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.

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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

Kitchen Cleaning Tips

Kitchen Cleaning Tips

I like to keep a clean kitchen, but every few months I just love giving the kitchen a good scrub down and getting everything all freshened up organized. And now that the holidays are upon us, it’s time to get to work.

Kitchen cleaning tips.

Scrub the cast iron. A good cast iron pan will give you a lifetime worth of cooking so give it the TLC it deserves. Pour a good layer of coarse salt on the surface of the pan and a give it a good scrub with a soft sponge. The salt will lift away stuck on food and absorb oil without ruining the seasoning on the pan. If your pan needs another coat of seasoning, it will take better after a salt scrub.  And if you’re ready for some new cast iron skillet recipes, we’ve got them right here.

Clean your oven. Self cleaning ovens are a God send. But if you have an old fashioned model, now’s the time to give it a good going over. For a (non-toxic) cleaning solution, make a paste out of water and baking soda. Coat the oven surfaces with that paste (not any heating elements or bare metal) and let that stand overnight. In the morning, put on some rubber gloves and scrub the paste off with a plastic spatula. A wet sponge should take off all remaining residue.

Clean cutting boards. If you use a wooden cutting board, every few weeks give it a good sprinkle of coarse salt and scrub with a sliced lemon. Rinse well with hot water and your board will be nice and fresh.

Clean the fridge. Take everything out of the fridge and wipe all interior surfaces down with some hot, soapy water. As you put everything back, toss out all outdated condiments and items you’re not going to use. Replace the box of baking soda!

Pantry purge. Take everything out and wipe down the shelves. Toss out anything that hasn’t been used and won’t be used. Spices lose their spiciness after a while! Treat yourself to some new staples. A good clean sweep in the pantry will perk it up like nothing else. Ditch the stuff you don’t use and donate it to a food bank if it’s worthy. Get that pantry magazine-photo worthy!

Meal planning. One essential tool that I think every home cook needs is a subscription to Dinner Answers! I swear this will change your life. This is the product that really put Saving Dinner on the map, and once you use our menu planning system you will have a hard time going back to anything else. You get access to our full database of recipes and weekly meal plans with shopping lists! Check it out here!

Pantry Perk-Up

Pantry Perk-Up

Do you remember that nursery rhyme about uncooperative Mary? It goes like this:

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.

I don’t know what a cockle shell is and right now my garden is in need of a cleanup, but my pantry is also looking a little bleak. Let’s not be contrary and really get things cooking, shall we? As we get ready for this next season, we need to get down to brass tacks and start cleaning house… and the pantry for that matter!

How’s your pantry looking? Do you have 5 cans of tuna scattered about the cupboard instead of all stacked up together. Can you find cereal boxes here, there and everywhere? How about your staples, like flour, sugar, baking powder, cornstarch, etc.? Are they grouped together into a baking center or do you have to go on a pantry scavenger hunt to find them all?

Let’s do a little pantry perk-up, shall we? Set your timer for 15 minutes and start getting your dry goods in logical order. Like goes with like. You’ll want a shelf for the canned goods (and put the same thing all together, too). A big basket to hold your bags of dried beans, a smaller basket to hold envelopes of spice blends, mixes, etc. (look around the house, I bet you have what you need), and if you haven’t done it already, big containers (I like big glass jars) for your flour, sugars, oatmeal, etc. Putting dried goods like flour etc. into containers will keep the bugs out!

Getting your pantry together will help you get your meal planning in order, too. Don’t forget to declutter your pantry if necessary. Get rid of the stuff you don’t use (donate it to a food bank if it’s good, usable food) and watch your pantry take shape. I want to challenge you to make a meal out of something in there this week!

