Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pizza Party

We had friends with children over for dinner tonight and it was a lovely evening- the kids were able to play peacefully for most of the night, meaning the adults were free to sit and eat and talk. Makes me want to host dinners more often!

When we have pre-school-aged children over for a meal I often feel a bit stumped about what to cook. Meals are so much more pleasant when parents aren't stressing about their child not eating. Today's visitors are lovely, well-adjusted, easy kids to host, but even so I did find myself planning several main dishes to avoid the chance of serving a child's most hated food. In the end I made a vegetarian lasagna (Jamie Oliver's eggplant lasagna from the July 2010 delicious) and decided to set up a make-your-own-pizza station for the children. In retrospect the pizzas went so well for both children and adults, and were so easy to set up that I might as well have forgotten the lasagna (as nice as it was- I'm looking forward to leftovers tomorrow!). I'll definitely be keeping this in mind for future gatherings.

Pizza Dough
This was just enough for four adults and four children aged 1-5 who also had salads, corn on the cob (all de-leafed by Big Bro- I was so proud!) and lasagna. So maybe count on this feeding 4 comfortably.

300mL lukewarm water
7g dried yeast
500g strong white flour (I use Lighthouse brand from Coles)
a pinch of salt (a Big Bro-sized pinch, which was nearly a fistful!!)
1 tbs olive oil, plus more to grease the bowl

Mix the water, yeast and a spoonful of flour, and leave for a few minutes to wake up the yeast. Mix in the remaining ingredients and knead- I did 10 minutes in the KitchenAid, which is perhaps 20 minutes by hand and may have been excessive! Place the ball of dough into a greased bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to allow to rise- probably doubling by about 2 hours? Punch down the dough, knead a couple of times and divide into 8 and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes.

When you are ready to assemble the pizzas, turn the oven up to about 250C. Put a pizza stone and/or baking tray in the oven to heat up. Roll out the dough balls on pieces of baking paper for easy handling- the above mix will make 8 thin bases around 20cm x 10cm (which can obviously be divided again if needed).

If you didn't want to make the dough you could use bought pizza bases, pre-packaged naan, turkish bread or pita bread (but the baking times would probably vary- I'm sure you could Google it).

Pizza Toppings
Our friends are vegetarian, so we offered the following toppings for the kids to choose from, all grated or chopped into manageable pieces:
- mozarella cheese
- feta cheese
- tomato paste
- sundried tomatoes
- grilled eggplant (from a deli)
- grilled capsicum (from a deli)
- green and black olives
- sweet corn kernels
- pear (makes a nice pizza with feta or blue cheese, and you could add walnuts)
- tinned pineapple (why not?)

Obviously the options are endless, but other suggestions for omnivores would be diced ham, bacon, chicken, smoked chicken, smoked salmon, anchovies, fresh vegetables, roasted pumpkin, grilled zucchini, mushrooms, chilli, pesto, barbecue sauce....... Or if you weren't too overloaded in the main course, go for dessert pizzas like peach and almond, berry and ricotta, nutella and banana, raisin, sugar and cinnamon.... And fold the pizza in half to make a calzone!

Bake the pizzas for 10 minutes in the very hot oven and serve.

With tonight's success I got on a roll of thinking about other make-your-own foods that would work for an informal dinner. I came up with:
- nachos or quesadillas
- pasta (creamy or tomato bases provided along with various vegies and meats, with an adult to cook and a variety of pasta shapes to choose from, or assemble mini-lasagnas in foil containers)
- fruit flans (pre-make the pastry shell, let the kids paint it with chocolate to seal, and provide a variety of fruit and custards and creams to add, then glaze and refrigerate)
- smoothies
- pancake toppings, icecream sundaes
- decorate your own cookies.

What are some other ideas for make-your-own parties? And what's your favourite pizza?

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