Monday, March 6, 2017

Escape Room Dinner!

Escape Rooms are a huge trend right now, and they are popping up all over the place with good reason.  I have been to two different escape rooms this year, and they are SO much fun!  What are they you ask?  They are interactive adventure games where typically participants are locked in a room, and they must work together to solve fun and challenging puzzles before time runs out.  I wanted to create an escape room in my own home for the monthly dinner this month. This is a daunting task to write it all yourself, but lucky for me, Juliana & Ariel came to the rescue! These two ladies are the co-creators of a new table top game, Escape Room In A Box.  They contacted me about putting together a party planner to be included in their game, and I can't wait to share with you (and them) what I came up with!

The game is about an evil mad scientist werewolf who is trying to turn you into a werewolf too.  You will see that werewolf aspects, science/medical tools, locks, and chains were incorporated into much of my decor and food.

Invite:  My guests encountered an initial puzzle when they first received their invitation.  At this point, they did not know the theme or anything yet.  I just included this for fun with the intention of making the puzzle pretty easy to decipher. (I'm sure you figured it out, but if you use the red letters only, they form a message.)

I designed the invitation using PhotoShop. I wanted to include the Escape Room in a Box phrase of 19 Puzzles. 3 Locks. 1 Hour, because it lets guests know a little bit about what to expect.

Entry:  As guests approached my door, they were met with their first puzzle.  I used poster board to make a sign with a large gold key and a decoder wheel.  In order to get in the front door, they had to solve the puzzle, use the puzzle's solution to open the combination lock, and inside the box was the key to my front door! I used a combination lock I already owned, so I just matched the code to the existing combination.

Inside Decor:  I kept with a color scheme of black, grey, cream, and red to match the invitations.  Throughout the party areas, I placed science beakers that I borrowed from a teacher at my school. I filled them with water and food coloring. You could add dry ice to give them even more pizazz.  I used pieces from some of my Premier Designs necklaces to wrap around each beaker to look like chains.  I added locks I found at a thrift store for $1 to each chain.

I also placed chains along the table and some medical viles I borrowed for a nursing friend of mine.

For the centerpiece, I used the Escape Room in a Box game, and this super cool sphere made of keys!  I randomly found this piece on clearance for $4 at Marshall's the week before my party!  SCORE!

My nursing friend also gave me some biohazard bags that I decided to use to hold the napkin and utensils. You can purchase these on Amazon if you don't have a source who can get them for you.

I always do place cards for my dinner parties, but I wanted this one to incorporate a puzzle.  I decided to make these little lock boxes. I bought the boxes for $1 a piece at Michaels, removed the clasp, drilled bigger holes, and painted them black.  I printed off various science-related warning signs and glued one to the top of each box.  I then knotted red cording through and placed a combination lock on it.  I wasn't able to find this kind of lock at the thrift store, so I purchased them on Amazon here.

When it was time for guests to find their seat, they were each given a puzzle card with their name on it.  I created these on the computer and personalized them for each guest.
When they solved the puzzle, it revealed to them a 3-digit code.  Each guest then had to test their code on all the place card boxes to find which box/lock was opened with their particular code! fun!

Once open, the guest's place card was inside. I made the place cards using Photoshop.  Each one was different.

For wine charms, I bought small little keys in the jewelry-making section of Michaels.  I tied them around the stem of each glass with ribbon.

I created the wine bottle labels using images from Escape Room in a Box so they matched the rest of my decor.

Menu:  If you are regular follower of my blog, you know that I like my food to match the party theme. This party is no exception.  I started the evening with a green salad, but served the salad dressing in large syringes to keep the medical/science theme of the game.  These were large syringes from Party City that are normally used for "shots". (I used these same syringes for spaghetti sauce at my Fake an Injury Party in 2012.)

For the main dish, I served Werewolf Sliders.  These were made to look like werewolf claws.  Here is the recipe for this yummy dish.

