My daughter Bug wanted to have a Minecraft sleepover birthday party this year.  As of this writing, there are no licensed Minecraft items for birthday parties - no plates, napkins, treat bags, balloons, cake toppers - nothing.  So, I scoured pinterest and the web, found some ideas and came up with a few easy projects of my own, too.  

Bug decided to make the invitations herself.  She used paper blocks that I cut to create a creeper face.  I used clip art and created the detailed inside.

Next up were the treat bags.

I purchased a six pack of small green fabric bags with handles at Hobby Lobby.  I used scrabble tiles and fabric paint to stamp the face of the creeper onto the bags.

 I then used the edges of a foam paint brush to darken the painted area.


Next up were the Marshmallow Peep Creepers, which I wrote about here.

We put the Creeper Peeps in the treat bags along with a square puzzle eraser and two Rainbow Loom Minecraft bracelets that Bug created - a creeper one she designed on her own and a Steve bracelet (see below) she made using this youtube tutorial.

Game wise, they kids brought tablets to play Minecraft, 

...but we also played pin the tail on the pig, using a block pig I made using multiple colors of pink and a square punch.  

Lastly, Bug wanted some kind of Minecraft cake.  I took inspiration from this cake and came up with a similar design that used dairy-free chocolate cake, homemade rice krispie treat blocks, and blue finger jello.  Making a dairy-free frosting that was the right consistancy and flavor for my taste was a challenge (and one I didn't expect), but it turned out pretty tasty.  For the topper, I used a fold-able paper cut out from Cyberdrone at DeviantArt which I altered slightly before printing by putting her face (pixelated, of course) over Steve's.  

Of course we used square green & black plates and green cups. 

And no party is complete without a mustache straw!

We had tacos for dinner and then served Twizzler bites and "window" pretzels to keep with the square Minecraft theme for late night snack. 

I think everyone had a good time and everyone went to sleep before 1am!!
While planning my daughter's birthday party, I came across a Creeper Peep recipe and a free printable label at Say Not Sweet Anne.  I'd never attempted to make marshmallow before, much less a homemade peep, but it was so easy!  Here's what I did.

To make the Homemade Marshmallow Creepers, you will need a stand mixer and these ingredients: 

2 1/4 cups of granulated white sugar 
green food coloring 3 packets of unflavored gelatin
1 cup light corn syrup 1 cup cold water
1 tsp vanilla 

Start by making some green colored sugar.  You can purchase this at a store, but it is so easy and cheap to make, why not do it yourself?!  Put 3/4 cup of the sugar in the bowl of your mixer.  Add 20-30 drops of food coloring and mix until the color has spread through the sugar.  Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl for an even coating.  If the green is not quite the shade you are looking for, add a few more drops of coloring.  Once the color is even, spread the sugar out onto a cookie sheet to dry.  It looks a little like a lunar landscape if the moon were made out of green cheese...

I let the sugar dry for about an hour before I poured the sugar back into the mixer and used the whisk to break up the clumps that had formed.  A few seconds on low and I had completely granulated green sugar.  While the sugar is drying, I sprayed the bottom and sides of a 9x13 casserole dish with non-stick spray. Once I finished whisking the sugar, I wiped the mixer parts with some non-stick spray.

Next up is the marshmallow making.  Start by putting 1/2 of the cold water into the mixer bowl.  Add the packets of gelatin set it aside.

In a measuring cup, I mixed the remaining water, the corn syrup, and three drops of green food coloring.  I thought it was fascinating how the coloring dissipated in the mixture.

Pour the mixture into a medium size sauce pan and add the rest of the sugar.  Heat on medium high, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. 

Heat the concoction until it reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. This took me about 10-15 minutes.  In the original post, she said it took about 5.

Once it reaches 240 degrees, turn your mixer on low and slowly pour the boiling solution into the gelatin mixture in the mixing bowl.

Once you've got it all poured in, turn the speed of the mixer up to high.  Add the vanilla extract. Let it mix until it is thick and fluffy.  For me, the marshmallow fluffed so much that it began creeping it's way up the blades of the mixer after about 7 minutes.

Once it is fluffy, spread it into the greased casserole dish.  Smooth the top with a lightly greased rubber spatula until it is flat.  Coat the top with the green sugar.

Allow to set for about an hour and then carefully turn out and flip over the marshmallow onto freezer paper.  Cover the bottom and sides with the green sugar.     

Use a greased pizza cutter to cut the block in half length-wise.  Sugar the raw edge.  Then use the cutter to slice the halves into creeper size pieces.  Dust the raw edges with sugar.  

