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Fixing Scratches in an Enameled Cast Iron Sink

Dear Home Ec 101,

I have a fairly new (less than 1 year old) cast iron Kohler sink, it is the shiny black one, the manual recommended using the Kohler cast iron sink cleaner and I have used it regularly and I have used a plastic mat on the bottom of the sink, to try to prevent scratches. Yet I have some minor scratches. Is there any way to safely remove the scratches from my sink without harming the enamel?

Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Again I LOVE your site and by the way I am hooked on Method products!! Love them!!

Signed,
Scratched in Scanlon
Heather says:

Take a deep breath, I have good news for you, dollars to donuts those are not actually scratches in your sink. I highly doubt you were sitting there with a chisel and hammer purpose trying to gouge your sink. That’s pretty much what it takes to mar the finish of a quality enamel finish. What you are actually seeing is called a “pot mark” and it’s just a scuff from the sink taking a tiny bit of metal off of your cookware.

It’s a lot like when somebody just barely grazes your car in a crowded parking lot and leaves a bit of their paint on your car. A bit of buffing is all it takes to get rid of their carelessness and it’s pretty much all that is needed here, too.

Go ahead and use the recommended cleaner, but find a cork, perhaps from last night’s wine-braised pot roast? Apply the cleaner full strength to the scratch on the cast iron sink and then use the cork to gently scrub the marks away and your sink will look good as new!

Pot marks will likely become a source of irritation over the years, but at least you now know that you have not inadvertently scratched your shiny, new sink. It’s going to look good as new for a long, long time.

Good luck and please let me know how it turns out.

Oh and thanks for letting me know about Method, I’ll be sure to pass that along.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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Weekly Menu Plan #23

Heather says

Well, this is a safe space, right?

I fell off the wagon last week. We not only ate out, we also had what the kids call a “floor picnic movie night”. The latter is how I make serving raw vegetables, cheese, and other usually lunch but not terribly exciting foods palatable.

What’s my excuse? Sick kids and just being tired of “people”. By people, I don’t mean you, of course. You would never be rude to me or my support team; it’s part of why I like you. Naturally.

So here we go, a new week, a new menu, a new chance to try to be a little more on the ball:

What will you be having this week?

Are you serving anything special during that game that likes to be overly-protective of its branding?

And? If you need a pick-me-up to get you going, this is one of my kid’s coaches after they won their championship. (He did this before and after every game and I keep this video on my phone for when I need a little peptalk)

Let’s do this.

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Garage Refrigerator / Freezers, Winter, and Your Food

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have a refrigerator in my garage and for the last few weeks I have noticed the freezer isn’t as cold as it should be.
Should I be worried?
More importantly, is the food safe? The vegetables seem a little soft.
Sincerely,
It’s Frickin’ Freezin’ , Mr. Bigglesworth

Heather says

Garage refrigerators can be very useful for food storage, if you have a bunch of kids, they are also useful to keep the kids from running in and out every time they want a drink.

Unfortunately when the temperature drops below 40°F or 4°C the freezer may not maintain the proper temperature.

Why?

Refrigerators are designed for typical household use. The “average” house is expected to be in the general vicinity of 70°F or 21°C or “room temperature.”

Unless you have a high-end refrigerator freezer combo, which is unlikely in a garage refrigerator scenario, the freezer does not have its own thermostat.

The thermostat in the refrigerator portion of the appliance controls the temperature of the entire unit with the logic being, if the refrigerator portion is 40°F the freezer will be at 30°F or below.

In the winter your garage may be much closer to 40°F. Over time the thermostat in the refrigerator tells the motor, hey, we don’t have to run so often. All is well in the refrigerator portion of the appliance, but that freezer is going to slowly approach the temperature of the garage. There is no thermostat back up in the freezer to say, “Hey, we have a problem here, we should be running more often!”

If the garage temperature is only close to 40°F to 30°F for a day or two, it’s really not going to matter. Refrigerators are very well insulated to keep the cold air inside.

The food in your freezer has been beginning to thaw. If it has been over a short period, this won’t matter food safety-wise. If the freezer has time to thaw completely, you’ll need to follow the guidelines in The Freezer Was Left Open, Now What. (Observing whether or not there are ice crystals etc)

Food that is safe is not always good.

Repeated thaws and freezes will destroy the cells walls of the food destroying the integrity and texture of the food. While it may be perfectly okay to eat, I would understand calling it a loss and starting over with the most compromised ingredients, unless you have recipes where the ingredients are cooked to the point that texture is not an issue.

