Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Putting Pizza-zz in your Party

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore."
-Jack Brooks, lyricist, That’s Amore

Pizza lands on the top of many “favorite food” lists. Unfortunately, pizza is an item often listed as one to remove from the diet. It is generally high in calories, fat, and cholesterol. As meals go, pizza, with the most common ingredients when children order (white bread and cheese), is even considered a “red light” food, one that needs to be avoided.

Enter your pizza, made with heaps of creativity, imagination, and love. Then enter your friends and family, and you’ll really have a party with pizzazz.

Just Add Friends
February is a month that celebrates love and friendship. Just enough time has past since the holiday rush, which makes it a wonderful time of year to gather and reconnect with friends and loved ones, explore together, and share favorite foods. For the last several years, it has become a tradition in our house to gather on Valentine’s Day to make pizzas together. Gathering together for a pizza party is a simple way to get your creative cooking to sprout. If everybody brings a favorite topping, it becomes a potluck of sorts making very little work for the host. The pizzas you’ll find emerging from your oven will be as unique as the guests who made them.

Crusts of Plenty
Holding a pizza gathering is a simple way to get children (and their parents) excited about preparing their own food. And the crust is where it begins. With pizza crust, it is easy to begin your journey towards thinking outside the recipe. Make a regular pizza crust (recipe below), but then have fun by making individual pizza rounds, shaping them into interesting shapes such as hearts, simple flowers, or even the outline of a dump truck. Add even more pizzazz by using cookie cutters on a thin crust to make bite-sized pizzas; it’s all the fun of cookie decorating without all the sugar. If your pizzas are bite-sized portions, it makes experimenting a bit easier. For a spicier and very flavorful crust, try the Yum Cracker listed below. Once your crusts are ready, the real fun begins.

To Top it Off
Toppings for a pizza with pizzazz surely have no limits. And when you suddenly find yourself at the pizza chef helm, your creativity will have an opportunity to bloom.

Great pizza often begins with a sauce. You can go with a traditional red pizza sauce (Muir Glen makes a nice organic canned one) or break out and try a new base. Try Hazelnut Cream Sauce (recipe below) as an alternative to typical dairy sauces. Spin-Avo Sauce (below) is a creamy, phytonutrient-rich base that gets rave reviews from all ages. We know that when children are involved in food preparations they are more likely to eat the food and because both of these sauces are made in a blender, children love to be included in the making of them.

Once you have chosen your base sauce, set your pizza making area up as an assembly line and begin adding your other toppings. Again, you can choose traditional toppings such as mushrooms, tomato slices (sun dried or fresh), or olives. Beyond those, experiment further by adding roasted potato slices, cranberries, peaches, corn on the cob “wheels”, pine nuts, chopped walnuts, or candied pecans. Sweet roasted red peppers add a wonderful flavor to pizzas. Sliced, they are just the right shape for a large smile inviting your pizza maker in. Once you’ve added all the toppings of your choice, finish your pizza off by drizzling infused oils or vegan pesto, sprinkling fresh herbs, and then adding the “cheese” of your choice. Try almond cheese (there’s even a mozzarella flavored one), which melts nicer than other vegan cheeses. And if you still have room and a few crusts left over, try sweet toppings for desert pizzas: figs and cream cheez; strawberries, or try a piña colada pizza (whipped Tofutti, coconut shavings, pineapple slices, and a drizzle of agave).

Welcome pizza with pizzazz into your cooking repertoire. Your children and your friends will celebrate! That’s amore.

Party Pizza Dough
Makes six individual pizzas
1 T. organic granulated sugar or agave nectar
1 c. very warm water
2 ½ t. active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (amaranth, spelt, and rye flour also work, but will make a “tougher” crust)
1 t. salt
¼ c. olive oil

In a small bowl, dissolve sugar in water. Sprinkle yeast on top of water and stir gently. Let sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast mixture forms a frothy, bubbly surface.
In a larger bowl, mix flour and salt. Make a small well in the flour mixture, and add the olive oil and yeast mixture. With a spoon, incorporate the flour, oil, and yeast mixture. Once well mixed, remove the dough from the bowl and begin kneading on a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough feels smooth. Add a small coating of oil to the dough’s surface and return to bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise to double (about an hour).
Once risen, punch dough down and knead again for about 1 minute. Divide dough into six pieces. Roll out on lightly floured surface. Prick dough all over with a fork just before putting in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes in 425 degree oven. Remove from oven. Let cool. Add toppings, and place back in the oven until “cheese” melts and toppings are slightly browned.

Hazelnut Cream Sauce
1 1/2 cup soaked hazelnuts
1 large tomato
3 garlic cloves
½ water
1 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. sea salt
chipotle powder, to taste (optional)

Place all ingredients in Vitamix, and blend until smooth. Use as a sauce for pizza or a dip.

Yum Cracker
1 cup barley pearls
½ cup flax seeds, ground finely
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 carrot, grated finely
1 Roma tomato
2 T. chopped cilantro
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup water, more if needed

Soak barley overnight. In a Vitamix, combine barley pearls with water and blend. In a bowl, mix together barley and flax seeds. Add all other ingredients to the Vitamix and blend. Add vegetable mixture to barley. With your hands, combine all ingredients together. On a lightly oiled cookie sheet, spread mixture evenly to about ¼ inch thickness.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, longer if you desire a crunchy cracker. Let cool slightly, then use a pizza cutter to make individual crusts or crackers.

Spin-Avo Sauce
1 bunch spinach
2 large avocados
2 T. lemon juice
1 T. chopped parsely
1 t. season salt
water to thin, if desired

Place all ingredients in Vitamix, and blend until smooth. Use as a sauce for pizza or as a dip.

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