power turned off the release of tension can cause the blades to move enough to cut you.  

I have used tongs in the past when I needed to retrieve something that went down there accidentally.

Replacing Your Garbage Disposal

If you ever have to replace your garbage disposal, the cost will vary depending on the motor size and warranty.  Expect to pay $100-200+ for the unit and another $150+ to have someone install it for you, but replacing a disposal is not usually necessary unless none of these tricks worked or it’s ancient and useless.

While keeping your garbage disposal in top form is important, so is keeping your health in top form! Check out these great products (LOVE the throat spray!) from our friends at Beekeeper’s Naturals. 🐝

How to Properly Load a Dishwasher

How to Properly Load a Dishwasher

Okay–this is a regularly occurring “discussion” in my house and I’d like to publicly declare that neither one of us, at this point in life, knew how to properly load a dishwasher–until now. I must say, I am fairly gobsmacked and that doesn’t happen very often.

Yes my friend…there is a right way and there is a wrong way. And no, your way is likely not the right way and your spouse’s way isn’t either. Chances are high, your way is likely as incorrect as mine was, too.

If you’d like to keep score, each correct answer is worth 5 points, each incorrect answer is worth -5 points.

So let’s get right to it, shall we?

Remember, we have two racks, top and bottom and a basket for your silverware–not silver, silverware, your everyday silverware, cutlery, or whatever you want to call it.

We will start with the silverware basket. Knives go in blade down always–it’s a safety thing. But the spoons and forks go up AND down. That’s right, like carousel horses–one up, one down, spoons and forks. This way, according to Consumer Reports, you’ll get better distribution of the water making for cleaner cutlery.

How’d you do with that one?  

5 points for getting the knives correct. And give yourself another 5 points if you knew to alternately put the forks and spoons up and down.

Next up is the bottom rack.

The bottom rack is for dishes, bowls and serving pieces like larger plates only, so take 5 points off if you put cups or glasses on the bottom racks.

If you understand how an old-fashioned sprinkler works, that is the same idea with a dishwasher–the arms rotate giving your dishes a nice even spray and the middle has a large sprayer that comes right up the middle to add to the cleaning.

Therefore, plates should all be facing the middle sprayer that pops up–on the left side of the rack, load the dishes facing the middle (the front of the plate should be facing left) and on the right side of the rack, load the dishes facing the middle as well (the front of the plate should be facing right). It should look like this: (((((II)))))

Did you get that fancy “drawing”? The II is the middle sprayer while the (((( are plates facing the middle and the )))) are also plates facing the middle.

I’d bet big time on you not knowing that. And if I were in Vegas I would make money off that bet. Am I right? Yeah, more points being taken away…

Bowls without an edge on them can be loaded on top or bottom, while dishes need to stay strictly on the bottom rack; likewise glasses and cups on the top only.

At this point, you’ve probably stopped keeping score. I get it–I’m humbled too.

Moving on…

Serving pieces or casserole dishes should be placed on the bottom and slightly tilted to get the spray distribution, but definitely not lying down fully. So like downward dog, not child’s pose if you’re into yoga. Or if you play dominos, like a falling domino caught in a photo: you need the angle.

Larger cooking utensils like spatulas and spoons are all top rack worthy–but not wooden spoons or your precious chef’s knife. Let’s give those babies a hand wash.

Glasses and cups should fit within the tines (those are what the “spikes” are called on the top rack). That way they are stabilized when the water comes spraying.

And there you have it–how to load a dishwasher from the makers of actual dishwashers!

But before we’re done here, there’s a few things you need to know–like how to CLEAN your dishwasher!

That’s right, dishwashers can be gross!

Did you know your dishwasher can get mold, needs to have the seals cleaned and they have gunk traps that get full of…gunk?

Yep! Let’s tackle each one of these issues:

  1. Mold happens when moisture doesn’t have a place to go. Open the dishwasher and let it air out after a load. This works really well when the dishes are still warm. I just wedge a rolled up dish towel in between the door and dishwasher and that works well.
  2. The seals around the door can get yucky. Wipe them down with some white vinegar periodically.
  3. The gunk trap! YUCK! Clean that out! You need to pull out the bottom rack to get to it, it’s usually right there in the middle with gunk all over it and needs a little TLC. Take it out, dump the gunk then give it a nice hot soapy washing in your sink with a scrubby.

And one more thing–give your dishwasher a cleaning. Throw 1 cup of white vinegar in the dishwasher, wash it on the full cycle with the hottest water and then open it up to air dry. You should have a clean and shiny dishwasher that makes you proud to be its owner!

NOW–don’t throw in the dish towel when I tell you this but…



And that one my friends, made me upset!

“NO, you’re wrong!” I yelled at Consumer Reports. Then I was hollering again at YouTube and then again at 5 other articles I read from Professor Google when I was researching this important report.