Sometimes life is a series of annoying lessons; I hope that this one wasn’t too expensive.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

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Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup

Heather says:

I saw some version of a sausage and kale soup floating around on Pinterest. Last week I wanted soup one night instead of whatever was planned*. The soup was so good, it became something that I had to be able to replicate. Around here, soups are made willy-let’s throw everything we want into a pot and then we can never have it again. Last week I paid attention and this week I replicated it and wrote down the recipe.

Loaded with kale and garlic, I plan on breaking out versions of this anytime I hear a sniffle from the kids and the Parmesan for garnish is completely optional. Oh, and if you hate all things hipster and kale, use spinach, just toss it in about a minute before serving. Kale is a much hardier plant and it takes a little time for the fibrous leaves to soften.

The sausage, onions, and garlic provide enough flavor that you don’t need to fiddle with a lot of seasoning. You may add black pepper, if you would like, but I wouldn’t add any more salt, unless you are using a low sodium sausage AND stock.

You are going to need a 6 quart stock pot, please don’t attempt this in anything smaller, you’ll run out of room. I love that there are plenty of freezable leftovers.

If you don’t like brothy soups, feel free to reduce the beef stock by a quart.

*If I change the menu, my mental guideline is that I need to have everything on hand. This helps reduce extra trips to the grocery store.

Hearty Sausage, Kale, and Sweet Potato Soup

Sausage, Kale, and Sweet Potato Soup

  • 1 lb bulk sausage -you may use Italian, I don’t.
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2″ inch cubes
  • 3 quarts beef stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)
  • 3 cans white beans (Cannellini or Great Northern)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced *increase or decrease depending on the likelihood of vampires
  • 5 large handfuls of kale
  • shredded or grated Parmesan cheese *optional

Instructions

  • Brown the sausage over medium low heat and add the onion, bell pepper, and celery. (You may substitute 2 cups of frozen, seasoning blend). Continue to stir frequently until the onions are translucent)
  • Add the diced sweet potato and just enough stock to cover the potatoes in liquid. Turn the heat up a little and cover tightly. (This allows the sweet potatoes to cook quickly.)
  • As soon as the sweet potatoes are fork tender, add the beef stock, beans, and garlic. Depending on your stove and cookware you may turn up the heat, if your stock pot isn’t thin. ( Thin cookware increases the likelihood of scorching).
  • When the soup reaches a simmer add the kale and cook until the greens are as tender as you prefer. (About ten minutes)
  • Ladle into bowls and garnish with Parmesan.

*Slow cooker variation – brown the sausage and then add it to the crock. Add all of the ingredients, except the kale and cook on low at least 5 hours. Turn the setting to high, add the kale and cook for an additional 45 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Weekly Menu Plan #22

Heather says

I promise this site isn’t going to change into what are those weirdos eating this week. I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing more consistently and unfortunately or fortunately for you, Monday morning is a really good time for me. (I’ll try to knock out a few reader questions this week, too.)

I’m pretty jet-lagged and punchy from a work trip to Las Vegas (and there was no wifi on any of my flights, what are we? Savages?) Dinner tonight will be simple or takeout. We still have to firm up how many people will be fed this evening. 2? Takeout. 5? Mustgo soup.

I forgot to mention, last week, that I did not care for the Thai inspired spaghetti squash side. I love peanut sauce, I love spaghetti squash. It just didn’t work for me. (I think it was probably the gluten-free soy sauce which is definitely not my favorite)

The coconut milk-marinated chicken on the other hand was excellent. It was just a can of coconut milk, ground pepper, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, and chopped green onions in a gallon freezer bag for a few hours. I then baked the chicken thighs just like these. If you really dig coconut you can make coconut rice (sub half the liquid with coconut milk and the other half with chicken broth) or plain white rice works, too. Add a crisp-tender veg and you have a solid weeknight meal. I’ll make it again and write it up, maybe even with photos.

Here we go:

  • Monday – To be determined
  • Tuesday – Autumn Skillet
  • Wednesday – Sausage, Kale, and Sweet Potato soup with Parmesan
  • Thursday – Tamale Pie, Salads
  • Friday – Fish (going to visit the fish store near my house and choose) there will likely be a buttery, garlic sauce, rice, and broccoli
  • Saturday – Stewed Chicken Thighs – I think I’ll go with a tomato and red pepper base, mashed potatoes
  • Sunday – Sloppy joes, sweet potato fries, sauteed cabbage

What will you be making this week? Anything new? Are there any new technique or ingredients you’re looking forward to trying? Or is it going to be one of those, just let’s make it through the week kind of weeks?

