Sycamore Smyth

So. Here we are in the dying days of January. The New Year has slightly lost its shine and there’s still quite a lot of winter left. It’s very, very important right now to have things to look forward to. Fun things. Things that happen indoors…

It’s the time to gather friends and family and shut the curtains against the cold. It’s time for delicious food, eaten with people you love. It’s time, dare I say it, for dinner parties!

I know some hearts will sink at the very thought – the time, the pressure, etc. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just follow my advice for a memorable and stress free dinner party to brighten the gloom for you and your guests.

1. Now is not the time to experiment!

Cook something you’re confident about, that you’ve made before or have a reliable recipe for.

2. Strike a balance

Make sure not everything you serve is incredibly rich. Or made of pastry. Or super spicy. But give the meal some coherence in terms of feel. Don’t follow sushi with lasagne – unless you’re actually going for a “round the world” theme… Likewise stay seasonal.

3. Plan Ahead

This is the biggie. There is no point in inviting people round and then disappearing into the kitchen. Take a cue from the hyenas in Disney’s Lion King and Be Prepared. Plan a menu that can be made in advance.

Salad makes a lovely starter, providing flavour and texture contrasts whilst leaving room for a main course. Try bitter leaves and crumbled blue cheese dressed with a zingy, lemon and mustard vinaigrette and finished with some toasted walnuts. Or roast beetroot and goats cheese along with some peppery leaves and an orange dressing. (The souffle recipe below is a hot take on the same, seasonal flavours. It’s a dish that has a difficult reputation but this twice-baked version is easily prepped in advance.)

Goats Cheese Souffle, Beetroot & Orange Salad, Micro Rocket, Toasted Hazelnuts

For the main event go for something that cooks low and slow throughout the day. A classic like Boeuf Bourguignon with fluffy mash or creamy dauphinoise always goes down well.

And dessert-wise, I’d go with something that can be made in advance and served cold. A trifle or pavlova made with seasonal fruit. Or a tart is a good bet. Lemon or chocolate are my favourites.

4. Finishing touches

Fun is way more important than fanciness but you can do both with relative ease. The right garnish not only looks beautiful but adds flavour too. Do you know what almost all chefs use to give a plate instant pizzazz? I’ll tell you – microherbs! A sprinkle of these tiny leaves brings freshness and makes anything look restauranty. Broadway Fruiterers will get them for you if you give them a day’s notice.

And for dessert, it’s easy to tart up your tart (or whatever you choose to serve). Sweetened crème fraîche makes a nice contrast and a few berries gives a pop of colour. Scatter on some orange zest or toasted nuts. Or use a tea strainer to dust over icing sugar or cocoa powder for a professional look.

5. If it still sounds daunting, call in the professionals!

For those that still hate the idea of cooking, visit for details of my Dinner Parties Delivered and Private Cheffing services!

Ingredients for Goats Cheese Souffle, Beetroot & Orange Salad, Micro Rocket, Toasted Hazelnuts

Goats Cheese Soufflé, Beetroot & Orange Salad, Micro Rocket, Toasted Hazelnuts (serves 6)

This is an impressive-looking starter that can be made well in advance and finished just before serving. Blood oranges look fabulous if you can get them but don’t worry if not. And – of course – regular rocket would be just as tasty as the tiny stuff if it’s not available.

2 beetroot (unpeeled)
70g butter
50g flour
300ml milk
150g soft goat’s cheese
3 eggs
20g hazelnuts
2 oranges
1tbsp olive oil
Micro rocket


1. Heat the oven to 180°(160° fan). Wrap the beetroot in foil, put it on a baking tray and cook for an hour and a half or until tender. Meanwhile, melt 20g of the butter in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and use it to generously brush the inside of six ramekins. Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan, add the flour, stir to combine and cook for 1 min.

2. Then, bit by bit, add the milk, stirring well after each addition. When it has all been incorporated return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for three mins or until thick. Mix in the goat’s cheese them remove to a bowl and allow to cool slightly.

3. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a separate mixing bowl and adding the yolks to the goat’s cheese mixture. Stir them in and taste and season well with salt and fresh black pepper.

4. Boil the kettle and half fill a deep roasting tin with hot water.

5. Beat the egg whites to medium peak then add a large spoonful to the goat’s cheese mixture and stir it in well to loosen the consistency. Then add the rest of the whites, all in one go, and fold in as carefully as you can – you don’t want to knock the air out!

6. Spoon the soufflé mixture into your ramekins, filling them to about two-thirds, and transfer them to the roasting tin (the water should come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins). Put the tin on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 15-20mins. They are ready when puffed up and pale gold.

7. When done, remove the soufflés from the oven, run a knife around the inside of each ramekin and turn out onto a baking tray. Cover with clingfilm and put them in the fridge until your guests arrive.

8. Scatter the hazelnuts on another baking tray and put them in the oven. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until golden and beginning to smell toasty. Check them regularly as it’s easy to go too far! Remove to a board, chop coarsely then set aside.

9. When the beetroot are tender, remove them from the oven and leave to cool. Once they can be comfortably handled, rub off the skin and slice thinly (you’ll need two or three slices per person).

10. Slice the top and bottom off the oranges and trim away the skin and pith (this is easiest done with a serrated knife). Slice the orange thinly. Do this on a plate or in a shallow container so you can catch the juice. Set aside the beetroot and orange slices, keeping them separate, and pour the juice into a small jar. Add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Shake to combine then taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Now you can relax until your guests arrive. When they do, heat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan). To serve, remove the clingfilm from the soufflés and bake them for 10 mins. Lay the orange and beetroot slices on plates, slightly overlapping, and drizzle over a little dressing. Scatter on the hazelnuts and micro rocket. When the soufflés are ready, add one to each plate and serve immediately, modestly accepting the compliments of your guests.

Clare Heal
Chief Cook & Bottle Washer
07887 585957


Crouch End Mums Offer: Get 10% off your first catered dinner party. Sycamore Smyth also provides a Freezer Filling service. Get £75 off your first order and £50 discount thereafter (normal price £350). Quote CEM when you book.

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