Werewolf Sliders
 2 Yellow onions, diced
 4 Garlic cloves, diced
1 cup Chicken stock
1 tablespoon Dark brown sugar packed
1 tablespoon Chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 teaspoon Ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
5 pounds Pork shoulder or pork butt
2 cups KING'S HAWAIIAN Sweet Pineapple BBQ Sauce
1 pound Green Beans, cut approx. 2-inch long
12 Bread & butter pickles
12 KING'S HAWAIIAN Sweet Dinner Rolls 
1.  Place the diced onions and garlic in an even layer in the slow cooker and pour the chicken stock over the top.  
2.  Combine the sugar, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Rub the sugar and spice mixture over the pork and place the meat on top of the onions and garlic.  Place the lid on top of the slow cooker and cook until the pork is tender, about 6 to 8 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low. 
3.  Remove the pork from the slow cooker and place on a cutting board. Set a strainer over a medium sized bowl and pour the remaining contents of the onion mixture through the strainer and return the solids to the slow cooker.  Using 2 forks, shred the pork into bite-sized pieces. Return the shredded meat to the slow cooker and add the KING'S HAWAIIAN Original Sweet Pineapple BBQ Sauce. Mix the sauce and meat together. 
4.  Slice KING’S HAWAIIAN dinner rolls in half; separate top half from bottom half. With the open side facing up, place spoonful of BBQ pulled pork on top.
5.  Place a slice of bread & butter pickle onto center of pulled pork. 
6.  For the claws, place four of the 2 inch cut green beans onto each roll.

I also served a Smoked Bacon Tomato Soup that was absolutely AMAZING! I found the recipe on Pinterest and decided to try it out.   The ingredients are:

10 slices turkey bacon
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups fresh tomatoes, diced {skins on} or 5-6 cans of diced or stewed tomatoes
2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream {optional}
  1. In a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon, turning once, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel; allow to cool and crumble the bacon into small pieces.
  2. Melt the butter into the bacon grease, and sauté the chopped onion and garlic for about 5 minutes, until slightly browned and softened.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes to the onion mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, allowing the tomato mixture to slightly cool.
  4. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, about 2 cups at a time. When pureeing in a blender, make sure you place a paper towel over the top, in place of the lid, and proceed in pureeing. This will eliminate any splatters.
  5. Return the pureed tomato mixture to the large frying pan; add paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Return the soup to a boil, then turn off the heat.
  6. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the soup in bowls, topped with the crumbled bacon {and sour cream}.
  7. Serves 6-8.

I also made petri dish jello.  Poured the jello in and waited until it had set up just a little bit before adding drops of food coloring.  I found the petri dishes on Amazon.

For dessert, I decided to make a Moon pie. The recipes I found online for moon pies were for individual pies, but I wanted something a bit easier.  I basically just invented this pie based on the same ingredients as the individual versions.  It was a graham cracker crust topped with chocolate fudge.  On top of that, I put marshmallow cream mixed with cool whip.  I used  red gel frosting to make the wolf slash marks on the top.  I melted chocolate and used a paper stencil of the same wolf's head from the game to make the chocolate pieces to place on top.

Activity:  After the meal, we put our thinking caps on and began to play Escape Room in a Box.  I won't show you photos of this (beyond this first one after opening the box) as I don't want to spoil your fun.  The great part about this game is not only that it is challenging and fun teamwork, but I personally loved that as the hostess, I could play too! I didn't know any of the answers or what to expect since Juliana & Ariel, the creators of Escape Room in a Box, did all the work for me!  I think it would be great to have about 5-6 people working together to solve this game.  I had a few guests that had to leave partway through, which made it even more challenging, but we powered through to the end! Lucky for us, we were able to use the included "hint book" to help us the couple of times we were stuck.

Favor: I decided to create two treats as my parting gifts.  A key to symbolize their escape and a werewolf finger to symbolize their lack of escape. I created this tag after coming up with the little rhyming phrase to make it fun.  To the make the keys, I bought a key mold from the local cake shop.  I melted white chocolate melts, and then when they were set, I sprayed the chocolate Wilton's gold candy spray. To make the werewolf fingers, I broke rod pretzels in half.  I melted soft caramel candies and dipped half of the pretzel in the caramel.  I shaped the caramel to be wide in sections to look like knuckles.  Once the caramel hardened, I dipped the caramel part in melted chocolate and placed a slivered almond to look like a fingernail.

Escape Room in a Box was a lot of fun, and I love the escape room theme.  If you are looking for a fun evening with friends, and you want to include challenge in your fun, then definitely try this theme.  Leave me a comment and let me know what some of your favorite details are from this party.  I love to hear from my readers!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

New Year, Old FRIENDS

Watching episodes of Friends on television always makes me laugh.  I just love the silly conversations and the quirky friendships on that show.  For my first monthly dinner of 2017 I decided to make Friends my theme.  It was an "New Year, Old FRIENDS" theme, but this would be a great theme for a birthday party, wedding, name it!

Invite:  I designed my invite with the purple door and gold frame from the show.  I utilized the same font as the show with the signature dots in between the letters.  The font is called Gabriel Weiss' Friends Font and you can download it here.

