Fashion editor and founder of LibertyLondonGirl.com, Sasha Wilkins knows a thing or two about being a modern hostess. Wilkins has traveled the world, feeding friends and family everywhere she goes. To her, being a modern hostess means nixing the fuss without sacrificing style and quality. Her tips and recipes allow you to spend more time talking to your friends and family, and less time sweating over the stove. The ideas in FRIENDS FOOD FAMILY apply to all sorts of gatherings, from impromptu guests to perfect picnics and long weekend brunches. Including influences from her treks around the globe, Wilkins’s hope is help readers “rustle up a meal anywhere from a beach house in Cornwall to a youth hostel kitchen somewhere idyllic via the tiniest of Manhattan apartments, whether using food from the back of the fridge or from a fancy food market.”
In thinking about your weekend guests, recipes like Bang Bang Chicken, a dish of DIY chicken wraps with tons of fresh vegetables and a spicy peanut sauce, or her puff pastry-topped Giant Chicken Pie will be sure crowd pleasers. Breakfast is a breeze with tips for poaching eggs for a crowd and no-brainer dishes like a granola parfait, a layering of fruit, yogurt, and granola, topped with eye- and mouth-popping pomegranate seeds in pretty water glasses. You can make them ahead of time and chill overnight. Wilkins also embraces the great outdoors with hot, comforting dishes you can make ahead and reheat, perfect for ravenous guests coming in from the ski slopes, or perfectly packaged sandwiches and salads-in-jars to take with you on hikes. Whether you’re feeding friends at an afternoon tea, a traditional Sunday lunch, or a warm weather picnic, Wilkins has your group covered.
BANG BANG CHICKEN
I don’t just love this dish because of its name (which is irresistibly good and comes from the noise made when cooks would tenderize the chicken by banging it with a mallet) but because it is as finger-lickin’ good as it is easy. It’s so simple that it would be a great recipe to make with children, although there is nothing childish about it. It originates from Sichuan, where the inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns makes it a much fierier dish than we eat in the West. (Feel free to add 1 or 2 tsp if you crave the burn.)
Bang bang chicken is usually served with its sauce over noodles—either rice or mung bean—but I like to serve mine as a DIY version with all the ingredients separated, so the eaters can choose their favorite combination to roll up in a pancake. I first made this for a Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) supper party, which I didn’t want to feel like a one-note meal, so I used a different kind of pancake for each course. The ones I use to wrap the chicken in are the thin, rice versions that you can find in any Asian supermarket, often in the freezer section. They are inexpensive and are packaged so that you can just remove what you need, and put the others back in the freezer. (I find them very useful for last-minute suppers.)
FOR THE CHICKEN & NOODLES
6 chicken breasts (on the bone)
7 oz rice noodles
Rinse the chicken breasts under a running faucet. Put them in a saucepan, cover with cold water, and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and poach gently for 15 minutes. Check the inside of a breast, and if there is any hint of pinkness, simmer for another 5 minutes, or until cooked through.
When the chicken is cooked, remove from the water, take off the skin, and discard. Reserve the poaching liquid. Pull the meat from the bone and shred neatly—you can use a fork or your fingers.
Plunge the rice noodles into a pan of boiling water. They should cook almost immediately, but do check package instructions. Drain, then add a drop of sesame oil to stop them sticking together.
FOR THE SAUCE
8 TB peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
6 TB sweet chili sauce
2 tsp lime juice
2 TB soy sauce
2 TB rice vinegar
2 TB sesame oil
Dump the sauce ingredients in another pan with 1 cup of the reserved poaching liquid. Mix thoroughly and heat over gentle heat to warm through. (Do not to let it burn—burnt peanuts smell revolting.)
FOR THE TABLE
30 rice pancakes (4 per head, plus a few extra)
3 TB sesame seeds
2 cups bean sprouts
2 carrots (optional)
2 romaine lettuces
1 to 2 cucumbers
1/2 bunch cilantro
If you have a steamer, place it over a pan of simmering water, and add the pancakes to the basket to warm through. Otherwise, they can be wrapped in foil and warmed in the oven.
Heat a frying pan and pour in the sesame seeds to toast for 30 seconds. (This is optional, but they taste better toasted.)
For the table, rinse the bean sprouts, grate the carrots, if using, separate the lettuce leaves, shred the onions, and cut the cucumber into matchsticks.
Arrange the chicken, noodles, pancakes, vegetables, and cilantro on a series of plates. Pour the sauce into 2 bowls. Put the sesame seeds in a little bowl. Let everyone assemble their own pancakes at the table. Don’t forget lots of napkins, as the sauce drips down chins and fingers.
(If you are making this on a hot summer day, don’t heat the sauce and allow the chicken and the noodles to cool to room temperature.)
Excerpted from Friends, Food, Family: Essential Recipes, Tips and Secrets for the Modern Hostess, from Liberty London Girl by Sasha Wilkins by arrangement with Quadrille Publishing, distributed by Chronicle Books, Copyright © 2015 by Sasha Wilkins.
See the complete menu and strategies for hosting weekend guests in style: 20 Holiday Comfort