What's better than a pizza party? Kids are happy — and occupied — and the parents are off the hook for heavy lifting in the kitchen. Plus, everybody loves the final product.
Chef Nikki McGowan's pizza party strategy is simple and straightforward — though when it's done right, it can get a little messy. She simply sets up stations around a table, puts toppings in small bowls, and lets the kids have a pepperoni-flavored blast.
"I put the kids in teams of two to three," says McGowan of CKCS Foods Studio, which teaches kids how to cook. "I toss balls of pre-made dough to each group — they love catching it." McGowan then lets the kids push out the dough on sheet trays covered with lightly oiled foil before outfitting the pizzas with all kinds of toppings, from traditional to crazy.
A word of warning, though: "Do not let the kiddos make crazy pizzas that may be 'gross.' Remind them that they have to eat them," she says.
McGowan does let the kids get "creative" on one pizza, designed for the parents. "Oddly enough," she says with a laugh, "pickles and pineapple aren't as bad together as one would think!"
DIY Gourmet Pizzas
Yields about 5 whole pizzas (enough for 10-15 kids)
5 packages of pre-made pizza dough
About 10 Tablespoons olive oil for work surfaces
1 bulb garlic
1 Tablespoon olive oil
To top pizzas:
Sauces: Olive oil, red sauce, Thousand Island dressing, salsa (about ¾ cup per pizza)
Cheeses: Mozzarella, cheddar (about 1 ½ cups per pizza)
Toppings can include: Pepperoni, olives, ham, onions, pineapple, meatballs, cooked spaghetti, cooked ground beef, pickles, tomatoes, roasted garlic, lettuce, sour cream (about 1 cup of topping will cover a whole pizza)
1 Set up: Before the kids arrive, set up the workstations. Cover five sheet trays with foil and drizzle each with about two tablespoons of olive oil, wiping with a brush or paper towel to spread the oil evenly over the foil. Set the trays around a table or island — each workstation should be able to handle two or three kids.
2 Roast the garlic: McGowan likes roasting the garlic just before guests arrive for the party. ("It smells AMAZING," she says.) To roast, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the bulb of garlic on a sheet of foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the garlic in the foil and cook for about 25 minutes, until the garlic is "smushy." Once it cools, squeeze the soft garlic out of the bulb — you can spread it like butter. Keep the oven on to cook the pizzas.
3 Get started: After introducing the activity, give each station one ball of pizza dough. Ask the kids to push and flatten the dough to fill the sheet pan.
4 Once the dough is spread out, let the kids go crazy with toppings. McGowan suggests a couple of "fantastic pizza creations" that can come from the toppings above, including a cheeseburger pizza (Thousand Island dressing, onions, ground beef, cheddar cheese, pickles and, after it's cooked, shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes), Hawaiian pizza (red sauce, mozzarella, ham and pineapple) and taco pizza (salsa, cheddar, ground beef sprinkled with cumin and chili powder and, after it's cooked, sour cream, shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes).
Adventurous bakers can also try making stuffed crusts by sprinkling shredded cheese around the edge of the dough and rolling the crust over to hide the cheese.
5 Bake the pizzas for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese bubbles.
For more information about CKCS, visit ckcsweb.com.