5 Tips for Extraordinary Holiday Entertaining

Having the opportunity to gather with loved ones can be the perfect chance to celebrate what you’re truly grateful for. Whether you’re hosting a small to large gathering or if you’re going to be a guest at a holiday party, here are five tips for Extraordinary entertaining during the holidays.

1. SET THE TABLE & CREATE A THEME
Developing a theme creates the mood and atmosphere of your party. Will your party be mostly standing, in which gorgeous platters of fresh fruits and vegetables, or artisan cheese can be shared and enjoyed? Or will your party guests be seated at a table and served in courses? The first step is to decide how your party will function, as this will set the table to conceptualizing how your party will flow.

Regardless of the guest count or theme, it’s ideal to have something readily available the moment our guests arrive. I love to create the initial “wow” factor that lets our guests know that they are in the right place. This includes an interesting wine, bubbly, or mixed drink selection, as well as non-alcoholic options like sparkling lemonade or pitchers of water infused with mint or cucumber. A fabulous cheese board is also inviting.

 

 

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2. PLAN THE MENU
For holiday planning, it’s always best to streamline your shopping time so you aren’t overwhelming your schedule. I recommend making a list and breaking down your purchases for food and décor in 2-3 total stops.

For food, I serve the highest quality produce at home and in my restaurants. I love shopping at Specialty Produce in San Diego, which offers a variety of locally grown, sustainable, and organic produce. Whatever city you live in, do some research on where your favorite restaurants get their produce from and see if they offer options for non-wholesale clients to shop. Or, if you’re short on time, just visit your favorite grocery market.

 

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For décor, I’m always about fresh cut flowers and greenery.  Whether you have the opportunity and time to make your own arrangements or you want to rely on professionals.  Depending on my time and budget, I will go to Wholesale Flowers, where they also have an array of vases and other seasonal items to decorate your table, or if I’m going big, then I’ll call Carlos at Green Fresh Florals in Hillcrest for arrangements.  Having options for flowers is vital to my entertaining style. You will find yours.

My family always relies on me for dessert every year, and having something spectacular and sweet to round off the night is an easy way to create fantastic memories. At Extraordinary Desserts, we’re known for offering show-stopping cakes, and many of our clientele come to us to help with their parties every year. Whether you’re ordering one of our signature holiday cakes, or a classic, like our juicy Blood Orange Ricotta, ordering a cake saves a lot of time and makes a lasting impression. 

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3. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Have a guest arrive at your event with an unexpected plus one, or with something they’ll need to use your kitchen to prepare? Anticipate it—but remember that there are ways to make your party planning go smoothly should something come out of the blue.

While I love to ask my guests if there are any dietary restrictions before hosting an event, I always keep a back-up of something Vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, and allergen friendly in my refrigerator just in case. Having something for Vegan or gluten-free-people is thoughtful and since I choose to eat that way myself, it’s a special touch that always goes noticed. 

 

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However—if you don’t have the refrigerator space or time to have a backup– a go-to that never fails is utilizing delivery services such as Postmates to help with getting any last minute dishes. It’s a quick way to get a last minute order into your party so that everyone has something to snack on.

If you need last-minute gifts for someone, who you did not expect to see, then having an array of gift cards that are flexible for most guests, will keep your mind at ease.

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4. BE A THOUGHTFUL GUEST
Being the host of the party is a lot of responsibility, but the same can be said about being a guest. RSVP on-time, so your host can count on you to be there. It’s always in good taste to bring a gift, but not something that will require your host to do any extra work on their behalf. Host gifts are always best when they’re pre-packaged and can be enjoyed either at the party or once all the guests have left. Some of my favorites include sweet snacks like caramel corn and chocolate bars, or even a scented candle. 

 

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5. PRACTICE WELLNESS AND SELF-CARE
Throwing any size of get together can be stressful. After the guests have left and the dishes are done, you simply have to carve out a little time for yourself to unwind that night and especially the next day. Make a plan, in advance, to exercise, take a yoga class, or get a massage the day after your party.  You earned it.