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HomeEc 101 Guide To Keeping The Exterior Of Your House Clean

clean the outside of your house

It’s said that we unconsciously form opinions about other people in the first 3 minutes that we see them. I don’t know if that holds true with houses, but I do know that curb appeal is very important in the real estate business. Here is some information to help you keep the outside of your house neat and tidy. Just click on the title to read the complete article.

How to Clean Lawn Furniture

I have family and friends coming over for a barbecue. The menu’s set, the food is bought, the house is clean (well, it’s getting there), I’m ready. Well, except for one thing. My lawn furniture is ewww and funk.

How to Clean an Outdoor Lighting Fixture

My husband bought two outside titanium lights that are brass finished from Patriot Lighting. The instructions say to clean the fixture once or twice a month using diluted bleach cleaner, then wait for one minute, then wipe off with cellulose sponge, then clean with wet cloth.  Can you simplify this for me?

Pet Friendly Weed Control

Is there such a thing as a weed killer that will not affect my dogs? In addition to the two greyhounds that live in the house, I have multiple neighbors who think the leash law does not apply to them, plus several feral cats that like to hang in my window boxes to torture said greyhounds. I can keep my dogs off the lawn for a couple days, but what about the other guys?

How To Get Rid Of Wasps

We’ve always had a problem with wasps (mud-daubers…are they the same?)….however, they seem to be much worse, and it seems they’ve arrived early…what can I do to get rid of them…or at least keep them to a minimum.

How To Clean Out Your Dumpster

Today, I was so embarrassed when I got this note from the trash disposal guys: “Could you please clean out your dumpster? The stuff sticking to the bottom makes all the trash fall out onto the ground.” How can I clean this with a minimum of actually touching this mess?

How To Clean Out Your Gutters And Why You Should

Gutters collect leaves and twigs. These leaves, twigs, and ahem, saplings prevent the the flow of water. When the water doesn’t flow down the spout, it can pool which will rot wooden gutters, rust metal ones, or eventually cause the gutters to pull from the roof.

How To Pressure Wash Your Siding

My husband has finally agreed to have our house and granny annex professionally pressure-washed. There’s quite a bit of pale green mildew on the vinyl siding. Is good ole’ bleach and water the best cleaning solution? Should soap be added? If so, what kind (dish? dishwasher? laundry? hand?) Any other tips with regard to pressure washing?

how to clean appliances

Click the picture for more tips!

guide to chemical cleaners

Click this picture to learn more about cleaners!

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Weekly Menu Plan #21

Heather says

This week will be short and sweet as I’m traveling for business. I’ll likely eat too much and regret it when reality comes crashing in on Monday. On a side note, the older two minions and I are planning on doing the i5k in April. I hate, loathe, and despise running, but I’ve got to start doing something and it’s what fits with my schedule. To get ready for this, the kids and I are using C25K, the older two jog and the younger one rides her bike. With 15 weeks to go we’ll repeat the first week this week, if anyone is interested in playing along I can start a Facebook group. Just leave a comment and I’ll put it together.

Hits from last week’s menu:

Buffalo chicken tacos – I thought the kids would maybe tolerate this, but I was blown away by how quickly they disappeared, I’ll need to make more for next time. I just used frozen chicken breasts brushed with wing sauce and baked until done. I diced the meat and served with tortillas and diced, peeled cucumber. The kids could add cheese and ranch if they wanted, I went for a just a little blue cheese dressing. Easy peasy, definitely getting added to the rotation.

BBQ chicken sandwiches – Before I took the kids to school in the morning I put frozen, split, chicken breasts into the slowcooker and added a little bit of bbq sauce. I set it to low and went about my business, dinner time rolled around and I toasted buns, shredded the chicken (removing bones and skin) and stirred in with a little more BBQ sauce.  There was a fair amount leftover, but this was on purpose. The chicken also really worked well in taco form.

BBQ Chicken Salad

BBQ chicken salad on Saturday took advantage of the leftovers. Pro-Tip when making a giant salad for several adults, a sheet tray makes a great serving dish.

