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With the busy holiday season just around the corner, cocktail parties are a fun way to host a large group of people. But, if you’re like me, you dread the thought of making dozens of fiddly, time-consuming hors d’oeuvres that disappear in a flash or buying the ready-made, which are adequate but boring. The good news is, preparing party food doesn’t have to be exhausting. Here are my suggestions for a hassle-free soirée.

If you have space, set out the food in multiple locations. This allows people to circulate and puts an end to the crowd around the kitchen door waiting for the next batch of nibbles to appear.

Try to avoid using toothpicks, which are awkward to dispose of. Instead, put out small plates and napkins, as well as forks if necessary. You can rent glasses and plates cheaply if you are willing to pick them up and nothing needs to be washed afterward.

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Cooking 101: Lucy Waverman decodes cooking techniques everyone can master

When it comes to the food itself, not everything has to be homemade. Combining quality store-bought ingredients with a few little things you’ve made yourself can mean a lot less stress.

Food stations are a fun way for guests to create their own nibbles. These are three of my tried-and-true hors d’oeuvres stations.

Smoked salmon station: Buy the best smoked salmon you can afford. One side, about 2 1/2 pounds, serves 20 people. Set out bowls of chopped red onions, sour cream, cream cheese or dill mayonnaise to garnish. Buy or make little blinis or potato pancakes or serve a thinly sliced grainy or whole wheat bread. Don’t use these little pumpernickel squares – they have so much flavour that it overpowers the salmon.

Mexican taco station: This is colourful, tasty, and best of all, most of the components can be store-bought. Set out bowls with guacamole, a bean dip, shredded cheddar cheese, radishes, sour cream and lime wedges. Look for a good salsa and enhance its flavour by adding some of your own chopped tomatoes. Grill and shred either flank steak, chicken or pork. Serve cold or reheat in an ovenproof serving dish, in a 250 F oven for 20 minutes. Warm (or don’t) soft corn or flour tortillas and let everyone make their own. To complement, make a house cocktail – sangria or margaritas, perhaps – and serve in jugs.

The Italian station: Arrange prosciutto or thinly sliced Italian salami on a platter and surround it with halved, dried figs that have been simmered in equal parts Marsala (or other sweet wine) and water until softened (or use fresh figs). Buy puff pastry straws and serve alongside. Place a large hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano on another platter and put a little bottle of good-quality balsamic vinegar beside it. Parmigiana and balsamic are a magical mix. Slice some ciabatta and you have an instant feast.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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