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Friday, March 19, 2010

Family Traditions - Birthdays

We have had a tradition in our family of the birthday person choosing what they want for their birthday dinner for years.  My Mom has done this for me since I was old enough to speak, and I have continued this tradition with my girls. It's fun to see what they come up with. There are NO rules when making the choice, so it's basically a free-for-all buffet.

As far back as I can remember, I have always requested that my Mom make pirogi for my birthday dinner. My Grandmother (my dad's mom) used to make them and showed my Mom how to make them them. I love them. They are so simple and straightforward, but have the ability to be versatile as well. These packages of joy can be filled with yumminess beyond imagination.  Mom makes two different kinds - ones with cabbage and ones with sauerkraut. I love the sauerkraut perogi floating in a pool of butter, sprinkled with minced scallion, salt, pepper and a dollop of sour cream on the side. Don't get me wrong! I like the cabbage, but refuse to eat them until I have demolished the sauerkraut.

They take Mom about ten to twelve hours to make, as she makes upwards of 150 to 200 of each variety (not counting making the dough the night before) and we (well, I do more than anybody else) eat them for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack for the three or four days after my birthday (can we say pan-fried pirogi in butter? Oh yes...yes we can!).  Mom probably hates my birthday and is fervently grateful that it is only a once per year occurrence...but when we all sit around the table to eat? Let's just call that a George Bailey moment because we're all glad I was born to request this as my birthday dinner choice after that first heavenly bite.

March is a double birthday month in our world. The Drama Queen turned 15 and the Crazy Artist turned 17.  I'm slowly learning how, from a parental perspective, birthdays evolve.  We started with Winnie the Pooh, Strawberry Shortcake, Pirates and Butterflies and now we have mall trips, more expensive tastes and no parties. Thank goodness my Little Lawyer doesn't have her birthday until September. I still feel like the poor girl gets 'gypped' on the birthday front sometimes. When Drama Queen and Crazy Artist were little, we had money to spare, so they got the royal treatment. Spoiled, they were. Even now, the older kids get in on the tax refund benefit. Little Lawyer gets to go through her childhood with poor parents who don't have enough energy to walk around the block, much less put together an extravagant kids birthday party...but we try to make it with whatever money and energy we can muster!

Drama Queen's birthday was a blast. I love her version of a good time! Alice In Wonderland opened on her birthday (Karma or coincidence? Hmmm...) so we drove an hour to one of her favorite restaurants, Bahama Breeze, and had dinner, and then saw the movie in 3D on an IMAX screen. She got to bring a friend along for the festivities that night and a trip to the mall the next day.  For her birthday dinner, she chose Thai Chicken Pizza and requested a Mad Hatter Hat cake (which we neglected to take a photo of because to us it looked nothing like Johnny Depp's hat in the movie...it resembled more of a Mardi Gras/Saint Patrick's Day Leprechaun-looking hat...thing. Cake decorating is so not my forte.). 

Crazy Artist is a potato freak. Really.  The last 3 years, the child has requested nothing but a potato smorgasbord for her birthday dinner. This year, she added one non-potato dish request to her request. And she did not want a traditional birthday cake. She requested a coffee cake from Troyer's. Did I mention that she is crazy? Yeah...but we love her.  We had her favorite potato dishes - Loaded Potato Casserole and TGIF Potato Skins, along with a new favorite I make that she loves - Strawberry Soup. Granma picked up a coffee cake and cinnamon rolls from Troyer's. We surprised her with tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof at our community theater - she's the only kid I know that could recite the movie word for word.

Little Lawyer is already dreaming of a Totally Chocolate dinner.....and who knows what else!

Here's to birthday dinners!!

Thai Chicken Pizza

1 large pizza shell (like Boboli)
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
3 tbsp water
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp oil
8 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, trimmed and diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Whisk together the peanut butter, water, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger and garlic in a small bowl.

Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring, until cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add bell pepper, scallions and 1 tablespoon of the peanut sauce to the chicken; toss to combine.

Remove the crust from the package; spread evenly with the remaining peanut sauce. Top with the chicken mixture, then sprinkle with cheese. Bake on the middle rack until the crust is crispy and golden and the cheese is melted, 11 to 13 minutes.

Loaded Potato Casserole

4 cups mashed potatoes
7 oz tub of garlic and cheese spread
1/2 cup milk
1 pkg real bacon bits/pieces
1 tsp pepper
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar
Fresh chives. chopped

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine potatoes, cheese spread, milk bacon bits, pepper and three quarters of the cheddar in a 11x7 casserole/baking dish. Sprinkle top with remaining cheddar.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Garnish with Chives.

TGI Friday's Potato Skins* (with my calorie-laden Sour Cream Dill Sauce)

*I just use a family-sized box of TGI Friday's potato skins (in the freezer section of your grocery store), but any brand will do. Just make as package directs.

The sauce I make consists of sour cream, ranch dressing, dill and 4 or 5 chopped scallions. I never measure this recipe, so when I do throw it together, it all depends on whether I am more in the mood for a sour cream taste or a ranch taste (usually the sour cream wins out in that competition..and it gets a 2:1 ratio). For a kick, I will sometimes add a splash or two of hot sauce and/or sprinkle with crushed wasabi peas after the mixture is dolloped onto the skins.

Strawberry Soup

1 pound fresh or frozen strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)

Garnish with:
Sliced Strawberries
Whipped Cream
Wash and cut the strawberries and place in a blender or food processor.  Process until the strawberries are pureed.  Add the sugar, yogurt, milk, and lemon juice and process until combined. 
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with whipped cream and sliced berries.

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