This week:

Monday: Ground pork tacos and salad
Tuesday: Pork loin with sun dried tomatoes and Parmesan, sauteed kale, sweet potato, and onions
Wednesday: Red beans and rice – I froze the leftovers from last week.

As I said, I’ll be traveling this week, so it’s a short one from the planning side of things. What worked for your family last week —feel free to share a link to a recipe— and what didn’t?

What will you be making this week? Anything new to you?

 Photo Credit: Ray Bergman

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Tips For Cleaning Bedrooms & Closets

bedroom and closet cleaning

The designers and decorators often tell us that bedrooms are to be an oasis. A calm place where we can go to relax and sleep. I don’t know about yours, but mine tends to be where things get stashed during the dash that happens when someone is arriving in 10 minutes. I don’t mind that my bedroom doesn’t like show floor ready; I’m happy when it is clean and neat. Our hope is that these tips will help you conquer any mess in your bedrooms and closets.

Bedrooms

Mattress Cleaning and Other Indoor Sports

What is the best way to clean a mattress? Dec 2008 I splurged and upgraded from a queen bed to a fabulously huge king size bedset. I’ve heard of putting it outside and letting it “air out” but that’s not feasible where I live. Just curious as to what other people do.

Where Can Mildew Hide in a Bedroom

There is a musty / mildew smell in my home, but I’m having issues locating the source of the smell. As far as I can tell, it’s restricted to one bedroom. I’ve examined all of my clothing, removed the air conditioner, checked all of the furniture, and even the air ducts. Any ideas?

How to Store Blankets Without Inviting Mildew

I have a serious problem with the old lady, musty laundry smell. I keep my sleeping bag, electric blanket and my baby blanket in a chest at the foot of my bed. Is there a secret to keeping this stuff smelling fresh?

How to Remove Cat Urine from a Mattress

I didn’t realize it until it was too late that he was not going downstairs to use one of the two litter boxes. One day I went upstairs to go to bed and realized that sometime in the past two days, he had relived his bladder all over the bed!

How to Clean a Down Comforter

I received a duck down comforter as a gift last Christmas. The tag says to have it taken to the dry cleaners, but not only would it be a pain, it wouldn’t be easy on the wallet. I’m so terrified to wash it on my own that it hasn’t been washed in a year and a half. I know. I am ashamed. And I need help.

How to Clean and Care for Pillows

I have two boys and a husband, and their pillows usually only last a year. I get the heebie-jeebies when I start noticing stains. When the pillows get nasty I just throw them out and buy new ones. It seems so wasteful! Is this what I’m supposed to do, or is there some secret method for washing pillows?

Spare Sheet Storage

I needed to clean my linen closet out so I could start storing towels in there. Previously I had been storing blankets, tablecloths, and sheet sets in there; but with the overabundance of towels I have unearthed since the Great Laundry Rescue of 2007, I need to make space for them in the linen closet.

Spring Cleaning List For Bedrooms

Lets talk about spring cleaning your bedrooms. Here we go, wheee!

Closets

Get Clothing Clutter Under Control

I find my bedroom becoming cluttered very quickly with clothes that are “too clean to wash” yet “not clean enough to put away”. I didn’t want to spend more time on laundry than I had to. What do other people do with their clothes? Do they wash every item, every time they wear it? Do they wear the same thing until it needs to be washed? Do they hang up or fold and put away slacks and jeans and tops that have been worn but aren’t dirty?

How to Eliminate Shoe Odor in Small Closets

I just did some awesome cleaning in my closet and swapped out my winter for summer stuff. I noticed my closet has a funky shoe odor. I googled it and saw a lot of ideas for getting rid of the shoe smell, but I trust Home-Ec 101 ideas more.

The Fastest And Easiest Way To Declutter Your Closet

Every once in awhile you come up with an idea that is so simple, you wonder why you didn’t think of it before.

How To Have A Linen Closet And Linens That Smell Great

I want to know how to get that “not great smell” out of my linens. I wash them and put them away and they smell great, when I get them out to use them there is no smell or an “old” smell to them. Should I wash down the walls & shelves of the linen closet?

Have a question not covered here? Submit it to helpme@home-ec101.com.

house cleaning help

Click the picture for more cleaning help!

bathroom cleaning

Tips to keep your bathroom squeaky clean!

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The Great Washing Machine Debate

Dear Home-Ec 101,

What washing machine is better top or side load?