I was bereft. Emotionally exhausted even.

But it’s true my fellow fanatical rinser–there is no need to rinse, just scrape the big chunks off and let the dishwasher do it’s thing. The only time you shouldn’t do that is if you’re not going to run the dishwasher for a few days and then the dirty plate will stink which will result in a stinky dishwasher and your kitchen as well.

GROSS. In that case, please rinse your plates–but only for the sake of the smell–you honestly don’t need to rinse before loading otherwise, sigh.

Now–let’s do a little troubleshooting.

If your dishes aren’t getting clean enough, you’ve loaded the dishwasher correctly, you’ve given Old Faithful a good cleaning and still, you have dishes that are just this side of the dog licking them clean, then it’s time to look at your dishwashing soap.

And yes, powders, tabs and gels are about equal in their cleaning power. However, Consumer Reports loves them some pods when it comes to superior cleaning. Personally I haven’t found that to be true, but I am a mere reporter, bound by my duty to report. Pods are apparently the bomb dot com or so says Consumer Reports.

Another reason your dishes aren’t getting cleaned? You filled that thing up like it was Thanksgiving. Too many cooks spoil the broth as the saying goes, when it comes to cooking in the kitchen–the same holds true for dishwashers. Too many dishes is too many dishes. Remember, the sprayer needs to be able to distribute the water and it can’t if you’ve crammed them in there like your toes in a pair of shoes that are too small (but they were on sale so…). Either break up your load or do some dishes by hand.

Lastly, the third reason your dishes may not be getting clean is that your water just isn’t hot enough. Dishwasher soap and dishwashers themselves, require high temperature water to make the magic happen while you’re doing other more important things, like hanging out with your family. So double check on the dishwasher’s water temp!

I hope we’re still friends after I told you all these big ugly secrets about your dishwasher. I just had to–someone had to, it might as well be me.

Love you, mean it. xo

Menu Planning or Meal Planning?

Menu Planning or Meal Planning?

When it comes to meal planning or better, healthy menu planning, most people get lost in a sea of websites, recipes, cookbooks and a general sense of being completely overwhelmed trying to figure out how to put it all together.

It can be especially daunting when you’re trying to turn over a new leaf and get your nutritional act together at the dinner table night after night. Making a shift like this isn’t as easy as you think it might be, or should be.

I get it–it’s a lot. And menu planning is exactly what I have based my career on. I’ve been planning menus, writing recipes, cookbooks, and creating healthy meal plans professionally for 19 years!

The All-Important Step One for Successful Menu Planning

To get from the place of being completely overwhelmed to menu planning nirvana when it all comes together for you with a clean eating meal plan you can live with, you have to start with your own definition of what constitutes healthy.

It’s a critical component to menu planning. If you skip that step, you will most certainly be sucked into the menu planning abyss of being lost and confused and totally overwhelmed.

That is a big differentiator that I think gets forgotten about. You have to do your own research to determine the right path for you and your family and not become a lemming of some nutritional guru out there (or well meaning friend) who is promising you the world when you know in your heart of hearts, that your family is going to hate it.

For example, I have a Dinner Answers customer who wrote me about the following scenario–I’m distilling her email to me (probably one of the longest emails I’ve ever received) and rewriting it to capture the essence, not quoting directly and not mentioning the diet she felt pressured to try. See if you can relate–

“I was a Dinner Answers subscriber a few years ago and it was because of Dinner Answers that I learned to cook so I want to thank you for that first and foremost. Second, will you take me back? I’ve strayed from the flock and need you now more than ever.

Let me explain–I had a friend who recently started eating ____________ and told me it would change my life. I checked out the (multitude) of articles she sent me but still didn’t feel like it was for me. Plus I knew my family would hate it and the last thing in the world I wanted to do was cook two different meals night after night.

But she was insistent that I needed to try this. She swore this new way of eating is what she served her family and everyone loooooved it, no complaints, it was a gift from heaven above.

Hesitancy and going all in are not good bedfellows but here I was, saying I was going to do this even though I knew it wouldn’t work. Why do we do that to ourselves?

Still, I did it and I regretted it and here I am asking you to take me back!”

My answer to her was of course was I’ll “take you back” (LOL) and wow, that’s an accurate assessment of what happens in that great big world out there.

There is pressure; this is what so and so is doing and even though you don’t feel that it’s a good fit. All your friends say this is what you should be doing and they’re all getting great results; losing weight, kids think it’s terrific, they all feel GREAT. They pass you articles from the internet touting the guru, the diet, this new way of life.

You feel the pressure to comply. Just like the woman who wrote the email, you make the jump and go all in. You buy the food, spend the time cooking it and feed it to your family who rebel and turn on you; a mutinous bunch of pirates threatening to make you walk the plank.

