To save time on holiday party planning, focus your efforts on a few star desserts and cocktails, which can easily elevate any party, says Edwards Desserts.

1. Prepare cocktails in batches for easy serving. Look to classics like the Old-Fashioned, which features holiday flavors and warm spices.

2. Ditch the expensive holiday decor and florals, and let the desserts serve as your holiday centerpiece. Serve a variety of flavor options with different textures and colors, such as layered trifles, fluffy pies and stacks of cookies and bars.

3. Opt for eye-catching items that will leave your guests thinking you spent hours in the kitchen. A thaw-and-serve pie can elevate any occasion, whether served straight out of the box, or deconstructed into a new holiday dish.


Holiday cookie tips

- Get a food scale. For consistent results, weigh ingredients, especially flour. The rule of thumb: Every cup of white flour equals 5 ounces.

- Use high-quality ingredients. Use the best quality natural ingredients and flavorings, such as double-strength, flavor-rich Watkins All Natural Baking Vanilla Extract, to bake your best holiday cookies yet.

- Chill the dough. Chilling dough for at least an hour prevents cookies from over-spreading while baking. Another upside: You can prepare dough ahead of time and chill until you’re ready to bake.

- Use parchment paper. No need for pricey baking sheets. Parchment paper on each cookie sheet does wonders for preventing overdone cookie bottoms.

- Decorate with care. Start with good dough (chilled) and use cookie cutters for perfect shapes. Wait for cookies to cool before applying icing or toppings. Use a variety of toppings (candies, sprinkles, icing, etc.) for beautiful results.


Fabulous fall food ideas

With the onset of fall, new schedules and an invigorating pace, eating nourishing meals is an important way to keep up energy levels. With few having the time to devote to cooking an elaborate meal, a collection of delicious and dependable 30-minute recipes for a quick but satisfying meal can be handy. What else keeps things simple? Having fresh staples such as California table grapes on hand helps brighten up any recipe and fuel up after activities. Try Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad with Grapes, which replaces traditional bulgur with quinoa, or a Mediterranean Pizza using whole-wheat naan instead of a traditional crust. For these recipes and more recipe ideas, visit grapesfromcalifornia.com.

And when it’s time to decorate the table, create a simple but stunning centerpiece with gorgeous black, red and green California grapes. Add fall leaves, mini pumpkins and gourds if desired.


Rice with Parsley, Almonds, Apricots

For a light, flavorful meal, try this rice dish from Bon Appetit.

- 1 cup skin-on almonds

- 1 tablespoon olive oil

- 1 cup basmati rice

- 1 3x1-inch strip lemon zest

- 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots

- 2 cups chopped parsley

- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 300 F. Toss almonds with oil on a small rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Roast, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 10–12 minutes. Let cool, then chop. Meanwhile, rinse rice in several changes of water until water runs clear. Bring rice, lemon zest and 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan; season with salt. Reduce heat, cover pan and simmer 18–20 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover and scatter apricots over rice. Cover; let sit 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork, then mix in almonds, parsley and lemon juice.

- Brandpoint