I hope these tips leave you ready to take on whatever the holidays have in store for you and your family. It’s a time to give thanks and share love and joy with others.

xo, Karen 

 

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Travel = Dessert Inspiration

Much like the experience I try to create at my restaurants, travel helps me indulge, celebrate, and love the moment.  It’s during travel periods that I can take a break from the hectic nature of running restaurants and immerse myself in the culture and new discoveries of another city.  

MEXICO CITY 

Mexico City is one of my favorite places to visit—it features gorgeous and stunning architecture, fabulously inventive cuisine, and always wakes up my soul with a jolt of creative energy. During my most recent visit, I was able to get some alone time with my husband, as we ate and drank in this vibrant city. 

Las Alcobas

Las Alcobas in Polanco was a perfect stay- you can walk, eat, drink and shop throughout this chic, upscale neighborhood.

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Their lime foam topped margarita is a must. 

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Masala y Maiz 

This Condesa neighborhood restaurant’s dishes blend the flavors of Mexico, India, and East Africa. Corn pancakes with fresh fruits and home-made dulce de leche are to die for. 

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Pujol

This legendary restaurant offers small plates that pack a punch. 

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For dessert, we had a Carajillo that was served iced and marries Licor 43 with a shot of robust espresso. It inspired our new Coconut Latte Cake.

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SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE

Our journey from Mexico City led us to San Miguel de Allende.  We were on a mission to buy art and to visit the Casa Dragones tasting room.

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Along the way, we were blown away by the rooftop bar scene, incredible food,  historic architecture, and dazzling design. Behind every 500 year old facade there were gorgeous and modern interiors selling beautiful handmade wares.

Casa Dragones Tequila Tasting Room

I’m no stranger to fusing luxurious ingredients in the show-stopping desserts I serve in my restaurants, and one sip of Casa Dragones had me brimming with ideas for something chocolate. 

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Insert Chocolate + Tequila— creamy tequila vanilla bean mousse layered with bittersweet chocolate mousse and layers of chocolate cake soaked in Casa Dragones Tequila. 

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May your travels feed your soul and inspire sweet, new things in your life.

Stay inspired,

Karen

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Ways to Stay Cool in San Diego

San Diego locals know that the hottest part of the season is late summer. The sun beats down on us through October, and that sun can be unforgiving if you don’t know how to stay cool in America’s Finest City. Having lived in San Diego almost all of my life, here are a few not to miss spots.

MORNING

Iced Coffee at Extraordinary Desserts

The term “shaken over ice” usually applies to cocktails—but at Extraordinary Desserts we give our Zumbar organic cold pressed coffee a shake before pouring over ice to create a much needed jolt of caffeine. It’s a great way to start the day.

Stand Up Paddle boarding in Mission Bay

A unique way to experience San Diego is to enjoy our calm mornings at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center. Begin at 8 a.m., and for only $28 you can rent a paddle board and cruise the San Diego Bay for two and a half hours. Just make sure to pack your sunscreen.

LUNCH

Mitch’s Seafood

San Diegans have this “thing” where we become very passionate when we recommend the best place to get fish tacos. This hidden gem in Point Loma hits the spot for me—they grill fresh, local fish and serve it on top a corn tortilla with lime crema, shredded cabbage, and salsa fresca.

Bobboi Natural Gelato – La Jolla

Enjoy a scoop of fabulous gelato against an equally fabulous view of the La Jolla Cove. They feature an ever evolving menu of inventive flavors like Pineapple Basil or Charcoal Vanilla that are sure to cool you down.

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Rose Float at Extraordinary Desserts

Pink is the perfect color of summer. We stir up rose wine with succulent scoops of our house made Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk and shaved ice topped with strawberry puree. It’s a refreshing and sweet treat with a kick of rose.

