Friday, June 24, 2016

Recipe Trials

Once again I'm rounding up some old pictures from recipes we tried ~

Ham & Cheese Pinwheels

Hot Ham & Cheese Party Rolls - This one was from way back in January, when a friend sent us home with spiral-cut ham leftovers. We'd already had ham a few times over the holiday, so I wanted to try something different with it. I varied from the recipe a little by using crescent rolls, and did change up the sauce a bit (dropping the mustard, using about 1/4 the butter and 1/2 the rest). It was hard to work with such thick ham slices, and it ended up ripping some of the rolls apart. I'd recommend using lunchmeat slices normally, but it was a great use for leftovers. These turned out so good, and 5-year-old couldn't get enough of them, so I need to make them again soon!

Chicken Florentine Pasta

Chicken Florentine Pasta - Really good, nice & creamy. I barely changed this recipe & have it typed up ready to share, I just need to get a better photo first!

Dorito Dogs, wrap

Dorito Dogs

Dorito Dogs - These were really fun! You wrap hot dogs and cheese slices up in crescent roll rectangles, then roll them in crushed Doritos before baking. I made sure to snap some nice step-by-step pics of this one, but in the end I felt like there was a bit too much cheese and it would actually be better with half of a slice, so I need to re-take the pics to match.

Chicken with Sweet Potatoes, Kale, & Corn

Chicken with Sweet Potatoes, Corn, & Kale Bake - We weren't wowed by the chicken on this one, but the corn, kale, onion, and sweet potato mixture was actually shockingly good. We'll definitely keep that in mind for a future side dish.

Broccoli Bites

Broccoli Bites - My kids aren't always the best at eating their veggies, but they will often eat roasted veggies that you wouldn't expect, like kale or Brussels sprouts. I searched around for some new veggie recipes I thought they might like, and found lots of mini muffins and 'bites' like these. They were pretty good, and I feel like the kids ate a few when they were fresh, but were not interested in the leftovers at all. So, might be good for a dinner side, but not something I can stick in a lunchbox! (I think next time I would use the chopper and mince the broccoli up so it is small dots instead of giant obvious chunks.)

Sticky Sweet Chicken & Breaded Asparagus

Sticky Sweet Chicken & Breaded Asparagus - These drumsticks were supposed to bake in the sauce until it 'caramelized', but I never noticed a change. They were tasty, but from what I can remember the sauce was a little too lightly flavored & might have been better over wings where there is more surface area? Breading the asparagus took way too much work for very little payoff, so I wouldn't bother with that again!

Garlic Ginger Shrimp

Garlic Ginger Shrimp - I feel like this one was tasty, but there was way too much sauce & the flavor was too strong. Might be worth trying again with some tweaking.

Skinny Quiche

Skinny Quiche - I added more broccoli to this recipe & divided it into 4 ramekins for individual 200 calorie mini quiches. They were OK, but I started playing around with numbers from our normal quiche recipe, and I think I might be able to make a 200 calorie version using real eggs and less of the low-fat stuff. If they work, I think they would be much better. We'll see!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cash Back with Shopping Rebate Apps - Ibotta and more

At the start of the month I was flipping through an old Rachael Ray magazine and saw a mention of a shopping rebate app called Ibotta. Apparently it's been around for years, but this was the first I'd heard about it! I did some research before downloading the app and was quickly convinced to get it. I've had it for about 1 1/2 weeks, already earned nearly $35 (plus more on my husband's account), and have become a little obsessed!


How does it work? ~
Choose a store, choose rebates, go shopping. Afterward, scan the item barcode and take a picture of your receipt, and you'll get a credit in your account. Once you reach $20 you can cash out to Paypal or Venmo, or they have gift cards for Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, etc.

Ibotta works at Walmart, Target, big chain grocery stores, pharmacies, and more. There are a *lot* of rebates (about 200-500 per store), so you definitely won't have trouble finding a deal! Some current examples include $3 off Luvs diapers, $1 off Bounty paper towels, $1 off Banana Boat sunscreen, $2 off Kotex tampons, and so on.

"Any Brand" rebates ~
One thing I was really excited about are the 'any brand' offers that rotate out each week. This week you can get $.50 off *any* gallon of milk, $.50 off a dozen eggs, $.25 off bananas, onions, tomatoes, etc. With 2 kids in the house we are constantly buying milk and bananas, so these can really add up over time! 