It’s usually an expensive mistake–food ends up not getting eaten and thrown out. Feelings are hurt, a lot of effort went into a whole lot of nothing.

And I know this happens more than with just my penpal above. She’s not the only one I’ve helped pick up the pieces from an ill advised diet. A lot of these poor people who’ve all but thrown in the towel on menu planning out of sheer frustration, end up going right back to where they were before–feeling like they’re missing out, hating that they’re stuck in a rut and wanting a new way, but one that works for them.  

To define your own style of healthy meal planning, it’s a good idea to look at the different styles of eating to see if you can find a fit, one that works for you, not one your neighbor insists is the “right way”.

Paleo vs Auto Immune Meal Planning

For some that might mean paleo meal planning because they’re looking for an anti-inflammatory plan without all the grains and dairy because of known food sensitivities or allergies with a family member. Other folks are looking for more specific plans, like AIP meal planning (Auto Immune Protocol) to help with health issues they’ve had including autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s and more. An AIP approach can be a real game changer for people faced with health challenges.  

Keto vs Paleo Menu Planning

Keto meal planning is still hot and a huge topic with a variety of ways to reaching keto heaven. As you can imagine, there are experts galore out there that will have you peeing on sticks to see if you’re in ketosis or doing blood sticks on your tender little fingers to test your blood for ketosis, have you mapping out your macros and such on a phone app and essentially, giving yourself a part time job to manage this new state of ketosis.  

It’s exhausting.

Besides all the work that goes into achieving ketosis, I’ve got a few reservations on the way the diet itself is approached (too much dairy which can be really inflammatory and slow weight loss). It’s because of that that we created our own clean eating version called the Hot Melt Diet.

Paleo vs keto for example is a huge topic–and there are purists on both sides. I look at it from a different perspective, and ask the question, what feels best to you? For example, you can be paleo and eat keto and you can be keto and eat paleo–it’s simply a matter of adjusting how much protein you eat (you eat a little less with keto) and how much healthy fat you eat (keto will have more fat than paleo) and both ways of eating can merge–simply dump the dairy and the grains and you can play in both “food camps”.

If you’re trying to get into ketosis however, you’re going to want to stay strictly keto and restrict the carbs from all sources (including the healthy sources of carbs like winter squashes, fruits and sweet potatoes, all permissible in a paleo diet).

Just recently, the U.S. News and World Report ranked the tried-and-true Mediterranean Diet as the top diet to pursue for this year.

The Mediterranean Diet Is Popular Again

The Mediterranean Diet comes from native diets in the region (Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain) in the 1940’s and 1950’s before fast food and a lot of other cultures invaded the area. It’s a traditional, old-ways style of eating that according many, defines heart healthy and clean eating.

There’s no distinct plan per se for the Mediterranean Diet–just google it and you’ll find a lot of interpretations.

It’s easy to understand why it’s been given such a high honor–the Mediterranean Diet is based on lots of veggies of all kinds, olive oil, nuts, beans, legumes, avocados, fish and chicken, beef on occasion and yes, a little bit of wine.

The American Heart Association (AHA) talks about the diet on it’s website, acknowledging the Mediterranean Diet’s statistics for lower rates of heart disease and deaths in the region for those following the diet. However, on their website, they’re reluctant to put their seal of approval on it. “We need more studies to find out whether the diet itself or other lifestyle factors account for the lower deaths from heart disease.”

Healthy Eating is Healthy Menu Planning

Most people however, are just looking for for healthy menu planning; food that offers family-friendly recipes and food the whole family will eat. And while that term, family-friendly, is always going to be subjective (I mean, what really constitutes “family-friendly” anyway?), the keyword is always going to be customization.  

When you have the ability to customize your meal plan according to what your family will eat AND you are able to put it into a framework of “healthy”, you’re on your way to making it all work.

Meal planning or menu planning as I prefer to call it–meals imply one meal at a time while menus imply a plan, so much different–is a journey in wellness that we all need to pursue on purpose. We cannot menu plan on default, it doesn’t work.

And while there’s a question for everyone on what constitutes a “healthy diet” as we discussed here, there’s a lot of room to find out for yourself.

Remember this, it’s not about what some guru deems as “healthy” that should determine your menu planning path; it’s about deciding for yourself what defines a healthy menu plan for you and your family.

Pumpkin, Parsnip, and Squash Beef Stew

Pumpkin, Parsnip, and Squash Beef Stew

Print Recipe

Pumpkin, Parsnip, and Squash Beef Stew

Course Soups & Stews
Cuisine Slow Cooker



Course Soups & Stews
Cuisine Slow Cooker



  1. Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker.

  2. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours.

  3. Remove bay leaves and stir well, serving when beef falls apart and vegetables are tender.