IN THE AFTERNOON

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Hike Torrey Pines

Ditch the early morning crowds and head to Torrey Pines in the afternoon once the sun has peaked for unbelievable views of the Pacific Ocean. Best to wait until the afternoon when the ocean winds keep you cool.

Margaritas at Javier’s

Enjoy the spirit(s) of San Diego at one of my favorite spots. Marvel at the décor and enjoy a great conversation with friends over unforgettable Tequila cocktails. P.S., the potato tacos are a must.

EVENING

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Mai Tai’s at Bali Hai

My staff loves to congregate at this historic San Diego sunset spot because the drinks are strong and the view is incredible.

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Boards and Bubbly at Extraordinary Desserts

Grab a signature board and a bottle of bubbly at our Banker’s Hill location to round out a long day in the sun. Our boards can cater to any palate as we feature meats, artisan cheeses, and fresh organic vegetables paired with signature dips and spreads. These are best shared on our breezy, open patio with a bottle of sparkling Beau Joie champagne.

It’s easy to beat the heat if you know where to find it.

Stay Cool,

Karen

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Vegan in San Diego

Part of the fun about vegetarian, gluten-free, or vegan diets is the time and effort spent creating meals that are spectacular, new takes on conventional classics. Believe it or not, there are decadent options for plant based desserts—an indulgence that is better for both you and the planet.

As a chef, I’m passionate about experimenting in the kitchen and being creative with different flavors and alternative ingredients. New and exciting vegan ingredients have become more prevalent in grocery stores, and now in my kitchens, as well. It’s easier than ever to make the change to a plant-based diet. 

I am excited to share with you these vegan desserts offered at both of our locations. These dessert options are healthier choices and accommodate a variety of food restrictive diets, but are still extraordinarily decadent.

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1. Vegan Pot De Creme

It is an ideal dessert in a glass for those who crave complex dark chocolate as their sweet of choice.

2. Decadent Yogi

Something about a decadent cake that folds rich chocolate ganache into moist cake layers reminds me of my childhood when I would bake with my grandmother in her kitchen. This particular cake offers the same simplicity and joy, but for a vegan palate.

3. Vegan Scone

These vegan scones show off the best of what a fruited scone should be: delicious raspberries bursting with sweet flavor, folded into buttery dough, and topped with a sweet glaze made with almond milk. When these are fresh, they fly off the shelves.

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4. Vegan Double Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookie

This cookie is out of control, over the top, and just the perfect amount of opulence.

5. Vegan Cookie Doughs (Double Chocolate-Chocolate Chip and Aloha Peanut Butter Coconut)

Nothing says comfort like a cookie, but a cookie straight out of the oven is blissful in so many ways. For vegans, we offer two flavors: Valhrona Double Chocolate-Chocolate Chip and Aloha Peanut Butter, which marries peanut butter and coconut and is gluten-free.

6. Vegan Sundae

Sundae’s are fun for a number of reasons as they offer different textures and temperatures, and by nature they are show stoppers.

7. Vegan Chocolate Ganache Recipe

Ganache is a way to turn an average dessert into an extraordinary and elegant one, whether used as a dip for strawberries, drizzled on top of ice cream, or rolled as truffles.

18 ounces (3cups) of bittersweet 63%-65% chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups organic unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons agave
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1) Place chocolate in a medium heat proof bowl.

2) Bring all ingredients, except chocolate, to a boil.

3) Pour the hot milk mixture over the chopped chocolate, stirring slowly in a circular motion, until mixture is thick and shiny.

4) Pour the mixture in a clean bowl to cool and firm to the consistency of pudding.

5) Use as an ice cream topping, dipping fruits, or glazing a cake.

6) Store extra ganache in the refrigerator- or you can also freeze.

Being vegan doesn’t have to be boring or restrictive. Even the strictest diets can find room for a sweet indulgence that can be downright luxurious, delicious, and extraordinary.

