Many hosts have observed that the best parties end up in the kitchen. People naturally gravitate to the heart of the home, enjoying the casual ambience and pitching in with cooking chores.
Teens, too, feel at home in the kitchen. Given the proper encouragement, they will indulge their culinary inclinations enthusiastically.
If there's a graduation party on your agenda, consider allowing the guests to be active participants. Not that they should be asked to help out with a rolled and stuffed leg of lamb or something that's difficult to make, but young guests might like to help out with a number of foods.
Pizzas, for instance. Once the crusts are rolled out -- a job that can be done well in advance -- guests can pile on an array of toppings. In less than 10 minutes baking, the tailor-made pizzas are ready to eat.
Dessert too can be designed for interaction. Little cupcakes, filled with ice cream and add-ins, are perfect indulgences.
There are several brands of frozen dinner roll dough on the market. They're ideal for rolling out into 6-inch pizzas well in advance and then refrigerating. At party time, guests can top their pizzas as they wish. The toppings suggested here are to get you started, but with pizza, almost anything goes.
Makes 12 six-inch pizzas.
12 frozen bread dough rolls, 1 ounce each
1 cup pizza sauce or chunky tomato sauce
8 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni
8 ounces cooked, crumbled Italian sausage
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
diced green and red bell peppers
sliced black olives
dried basil and dried oregano
crushed red pepper flakes
Thaw frozen dough rolls according to package directions. On a floured board, roll each one to a 6- to 7-inch circle. The crusts can be rolled a day in advance. Stack them between sheets of waxed paper and wrap in a plastic bag; refrigerate.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Have baking sheet(s) ready. Place each of the topping ingredients in dishes. Assemble by spreading pizza sauce over the crust and adding toppings as desired.
Bake until crust is golden, about 10 minutes.
This dip can be served with chips or vegetable dippers.
Bacon, lettuce and tomato dip
Makes 3 cups.
8 ounces bacon, diced, crisply cooked
2 small tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
2 cups finely chopped iceberg lettuce
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Mix briefly, just until ingredients are finely chopped; there still should be some texture. The dip is best mixed the day it is to be served. The ingredients can be prepared a day ahead and wrapped separately.
Do-it-yourself ice cream sundaes are common enough. Here, the idea is taken one step further. The cookie crumb crusts can be made in advance. Guests can create their own crazy concoctions with softened ice cream, chopped candy bars and ice cream toppings spooned into cupcake paper liners. Once they're made, they'll only need to firm up in the freezer for a few minutes before they're ready to eat.
Ice cream add-in cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes.
15 chocolate cream-filled sandwich cookies, such as Oreos
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 pints ice cream, slightly softened, stirred until smooth
L 1 cup caramel, hot fudge and/or strawberry ice cream topping
chopped nuts, chopped candy bars, mini-chocolate chips as desired
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.
Pulverize cookies in a blender or food processor. Add butter and mix well. Using about 1 1/2 tablespoons crumbs for each one, press crumbs into bottom and partially up the sides of the paper liners. Bake until set, 8 to 9 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Spoon about 1 tablespoon ice cream topping into each cooled crust. Sprinkle with chopped nuts or candies. Or, stir nuts, cookie crumbs and/or candies into ice cream. Fill cup with ice cream. Decorate top as desired. Place in freezer until firm.