Entry:  I attempted to create the same purple door and frame on my front door.  I bought a lavender tablecloth and wrapped it around my door.  I created the frame with bright yellow poster board and markers.  I incorporated Joey Tribbiani's famous pick up line "How you doin'?" which I cut out using my Cricut machine.

Decor:  Since the Central Perk coffee shop is such a prominent setting in the Friends episodes, I wanted to try to incorporate it into the decor of the party. I also incorporated famous lines/symbols from the characters throughout.

I looked online and called around the various craft stores, but I couldn't find a huge coffee cup in my price range.  I randomly stopped at Ross two days before the party and found this one (and for only $5!)  I painted it black and printed the Central Perk logo onto printable vinyl that I then cut out and attached to the front of the mug. I filled the mug with a foam piece and then a layer of coffee beans on the top.

I made some photo props to represent some of the most famous episodes/lines from Friends that I stuck into my centerpiece coffee mug.  I also borrowed the complete season of DVDs from a friend to use as decor on my table.

I made my plates and napkins representative of the Friends door.  I cut the napkins like the yellow frame making sure to leave the folded side of the napkin uncut at parts so it would stay together.  On top of each napkin I added a mini KitKat bar with the famous Ross quote, "We were on a Break!"

For place cards, I superimposed my guest's face onto the face of a Friends character in a popular scene from the show.  I purposely did not do a "perfect" match because I thought that made it even funnier.  These are just a few of the examples.

As part of each place setting, I added a roll of Mentos along with the Joey's quote about being a "Mento" (mentor) for young kids.

A look at the entire place setting.

I set up a side table with drinks and an appetizer.

I made this sign out of foam board and card stock using my Cricut to cut the letters.

Instead of wine glasses, I decided to use coffee cups.  I bought mugs from the dollar store, and printed the Central Perk logo on vinyl.  I cut out the logo and adhered it to the coffee mug.  If you use waterproof Mod Podge, it will stay through washings. For wine charms, I made tags of the characters on Friends.  I even included characters like "Princess Consuela Banana Hammock" and "Miss Chanandler Bong" which gave my guests a fun laugh!

The wine labels I created on PhotoShop.

Menu:  Again, I tried to incorporate different scenes/well-known lines from Friends into my menu.  I started with a cheese and crackers appetizer. 

I bought a cow cookie cutter from the local cake shop for my cheese.  "Moo cows" as my 3-year old called them.  This was Joey's "moo point" a.k.a moot point.

I served lobster bisque with a bread stick cut to be a lobster.  This goes with the episode where Ross compares his connection to Rachel to lobsters that mate for life.  The bisque was good, and I received many compliments from the guests.  The lobster cookie cutter I bought at the same cake shop as the cow one.  I made the breadsticks out of pita bread that I then spread melted butter and Italian seasonings on. I baked them in a 375 oven for a little over 5 minutes.  Aren't they cute?

For the main dish, I made a shepherd's pie, and then layered it in a trifle bowl to represent Rachel's English Trifle.  In the episode, the pages of Rachel's recipe book stick together so her trifle is half meat/main dish and half dessert!  Even though Joey loves it in the episode, I decided to keep mine as just the shepherd's pie.

For dessert, I made a super-easy Coffee Cheesecake.  I knew I wanted to do some type of coffee-related dessert to pull in Central Perk again, but then I remembered the cheesecake episode of Friends where Rachel and Chandler love the cheesecake so much they eat it off the floor after accidentally dropping it.  Sometimes coffee-flavored items are too overpowering for me, but this Kraft recipe was delicious.  Just the right touch of coffee flavor.

Favor:  I decided to make personalized notepads for my take-home gift.  I designed the layout on Photoshop with the dimensions of 4.25 x 5.5 so that I could fit 4 on an 8.5x11 paper.  I printed out the copies, cut them using my paper cutter so they were all the exact same size, added a heavy piece of card stock to the back, and then glued the top together with Elmer's glue to make a spine. Make sure you use a vice of some sort to hold all the papers together tightly when you glue them, and leave it until the glue has completely dried.  I left mine overnight just in case.

My notepads were 50 pages each (every page has this design), and I thought that was the perfect amount of pages.

Next to the notepads, I had this sign.  It tied in my reason for giving a NOTEpad, but also let my girls know I'm Glad We're Friends.

Just love spending one dinner a month with these ladies.  Sickness and life's commitments prevented all 10 of us from being able to make it to this particular dinner, but the 7 of us FRIENDS who made it sure had a nice time.  Thanks for being "there for me" ladies!