Use a greased knife to cut the four legs of the creeper.  Be sure to sugar each raw edge to prevent the marshmallow from sticking to everything!

Now you will need to paint the faces of the creeper.  In the original post, she suggested using a chocolate ganache (her recipe is in the link above).  My daughter has a dairy sensitivity so I whipped up a quick ganache using 2 tsp dairy-free chocolate chips and 2 tsp of homemade dairy-free heavy whipping cream.   Paint it on using a tooth pick and a lot of patience.

 Your creeper should turn out looking similar to this and will taste DELICIOUS!  My taste testers told me that these tasted "way better" than peeps that you can buy.  Mission accomplished!!

Tonight was our final Olympic meal for the 2014 Olympics.  I hope you have enjoyed our culinary journey around the World as much was we have.  Hopefully you've seen some kind of food that interests you and inspires you to give it a try!

For our last dinner, we celebrated China with a meal of rice, peas, and Chinese Braised Ribs.  This recipe has been sitting on one of my pinterest boards for a while now.  I was glad to come across it when I was looking for meals from different countries.

The Verdict:  The ribs were good, but had a very strong flavor.  For me, that is a good thing.  For the two youngest kids, it was not.  I would definitely make them again, even though I injured myself in the preperation.  Beware of spitting grease when you are searing the ribs  - getting hit in the eye, tear duct area with hot grease is NOT fun.  Trust me on this one.

Chinese Braised Ribs (original recipe from Eating Out Loud)

You will need:
2 lbs pork spare ribs, separated
2 TBSP canola oil
1/2 cup and 1 TBSP soy sauce
1 1/4 cup white wine
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP minced ginger
2 TBSP golden syrup

So apparently you can purchase a cut of ribs called Asian style ribs.  I couldn't find those so I got a regular rack of spare ribs.  We sliced them apart into single ribs.

Heat the oil in your dutch oven.  Add the ribs and brown on all sides.  Beware of spitting grease!!

Add all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes. Check periodically to make sure their is enough moisture and add a bit of water if it becomes dry (but it shouldn’t).

Remove cover and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced to a thick, sticky glaze.  We never quite accomplished this, as the liquid separated into a glaze and a residual oil.  We just drained off the oil and enjoyed the ribs!
Tonight was originally going to be the last night of our 2014 Olympic cooking experience.  However, I realized last night that the kiddos have activities that provide dinner for them and I didn't want to make my last dish for only two of us.  So, I quickly found another country and looked at some recipes that might be good.  I decided, since Chip and I both have Dutch heritage, we'd have a dish from the Netherlands.  So, I made Groentesoep met balletjes (vegetable soup with meatballs) and citroencake (lemon cake) for dessert.

The Verdict:  I had the kids sample the soup, while Chip and I were eating.  Boo loved it, Ebabe and Bug were not thrilled.  Both Chip & I thought it was very tasty, reminding us of a crockpot sausage tortellini soup I've made before.  Groentesoep met balletjes was significantly faster to make and very easy.  The cake was not as sweet as I thought it would be, but very good.  Chip thought it tasted like he was eating lemonade, a positive thing.  The girls loved it and asked for more!

Groentesoep Met Balletjes (original recipe from Holland)
You will need:
1/3 lb of ground pork
1/3 lb of ground beef
1 TBSP breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
34 oz of chicken stock
4 leeks, chopped
2 carrots, sliced 
3 stalks of celery, sliced
1/2 head of cauliflower, separated into small pieces

Put chicken stock in a medium pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, add vegetables, and simmer for at least 20 minutes.

While the broth is simmering, combine the ground pork, ground beef, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper.  Form into marble size balls. 

Drop the balls a few at a time into the liquid mixture.  Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes.  They will start to float when they are fully cooked. Add more meatballs, stirring in between batches.  Continue this process until all the meatballs are in the soup. 

Citroencake (original recipe from The Dutch Table) altered for Dairy-free

You will need:
1 cup of softened Earth Balance Spread (2 sticks)
1 heaping cup of sugar
1 1/2 cups of cake flour
5 eggs, warmed to room temperature
1 tsp lemon extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
4 TBSP powdered sugar
1 TBSP almond milk
1 medium lemon (zest & juice)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. 

If you are like me, make sure you are fully paying attention to the directions while you do this.  I was distracted with the US vs Canada Hockey game and was battling some major head congestion.  Because of that, I read that I needed 1 lb of butter, not 1 cup.  Thankfully I realized this in time to rescue my dessert by doubling the recipe!