$10 bonus for signing up, $5-10 for referring a friend ~
Sign-up, use 1 rebate within the first week, and you get $10! You also get $5 every time a friend joins with your referral link/code, so when you sign-up make sure to find a friend that uses it and share the love (here's my link, or my code is nwhblwe). This month there was an extra $5 bonus for your first friend, so I had my husband sign up and we both made $10 from that.

Stack rebates with coupons & other rebate apps ~ 
You can still use a coupon at the store and then get the rebate after shopping. I'm not usually good with coupons, but this has got me motivated to keep my eye out for some great deals! (Check out for tons of printable coupons!) You can also redeem the same receipt with multiple rebate apps, which I'll talk about below.

Just this week I found some overlapping coupons/rebates and was able to get a Zest body wash and a 3 pack of bar soap for free, a different Zest shower gel for free (I actually made $1.75 off that one), and found Glade candle 2-packs for $.88. I'm definitely going to start stocking up for teacher/birthday/shower gifts!

Bonuses & Teamwork ~
Other than the sheer number of rebates, another thing that sets Ibotta apart is the bonuses. There are a ton of extras that you can earn for buying certain combinations, like a $3 bonus for buying 3 items from the health & beauty section, or $.75 bonus for buying a Glade oil warmer and refills in the same trip. These are automatically added to your account so you don't have to 'unlock' them or add them yourself. 

If you find yourself using a lot of rebates, you may be able to get big 'teamwork' bonuses too. Your team consists of your friends on Facebook and friends you referred. If you use enough rebates (between 10-25 this month) and your team earns enough money ($15-30) you can earn a $10+ bonus each month! (The team bonuses are tiered, so 10 rebates and $15 team earnings will earn you $1, then 12 rebates and $20 earnings adds another $2 and so on.) If you want to build up a team, just ask for friends on the Ibotta Team Builder page and you will soon have plenty. I didn't want to add a bunch of strangers on my real Facebook, so I created a new FB page just for Ibotta and linked that to my account. But in the end it's easy to get a team that can earn the needed amount, the real challenge is meeting your own requirements if you want the monthly bonuses.

Search & website ~ 
Another thing that really makes Ibotta shine is the search bar. When you search it will pull up results from rebates, bonuses, and even store names, making it super easy to access anything quickly. Surprisingly *none* of the other rebate apps I tried even had a search option!! Though they do have far fewer rebates to search through (less than 100), it's still very annoying to have to scroll through the list every time. Ibotta does also have a website where you can browse & search through the rebates, though you can only load them on your phone.

Other Rebate Apps?
There are actually a lot out there! I wasn't really planning on getting more rebate apps, but as I looked online to find some good Ibotta deals, I kept seeing girls say they got another $1 off with this app and another with that app. I did a little more research and picked 3 that seemed to be the most popular & most rewarding. Time will tell!

While this one has far fewer rebate offers than Ibotta (about 90 this week), it is the largest of the other apps I tried. And there does seem to be a good amount of overlap with coupons, Ibotta rebates, and a couple of 'any brand' offers, which is what makes it really valuable. Once you reach $20 you can request a check, though I have heard it is slow to arrive! They add new rebates every Thursday, and seem to re-load the old ones, so you may need to select them again. They do also have a website interface, but there is no search bar or categories on either. (At least online I can easily drop to the bottom of the page and Ctrl+F to search the page!) So far in the last few days I've earned $6.75 (with a $3 bonus on the way). 

This app does does not offer quite as many rebates (about 60 this week), and frankly a lot of them are duds. They do have a ton of 'any brand' offers on things like clementines, bacon, deodorant and more (about 10 this week), though they each only give you a $.10 rebate. I believe there is also one free item posted each week, which can even make you some money if you find overlapping deals. Any money you earn is deposited instantly into your Paypal account. There is no website option, and no search bar, but you can at least browse through the rebates by category. This week I got one free item ($3) and about $.40 from 'any brand' rebates.

This app offers the fewest amount of rebates (40 this week), and most of them seem to be cumulative, like a $5 rebate when you spend $25 on Frito-Lays products (not all on one trip). Those bonuses are really only helpful if it is a product your family buys a whole lot of, but offers a nice bonus if you do (we might actually reach the Lays amount, haha). They do also have a weekly 'healthy' offer for 20% off a produce item, like cucumbers or mangoes. And about once a month there is a free item - this month it's a frozen pizza. You can cash out to your Paypal or bank account once you've earned $5. They do also have a website where you can browse and add the rebates to your account, and you can sort the offers by category there (not on the app). With all of the cumulative offers, I haven't earned anything on this app yet, though I'll definitely snag that free pizza that just popped up!

