Though social gatherings are much more intimate these days, they are here to stay. Cook and all-round event planner extraordinaire, Debbie Hannibal chats about loving all things party and offers a few tips for stress-free hosting.
Years ago, Debbie Hannibal’s idea of a quick and easy meal was bangers and mash. Not quite the type of dish a foodie would admit to be serving … Nowadays, the cheerful and free-spirited Debbie whips up lip-smacking-good dishes with the same heartiness, but keeping it simpler, and adding her creativity that has made her the successful cook she is today.
Craig and Debbie’s home has been described as an entertainment hotel, merely because you never leave there empty-handed. Debbie is not one bit afraid to go all out, and by that we mean you can expect a party like none other if you are invited over … every single time. Hosting people doesn’t frazzle her, in fact, nothing makes her happier. Whether it is an impromptu dinner or entertaining friends and family, spoiling people with food is what makes her tick.
And don’t expect to be served boring finger foods (a food trend that should rather go, according to her). Instead, you will indulge in food to swoon over … like her signature baked brie wheel with sundried tomatoes, tomato jam and olive pesto served with warm olive ciabatta, or hot fondant potato thickly smeared with cold Lurpak butter, Maldon salt and a rosemary needle. Almost impossible to think bangers and mash were once her tried-and-tested meal …
Debbie’s late mother was her first culinary inspiration and, determined to recreate the flavours and fragrances of her childhood, she enrolled at a hotel school.
The catering industry followed and expecting something entirely different, Debbie was soon bored by budgets and stock sheets, and subsequently lost all interest in the kitchen
But, after attending a friend (also her kitchen muse), Lisa Brink’s creative cooking classes, she plucked up the courage to start her own culinary studio. Soon, her classes were jam-packed.
‘For the past few years, virtually every waking moment has been consumed by teaching, testing, food styling, photography, updating my Cook Studio Facebook page, pinning, blogging and helping friends throw stylish parties.
‘I’ve decided to take a much-needed break from my cooking school. This doesn’t mean I’m going to sip on Mimosa’s all day long … I love being busy and need to keep up the same energy. I find cooking, organising, entertaining and socialising uplifting, and I always have a project on the go – from planning parties to community work. So, I’m going to spend more time on my blog. Although I prefer being in the kitchen to being on a computer, I just have so many recipes and ideas to share!
‘On my blog, you will find exactly what women want. How to entertain without having a breakdown. Some women find the thought of entertaining terrifying while others do not have the time. Teaching how to add the wow factor to simplicity is what all women love.
‘Plus, I have all my old course notes up with loads of original recipes you can try.’
When Debbie is not busy whipping up a MasterChef creation, she is mom to two daughters, Alex and Camilla, does creative graphic work for friends and family setting up a new business, spends time on their boat at the Vaal Dam and reads recipe books like they are novels.
The holiday season is here and gatherings or parties, although much smaller, are on the cards. What is Debbie’s recipe to a successful get-together?
‘Make sure each guest is treated as important as the next. Apart from serving good food, music, a planned playlist, champagne and a theme are musts. You don’t need to break the bank, think anything with a dash of vintage or kitsch. Nothing is too corny to add to a theme. And oops moments happen, so if you stumble, make it part of the dance.’
A table setting idea:
Debbie’s stress-free hosting tips
• Make festive ice cubes in advance with mineral or boiled water and shaped silicone trays. Muffin pans can be used if you do not have shaped trays, these make marvellously large ice cubes for voluptuous gin glasses. Add berries, herbs, chillies or rose petals.
• Take scones and jam which are certainly not associated with the festive season. Pile mini scones into a tower, add a dollop of cranberry to your jam, serve with a reindeer spoon and dust whipped cream with raspberries and gold stars. I have made festive trees from Oreo cookies, mini doughnuts, crumpets and Ferrero Rocher. Even Sweetie Pies can be served unwrapped and dusted with gold glitter.
• Warm crusty ciabatta, festive butter shapes and cheese always make a crowd-pleasing starter. The bread can be wrapped in a beautiful dishcloth or adorned with a ribbon.
• Turn salad into a wreath. All you need is a large, white round plastic tray from West Pack which retails for under R100. Match your colour scheme and use either traditional greens and tomatoes, a brightly coloured salad with a beetroot dressing, or a white potato salad with fresh basil.
• Avoid dishes that need washing up on the day – like any roast. Room-temperature platters served on baking paper will save your festive goose.
• Adjust any theme or colour scheme into a festive occasion. I have even pulled off a British-themed ‘Keep calm it’s only Christmas’ table in red and blue. Stars and a bit of sparkle tie any theme together.
• Etsy (www.etsy.com) is filled with ready-to-download printables. Use framed as wall art, placemats, tags for jars, vase wrappers and crackers.
• Crafty is clever: Use old decor like Alice bands, feathers on old Easter hats and spray-paint mismatched plates gold for serving. Avoid tinsel and candles, and opt for fairy lights, gold dust and stars.
• Buy inexpensive takeaway containers and send your guests home with a helping of their favourite dish for lunch the next day.
2 large caramel cream Swiss roll from Woolworth’s (in the fridge section); Optional: Amarula Gold or Cream liqueur or Sally Williams Nougat liqueur; 750ml Woolworth’s organic cream; 400g Lindt plain white chocolate; 2 tins of caramel treat or boiled condensed milk; Garnish options Meringues, white Lindt chocolate truffle balls, white Whispers, soft salted caramel, crystal Gold cupcake glitter (the slightly white coloured glitter) or gold powder
• Place ½ cup of the cream in a pot, gently heat, remove from heat and stir in the chocolate to melt • Whisk the remaining cream • Blend or whisk the caramel-there will be a few remaining lumps, not to worry • Fold the caramel and chocolate into the cream • Slice the Swiss roll and place half at the bottom of a large glass bowl. If using liqueur, drizzle a little onto the Swiss roll. • Layer some slices around the bowl and alternate with the mixture • Refrigerate overnight and serve the next day • To serve: Add Meringues, Lindt balls or white Whispers and lightly dusted with glitter
Text: RIALIEN FURSTENBERG.
• Make-up & hair: Antoinette de Beer from EA Academy West Rand. Details: Follow @EAMakeupandHairstylists on Facebook