Here’s a wonderful easy dinner recipe (from one of our low-carb menus) to get you in the mood for a good pantry routing:

Print Recipe
Chicken Nicoise
  1. Heat 1/4 cup of the wine (or chicken broth) to boiling in a skillet. Cook chicken in wine, turning once, until brown. Remove chicken and keep warm.
  2. Add garlic, onions, olive oil, Italian seasoning, bell peppers, olives and remaining wine (or broth) to skillet and heat till boiling. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Add chicken back to the skillet, reducing heat to medium low. Cook 10 to 15 minutes until chicken is cooked thoroughly.
Recipe Notes

Per Serving: 212 Calories; 5g Fat; 27g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 66mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 3 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat. Points: 4

LC SERVING SUGGESTION: Serve over cauli-rice alongside sauteed green beans. (To make cauli-rice trim cauliflower and cut into piece small enough to feed through food processor tube. Process cauliflower till it is grainy and resembles rice. Steam ‘rice’, and fluff with a fork.)

SERVING SUGGESTION: Add some brown rice instead of Calui-Rice.

VEGETARIANS: Skip the chicken and opt for a Boca Chikin patty or another veggie patty. Cooking time will be less.

KOSHER: None needed.

Now that your pantry is all perked up, let’s make a meal plan and shopping list and get it stocked up for your week!

Back to Basics: Clean Up Your Spices

Back to Basics: Clean Up Your Spices

New month, new season and it’s time to get back to basics! One of the places where we all need a good look-see on the basics is your spices.

I am going to bet you that some of those spices in your cabinet have lasted longer than some of your marriages! Those old icky spices are about as useful for flavor as grass clippings. Toss ’em!

Fresh dried herbs and spices have become surprisingly inexpensive. Good sources for $1 per jar spices or even 2 for $1 are dollar-type stores (not always, but sometimes), Wal-Mart and drugstores.

Health food stores are also great resources. They sell the spices and herbs in bulk jars. They are a quality product, very fresh and quite inexpensive, and mostly organic, too. To spice up your cooking (and your life, too), you need good ingredients. Inferior ingredients will give you a lackluster product every time.

If you’ve never learned how to use the mountain of spices available, copy this list and stick it to your fridge. This spice primer is guaranteed to get you cooking in a more flavorful way in no time!

Bay Leaf

Used in stews, soups and great with pot roast. Go easy. Bay leaves are strong, especially California bay leaves, which are the kind most grocery stores stock. I use half a leaf in my stews


Ah, the taste of summer. Who can resist fresh basil and tomatoes from the garden tossed with olive oil and garlic on a plate full of pasta? Dried, it’s wonderful in soups, pasta dishes and chicken.


It’s not just for pickles. Try some dill sprinkled on fish, chicken or even in a light cream soup


Nectar of the gods, well, bulb of the gods, anyway. Garlic has a way of making the most ordinary food gourmet. Try sprinkling garlic powder (not garlic salt) into a prepared box of white cheddar macaroni and cheese. Surprise! It’s pretty good. Fresh, though, is best. Squeeze it from a press into almost anything


Sprinkle it in your stir-fry, try it on baked chicken breasts with a little soy sauce or coconut aminos and garlic. For fun, get it fresh (it’s that alien-looking root mass in the produce department) and freeze it. It will keep almost indefinitely when frozen. To use, hack off a piece, no need to peel it and grate into your recipe


I love nutmeg. If you can find nutmeg nuts and the itty, bitty grater that comes with it, buy it. Once you’ve had freshly grated nutmeg, the powdered stuff in the jar is beneath you. Obviously an ingredient in baking, it’s also good grated on sauteed squash, green beans and carrots.


A staple in Italian cooking, it’s also good in stews and salad dressings


This beautiful evergreen plant grows wild in my garden and provides an intoxicating aroma to meats, stews and root veggies. Try some crumbled in your carrots


An almost licorice flavor, this delicate herb takes front and center in vinaigrettes, as a delicious sprinkle on the top of baked or poached poultry and fish.


Make time for thyme! It’s strong and adds a hint of character to an otherwise pretty standard dish. Use it with chicken, soups and beef.

This is a short list of spices, but good basics stand the test of thyme (time). 😉 By understanding how to cook with spices, you will keep your palate interested and you family begging for your cooking–and that’s the way it should be!