In the end, I'd say Ibotta is definitely worth getting, and you can really rack up some extra money with it if you use it regularly. The other rebate apps are a little hit & miss, though when they overlap with other deals, you can get items for a fraction of the price (or even free!). Let me know if you have a favorite rebate app I didn't mention here, or know if any good deals!

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Painted Couch Project

Painting couches?! I know it sounds a little crazy, but it is possible. Painting our couch showed me that you can get a good result, but unfortunately ours was not a very good candidate for painting (I'll explain why below). The finished couch looks decent in the living room, but if you get up close, it has some flaws. I actually finished this project a long time ago, but was too bummed with the finished job to take pics.

And Target is pretty much to blame for the whole thing! It all started with this lovely settee that we ordered from Target's website ~ 

Target pic - Velvet Canary Settee

Now, I know color varies a little bit on your computer screen, but that picture was so far off the mark! Instead of a bright, vibrant yellow, we ended up with a pale, pastel color. See below. It's not a terrible color, but definitely not what I had in mind for the room.

Couch, pale yellow, before

I hadn't really found any similar couches to replace it with, and I didn't want to deal with trying to ship such a huge thing back to return it, so I dealt with it. I thought maybe the color would grow on me, but weeks later I was still grumbling every time I walked past it. Finally I started doing a little research on painting furniture, and decided I needed to give it a try. It was a little nerve-wracking to test it out on a brand new couch (that we just paid hundreds for), but my research had me pretty confident about the whole project, especially since we just needed to change the color a little!

Painting couch, 1

First I perused the craft paints and picked out my favorite two yellows. I took apart the couch, tried them out on a hidden area, and was getting pretty excited. 

Painting couch, 2

From all of the tutorials I read, for each coat you want to mix 1 part paint, 1 part textile medium, and 1 part water. The textile medium makes the paint a little more flexible, and it will adhere to the fabric a little better. For the first coat, you may want to spray the fabric with water first, or use more water in your mixture. I didn't notice much of a difference at the time, so I skipped that step.

Painting couch, 3

Once the paint dries, you rub everything down with sandpaper to soften it up a bit, then do another coat or two until opaque. Simple enough? Naturally I had a few unexpected problems!

1) Hobby Lobby only stocked about 3-4 bottles of the yellow craft paint at a time, and it didn't take me long to get through those. The store wouldn't re-stock for a week, and sometimes missed a week (maybe I bought it after they'd sent in the order for the week). I checked the other craft stores in town, and didn't have luck with those, so then I started driving to every Hobby Lobby in nearby towns. I was having to hit store after store for weeks, and the project dragged on. I probably should have just asked the employees to order a big batch for me, but I kept thinking I only needed 4 more bottles & I'd be done (I was wrong again and again). In the end I needed about 20 bottles of paint, though I wouldn't have needed quite so much if I hadn't made a mistake (see #4).

2) Apparently velvet is not a great fabric to paint, with its longer, fuzzy fibers. This might not have even been a problem if the couch was mostly large, flat areas, because the flat back & sides of the couch turned out pretty nice & soft. But everywhere there was a pleat or tuft, I ended up with rough edges that would just not sand down to get soft. :( And with a tufted, velvet couch, I was pretty much doomed from the start!

Painted couch close-up (dingy)

3) Since the tufted seat of the couch still had a lot of rough spots, I pulled out a coarser sanding block to see if that would help. Unfortunately all it did was leave a gray color on the fabric that I couldn't remove, making the seat area look pretty dingy.

4) After I'd done about 2 or 3 coats on the whole couch, and was ready to be finished, I realized that the paint had not gotten down to the bottom of the fibers, and the pale yellow was peeking through in some spots (especially in cracks along the pleats). Remember how I skipped that extra watery coat for the first step? Yeah, that probably would have helped it really sink down there. I ended up having to buy even more paint for another coat and really soaking the thing. 

Painted couch

In the end, I love the color, and we do get lots of compliments on the couch. Just don't look at it too close! While the paint job is a little rougher & more uneven than I would like, I suppose I would be even grumpier with the couch if it were still that pale yellow color. But I don't know that I would recommend furniture painting unless it is a very flat, and not a plush fabric!