After the birth of my children, I decided that creating family traditions was very important.
One of the earliest implemented in our family was allowing whomever was celebrating a birthday the opportunity to select their own special meal, no matter what it was.
The first time my daughter made her birthday dinner selection we had "ketchup (tomato) soup," mashed potatoes and corn chips, while my son wanted hotdogs, fish sticks and macaroni and cheese.
I know it wasn't the healthiest food choices, but it only happened once a year.
When birthdays rolled around, it gave us an opportunity to look through cookbooks to find recipes we could cook together.
They learned to measure ingredients while developing their own tastes and preferences for food items. I got to spend time in my kitchen making precious memories with my children.
The older they got, the more interesting recipes they wanted to try.
A slight change was made in our family tradition once my two children figured out they could torment each other by choosing the most "disgusting" food items for dinner.
I think the selection of "escargot" by my daughter got things started. Although I didn't make it, she was able to gross her brother out with the description alone.
"We're eating bugs for my birthday," she taunted. "Neener, neener."
When it was my son's turn to choose five months later, he'd made it a point to look for recipes of foods his sister hated.
However, he was sneakier about his selection.
"Guess what? We're having spaghetti and spinach," he smiled at his sister on his birthday. "And you have to eat it!"
That might not sound bad, but you have to understand that my daughter hated tomatoes and spinach. Although she got over her aversion to eating spinach, my daughter, now 18, still avoids tomato spaghetti sauce like the plague. (Loves Alfredo sauce, but she refuses to eat anything else.)
The birthday dinner tradition has allowed my children to learn to love the art of cooking and sharing the food they cook. They spend quality time together -- usually pretending to bicker over the recipe for laughs -- all the while working toward serving a delicious gift of food to someone they care for.
I'm proud to say they are not afraid of the kitchen and trying new things.
When it's my birthday, they grab the cookbooks and search for days to find the perfect dish to serve me. Needless to say, I've had some adventurous meals in the past few years.
In the past two weeks, myself (Dec. 29) and my son (Jan. 5) have enjoyed our birthdays.
I enjoyed dinner out this year while my son, due to his birthday falling on a Monday, has yet to decide what his special dinner will be.
However, I believe he will chose a food item we both love.
Simple, delicious and easy to make, we both love grilled cheese sandwiches.
To enjoy our deluxe version, start by making basic garlic butter by mixing three tablespoons of softened butter, one tablespoon of garlic powder and a 1/2-teaspoon of parsley flakes. (Set aside while making the filling for the sandwich or refrigerate until further use.)
In a medium size bowl, mix thoroughly an 8-ounce package of softened cream cheese, two cups of shredded mozzarella cheese and a teaspoon of minced fresh garlic or chopped green onion. (Place remaining cheese mix in a covered bowl inside the refrigerator until use if you don't plan on using it all. It should store for approximately 2-3 weeks.)
To make sandwiches, use the garlic butter spread on one side of your favorite kind of bread and place in a skillet on the stove to lightly brown. (I love using pumpernickel or whole wheat.)
Place a slice of cheddar cheese on the bread in the skillet.
Spread a couple of tablespoons of the cheese mix on another piece of bread. Spread the garlic butter on the back of the bread before placing it in the skillet (butter side down) to lightly brown.
When both pieces of bread have browned, and the cheese melted, fold both pieces of bread together before placing on a serving plate. Let stand a few minutes before cutting, that way the cheese won't squish out.
This recipe allows you so many variants that you can change it up every day of the week for a different treat. This also travels well as a lunch item. Just pop it in the microwave for 30-60 seconds to make it warm and gooey.
Use your favorite cheeses (I recommend you try pepper jack.), spices or add your favorite slices of lunchmeat, bacon or layers of tomatoes, jalapeños and/or grilled or plain onions.