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add one egg at a time to mix.  Next add the flour and mix until blended (about 30-45 seconds).  Add the lemon and vanilla extracts, the salt, and about a TBSP of lemon juice, squeezed from the lemon. 

Transfer the batter into a greased and floured 9x5 loaf pan.  Bake for 50 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out cleanly.  The top should be a golden brown.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool on a wire rack until completely cool.

While cake is cooling, mix powdered sugar, remaining lemon juice, and milk to form a glaze. 

If you run out of measuring spoons (mine were all in the running dishwasher), you can always use a medicine cup.  1 TBSP = 3 tsp

When cake is cool, place on a plate or parchment paper and pour glaze over the top.  Sprinkle with lemon zest before glaze dries.

Tonight, we had a taste of India!  I have two good friends who are from India and who were so supportive in helping me find a traditional recipe for Butter Chicken, giving me ingredients, telling me about their culture and how each area in India is so different.  I love listening to them talk about their experiences and learning more about what life is like in other countries.  One of my friends even had her husband, who was on a work trip to India when I was looking for recipes, bring home some traditional dessert sweets for us to try!  Awesome, right?!  She also bought us Naan and Kulcha and gave me some of the spices that I did not have.  The other made sure that I knew how to properly eat the Butter Chicken with the Naan.  You don't use silverware, you just tear off part of the bread and scoop the chicken and sauce with the bread.  I would never have thought about eating it that way.  I am so fortunate to have such wonderful friends who are so passionate about their homeland and are so willing to help me learn.

The dessert sampler from India
The Verdict:  Yum!  The Butter Chicken was less spicy and more sweet than I anticipated.  It was very rich and full of flavor.  The kids liked it and enjoyed eating without using silverware!  Ebabe was not fond of any of the desserts, which are made of different kinds of nuts and sugars, but everyone else had at least one favorite!  The Butter Chicken was easy to modify for a dairy-free meal, although the naan, kulcha, and various desserts did contain some milk products.

Butter Chicken (original recipe from Sanjeev Kapoor)

You will need:

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken cut into 1½ inch pieces
1-2 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP & 1 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder
1 tsp salt
4 TBSP Earth Balance Spread
1/2 cup plain Coconut Yogurt
3 teaspoons Ginger paste
3 teaspoons Garlic paste
1/2 tsp Garam masala powder
2 tsp vegetable oil 
1/4 tsp ground cardamom  
1/4 tsp ground clove  
2-3 Black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 TBSP sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kasoori methi
1/2 cup cream of coconut

The first step of the original recipe was to use 400 grams of lemon juice.  I could not for the life of me figure out how you could convert grams to cups.  Chip did the calculations and said that 400 grams is approximately 1.6 cups.  So, I mixed 1 1/2 cups of lemon juice, 1 TBSP of the Kashmiri red chili powder, and 1 tsp of salt and let the chicken pieces soak in the liquid for half an hour in the fridge.  After thinking about it, I believe that you should make a simple paste using a few TBSP of lemon juice and the ingredients listed just above.  My way worked, I'm just not sure that it was what the original recipe wanted me to do.

The original recipe also says to hang the yogurt in muslin cloth for 15 minutes to allow for extra water to be removed.  Since I was using coconut yogurt, which is a bit thicker than normal dairy yogurt, and I didn't have muslin, I scooped it onto a piece of paper towel and let it sit for a few minutes.  No liquid came out.

In a medium container, add the 2 tsp of ginger paste and 2 tsp of garlic paste, 1/2 tsp red chili powder, garam masala powder, 1 tsp salt and the vegetable oil to the yogurt. Mix well.  

 Apply this marinade to the chicken pieces and place them in the refrigerator for three to four hours.  
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Thread the chicken on to skewers and place on a baking sheet. 

Cook the chicken for 12-15 minutes.  Baste with Earth Balance spread and allow to cook for 2 more minutes.  Remove and set aside.

To make the makhni gravy, heat 2 TBSP butter in a medium non-stick pan. Add the cardamom, clove, peppercorns and cinnamon. Sauté for two minutes, then add 1 tsp ginger paste and 1 tsp garlic paste, and sauté for two more minutes. Add to the mix, the tomato puree, 1/2 tsp red chili powder, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for ten minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the sugar, powdered kasoori methi and the tandoori chicken, removed from the skewers.  Coat the chicken with the gravy.  Simmer for 5 minutes.

 Add the cream of coconut and stir over low heat until completely mixed.

Serve with naan or kulcha.

To see how we celebrated India during the 2010 Olympics, click here.