After 20 years in the catering trade, there's not much that Lydia France doesn't know about party food.

Now she's distilled the best of that knowledge into a new book, Party Bites, which is packed with inspiration for the festive season.

"Good party food comes down to the quality of the ingredients, imagination of the cook and skilful execution," she says.

"The finest food I have ever eaten at a party was fresh, vibrant and perfectly seasoned."

Even the most experienced host can worry about preparing for a party - but Lydia is full of helpful advice.

"A good piece of advice I overhead while queuing in a cheese shop was; "You cook at your best if you cook the food you like eating yourself' so don't be afraid of serving tried and tested favourites," she says.

One of the things that people fret about the most is how much food to prepare.

Lydia suggests providing an average of eight different choices, with about two of each per person, for a typical drinks party.

"Try to balance your selection by offering something for everyone, for example: two fish, two meat, one cheese, one vegetable and a sweet one," she says.

If there are young children coming, Lydia recommends offering some very simple options, like bowls of cherry tomatoes or breadsticks with dips.

When it comes to the drinks, Lydia says to allow for half a bottle of wine per head, though you may want to increase this amount if the party is likely to be a long one!

Presentation is also important - pay attention to colours, garnishes and decorations - and make sure you've got plenty of clean napkins and plates.

"Don't be afraid to ask friends for help," Lydia says.

"The last thing you want to do is to spend all of your time running around or locked away in the kitchen. Find time to relax and enjoy the party - there's no point in entertaining if you don't"

Tickle your guests' tastebuds with a few of Lydia's mouthwatering party snacks - such as Sesame Maple Turkey Fingers, Rocket Sandwiches and Rose Marzipan Dates.

SESAME MAPLE TURKEY FINGERS "The maple syrup will only subtly flavour the turkey, so offer more in a bowl as a dipping sauce," Lydia says.

4tbsp maple syrup plus 3tbsp extra for dipping 1 small fresh red chilli, halved, deseeded and finely chopped 1tsp sea salt 1 garlic clove, crushed 500g lean turkey breast 100g sesame seeds lightly toasted fresh mint leaves to scatter Put the maple syrup, half the chilli, the salt and garlic in a bowl and leave for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Cut the turkey breast into strips (about 40 in total). Coat the turkey fingers with the maple syrup mixture, then with the sesame seeds. Arrange slightly apart on baking trays and cook for about eight minutes, until cooked through.

Put the remaining chilli and three tablespoons maple syrup in a small bowl as a dipping sauce. Scatter the mint leaves over the turkey and serve.

ROCKET SANDWICHES These lovely little sandwiches are packed with peppery nutrition nad are quick to put together using a food processor. Serve them with sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes for a colour and flavour contrast.

300g cream cheese 2 garlic cloves, crushed 1tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 100g rocket 12 medium slices fresh granary bread 50g toasted sunflower seeds sea salt crystals Put the cream cheese, garlic, lemon juice and half the rocket in a food processor and whizz together for about 10 seconds. Spread the mixture evenly over all the bread slices and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Scatter the sunflower seeds and remaining rocket leaves onto half the slices, then top with the rest of the bread.

Cut the crusts off if desired and cut each sandwich into triangles or squares, as preferred. Cover tightly with clingfilm until ready to serve to prevent the bread from drying out and curling.

TRIO OF HONEY-BAKED CAMEMBERT WITH CALVADOS AND HERBS This molten cheese dish is spiked with perfumed honey, pungent calvados and garlic. Serve with crunchy celery sticks, warm crusty walnut bread and chilled French breakfast radishes.

Serves about 15 3 x 250g Camembert cheeses in their boxes 3tbsp calvados or brandy 3tbsp dark chestnut honey 1 fat garlic clove, sliced 3 fresh sage leaves 3 sprigs fresh rosemary 3 fresh bay leaves To serve: Celery sticks walnut bread chilled French breakfast radishes Preheat the oven to 200C (400F) Gas 6.

Unwrap the cheeses and return them to their boxes.

Using a skewer, make six or seven holes in each cheese. Mix the calvados and honey together and spoon the mixture into and over the holes. Stud with the garlic slices and lightly press the sage, rosemary and bay onto each cheese. Bake for about seven minutes.

Remove the boxes from the oven. Using sharp scissors, quickly make 3 cuts on the surface of each cheese, from the centre out, and gently open the 'petals' a little. Take the cheeses out of their boxes, put them on a plate and serve straight away.

ROSE MARZIPAN DATES Luxuriate in the delicate, subtle flavour of these romantic flavours. As well as toasted almonds, try decorating the dates with fresh edible roses, crystallised roses or dried rosebuds, or rolling them in sugar.

25 plump fresh dates 200g ground almonds 100g icing sugar, sifted freshly squeezed lemon juice 2tbsp rosewater To decorate: Caster sugar freshly toasted flaked almonds, chopped fresh rose petals, crystallised rose or dried rosebuds Slit the dates open lengthways and remove the stones. Put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add a little lemon juice and the rosewater. Gradually combine the dry and wet ingredients, using a cold fork to work the mixture into a firm paste. It may appear initially that there is not enough moisture, but eventually the almonds will release their natural oils.

Divide the marzipan equally between the dates and decorate as desired.