Signed,
Wishy-Washy in Waseca

Heather says:

Isn’t it fun when someone answers your question with “It depends?”

The front-load vs top loading washing machine debate has been going on for years, about ten in the US. High-efficiency front loading washing machines hit the mainstream back in 2004 or so. Some of the lower end models of front-loading washing machines had major problems that frustrated their owners. The good news is that there have been improvements, but Once Bitten Twice Shy and people were reluctant to give these washers another chance.

So let’s take a look at where things are today.

Should you buy a top-load or front-load washer

Front-load clothes washers are still more efficient than standard top loading machines but not that much more efficient than high-efficiency top-loading washers.

Efficiency isn’t everything or we would all be driving hybrid cars, right?

Some front loading washing machines are stackable, so if you’re super tight on space, this may be an option for you.

High-efficiency top loading washers are generally easier to load and unload, unless you’re of small stature. The ease of loading and unloading can be improved for a front-load machine by placing the appliance on a pedestal.

Front-loading washers tend to remove more water during the spin cycle than their top loading counterparts which reduces the amount of energy used to dry the load of clothing. This factor won’t matter at all, if you prefer to hang your clothing to dry.

Front-loading washers are still slightly better at stain removal than the top loading variety, but it’s pretty marginal and I am willing to bet that pre-treating makes a big difference.

Top loading machines still use more energy to agitate the clothing, use more water, and require more detergent for loads of comparable size, but the gap has been shrinking over the last few years.

And of course, the final comparison is cost.

Standard top loading machines are the cheapest, but least efficient appliances. High efficiency top loading washers come in second in both terms of cost and efficiency. Finally front-loading machines are the most expensive, but most efficient machines.

When you’re making your appliance choice, factor in the long term cost of electricity and water use. If your water is heated by natural gas or propane, you’ll find your clothes washer likely has less of an impact on your overall energy costs than if you’re stuck with an electric water heater like me.

Which of these factors matter most to you?

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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Weekly Menu Plan #20

Heather says:

The last menu plan I posted was back in 2011.

I’d like to say that I’ve just been doing them on the sly, but the truth is, I fell off the wagon and never could get back on until I got my life back in order. I know I‘m not the only one interested in getting back into or started with the habit. If you’re looking forward to making something new this week or want to share your menu feel free to do so in the comment. (Just do one link per comment or the SPAM filter will get you*).

So we’re here, it’s a brand new year, I have a pantry and even a blackout pantry once again. Now it’s time to get my budget back in line and stop doing the 5pm stare into the refrigerator or the 6pm dash through the grocery store. If you’ve wanted to menu plan but aren’t sure how to start, I wrote a helpful series on basic menu planning.

It’s January which means collard greens and root vegetables are in season and pork is generally cheaper, at least in the South. I’m hoping to begin posting recipes again, but we’ll see what happens. I’m trying to tone down my expectations. Reality has bitten me in the butt often enough. And looking at the menu yes,I know that’s a lot of chicken, it’s what is in the freezer.

I’ve linked the recipes that are on the site and those that I plan on referencing. Most of this week’s menu is being made from items in the freezer or pantry, but I’ll supplement with items from the sales flyer.

  • Monday – Red beans and rice, okra (frozen) – I’ll probably just stir that right into the red beans and rice
  • Tuesday –  Taco Tuesday – Buffalo chicken tacos with avocado (if available) side salads with chipotle ranch (the chicken will be cooked in the slow cooker and shredded, the buffalo sauce will be added shortly before serving
  • Wednesday –  Pulled Chicken Sandwiches (or tacos for the non-wheat tolerant), kale and brussels sprout slaw, and sweet potato fries
  • Thursday – Date Night – Shrimp Curry has been requested… it’s going to depend on what I find on sale at the grocery store and I might investigate the fish market nearby, if I feel adventurous.
  • Friday – Albondigas – made with ground pork, I’ve found this works really well
  • Saturday – CORN (That’s Clean Out Refrigerator Night)
  • Sunday –  Coconut milk chicken thighs, Thai Peanut Spaghetti Squash and something green, probably broccoli

I’m starting a log of what we’re eating (for all of our meals) to help build a more substantial emergency pantry based on our eating habits.

Let’s do this.

*A note on comments, you only have to be approved the first time you comment. I had to turn this on after dealing with hundreds of spam comments a day. Once you’re in and proven to be a person and not some poor soul paid pennies a comment, your comments will show up in real time.