But here's what I don't love: a fussy party requiring so much last-minute scrambling that you don't get to enjoy it. If you're stressing out in the kitchen while your guests mingle, it's time to reexamine your strategy. I like to make a few fantastic, simple, eat-with-your-hands hors d'oeuvres—all of which can be prepared in advance—and lay them out in one big spread so guests can help themselves. I mix up a festive cocktail to serve as people arrive, and that's it; my work done, I'm free to socialize. My guests don't wonder where I've disappeared to, and I actually have fun at my own gathering.
The key to party fare is this: A little variety goes a long way. You don't need a ton of dishes—just a few guaranteed crowd-pleasers.