“I love you taking the work out of making a great dinner for me.  The menus supplied with the grocery list already and giving me options for daytime menus too.  I love it and have recommended all of my friends and family to your site!”


Dinner Answers will help you save dinner night after night, respecting your time and saving your sanity! Go here for more info.

The “I Don’t Like Cooking” Fix

The “I Don’t Like Cooking” Fix

Over the years, I’ve received a lot of emails from various people in all walks of life who plain and simple just do not like cooking.

Cooking for them is on the same par as toilet cleaning–they’ve said as much.

So they opt to go out to dinner or do take out–healthy and otherwise.

So why write me to tell me this if what they are doing is working for them?

The deal isn’t that it isn’t working for them; it’s just not working WELL for them. They are concerned about the cost and the nutrition aspects of doing this on a regular basis.

The cost is astronomical, both financially and health wise. Most families do not have the financial means to eat out every night, period—whether it is healthy or not.

A recent study revealed that for every dollar spent on food eaten out, only 27 cents worth of food was actually served.

What does that tell you about the economics of eating out? Is going out to dinner every night a worthy investment of your family’s dollars?

Lest you think I’m dumping on restaurants, let me assure you I am not. I love going out to dinner! I’m always on the prowl for a new restaurant and new dining experience.

But the day to day of feeding a family is expensive. Very few can afford to feed everyone well (as in healthy, fresh food) if they go out all the time.

And while I do love to cook for the most part, there are days when it frankly is a chore–I’m only human. I have other things I’d rather be doing and a bunch of people (my family, friends, employees, etc.) who want or need my attention.

But I have great news for those who panic at the idea of cooking a big family meal. Most of it can be done on the grill (and these days, outdoor grills with their propane tanks make it seasonless!) then all you really have to add is a big salad and presto, you’ve got dinner! Here is a recent grilled meal I recently made and it took me all of fifteen minutes to prepare. 🙂

Marinated Grilled Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts

Brown Rice (if you’re paleo or low carb, make cauli-rice)

Grilled Zucchini and Yellow Squash

Big Green Salad

Take a big gallon-sized zipper topped plastic bag and fill it with raw chicken (I like to add extra so I can get some leftovers for lunch the next day). Next, add half a bottle of coconut aminos (or soy sauce) and about 1/2 a cup olive oil or avocado oil. Squeeze a whole lemon in there, add 1 teaspoon each garlic powder, thyme and oregano. Now add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Mush the bag around so chicken is coated. You’ll want that to marinate for a few hours or overnight even. Cook your brown rice now—it will take the longest to cook or make some cauli-rice (or both if you’ve got different eating styles at your house).

Prepare your zucchini by slicing into rounds; same with the yellow squash. Throw these cut squashes into a big bowl and toss with a little olive oil (you don’t want it dripping in oil), salt and pepper and some fresh garlic pressed right into the squash (I use 2 cloves, but I love garlic and it keeps the vampires away). You can either sauté this in a pan on the stovetop or sauté it on the grill if you have a pan with holes in it. It’s awesome cooked this way and grilling  pans with holes in them can be found anywhere—even the drugstore.

Fire up the barbecue and after it is preheated (make sure it’s clean, too!), add the chicken and watch it as you cook it, adjusting the heat as need be. If you’re cooking your veggies on the grill too, you will want to start them at the same time. Otherwise, cook them on the stovetop after your chicken is cooked (keep the chicken warm by wrapping the platter in foil and keeping it in a cold oven just long enough till the squash is cooked).

Set your table, get your salad together (I use already prepared salad bags from the grocery store, add some pine nuts, chopped whatever veggies I have on hand and my own vinaigrette, tossed altogether, yum!).

That’s it! You can serve your chicken on individual plates or serve everything family style—big platters in the middle of the table.

Then pass the food around, join hands and say a prayer of thanksgiving for all this wonderful food (and your family sitting ‘round the table) and above all else, relish this time.

One day they will be grown and gone and you’ll remember these days with fondness.

Getting dinner on the table doesn’t have to be stressful, and Dinner Answers can be the key to your success. Learn more here.