Stay Sweet,

Karen.

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With Gratitude…

If ever there was a year to set intentions, I feel like this is it.  Every beginning of a new year I set priorities and outline my future of what I need to be creating.

2019 will mark a bittersweet milestone for Extraordinary Desserts, as I close my original, beloved location on 5th Avenue in Banker’s Hill and open my new location just a block away at The Louie Lofts. We are thrilled to be staying in the neighborhood that is so close to our hearts.  The gorgeous new space designed by architect Jennifer Luce will make the community proud.  I want to say thank you to our loyal clientele, many of who have been with us from Day 1, as you are a big reason we get to do what we love to do.

It has been a pleasure to be a part of so many celebrations and moments in your lives and we appreciate having been a destination for gathering with friends, indulging, and treating yourselves and the ones you love.

While we will miss this cozy space, we look forward to welcoming you into our new home and filling it with the same warmth and deliciousness you’ve come to expect from our Extraordinary Desserts family.

Below are just a few snapshots and memories from over the years – it’s hard to believe how quickly time has flown by! We’ve come a long way and we look forward to welcoming you in and introducing you to the next evolution of Extraordinary Desserts in the coming weeks.

Karen

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  1. Making sure wedding cake details are perfect.
  2. My first baby – Extraordinary Desserts 5th Avenue – lit up in the evening.
  3. Our homage to the 100-year celebration of San Diego’s iconic Balboa Park.

 

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  1. Our Ivoire Royale cake photographed at the famed Marston House in Balboa Park and featured in my book, Extraordinary Cakes.
  2. Our delicious dessert line up at 5th Avenue.
Posted in 2929 Fifth Avenue, Balboa Park, Bankers Hill, Best Desserts San Diego, Extraordinary Cakes, Extraordinary Desserts, Extraordinary Wedding Cakes, Hillcrest, The Louie, The Louie Lofts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Matcha Made in Heaven

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When it comes to matcha, I like to think of myself as an early adopter of what is now one of the hottest global food trends. My love for this distinctively vibrant Japanese green tea started over 15 years ago during a visit to Japan when I had the opportunity to visit the Hibiki-An Team Farms of Uji in Kyoto. A stunning site with rows upon rows of tea plants spread over rolling hills, Uji is considered to be where the tradition of Japanese green tea originated more than 1,000 years ago.

Fast forward to present, having an energizing cup of matcha in the morning remains one of my favorite rituals both for health and taste.

Matcha madness has hit the U.S. with specialty shops and at Extraordinary Desserts, I’ve incorporated this tea to create some exciting new recipes.

1. The Matcha Misu at Extraordinary Desserts: Featuring matcha green tea-soaked ricotta cake layers between Italian mascarpone rum custard and whipped cream, and finished with matcha powder and matcha caramels, this delicate looking cake packs a flavorful punch.

2. The Magic Matcha Smoothie at Trilogy Sanctuary: One of my favorite spots in San Diego to get my matcha fix. A blend of almond milk, banana, mango, lime, spinach, and matcha green tea, this smoothie is delicious and is perfect any time of the day.

3. The Matcha Sky Pafait at Gashoan’s in Tokyo: Always ahead of the trends, this incredible matcha creation is billed as “Japan’s tallest matcha parfait.” This stunner features layer upon layer of goodness from the top down: a crispy wafer, a whole chestnut, a layer of whipped cream, a green tea sablé shortbread cookie, a scoop of matcha ice cream, another layer of whipped cream, mixed berries, plain and matcha-flavored shiratama rice dumplings, a waffle cone, another layer of whipped cream, corn flakes, mixed berries, another layer of whipped cream, and finally, matcha kanten jelly! Whoa.

4. Hibiki-An Tea Farm of Uji in Kyoto: Where my love of matcha started nearly 15 years ago. This super premium grade matcha is simply the gold standard when it comes to Japanese green tea and we’ve been using it at Extraordinary Desserts for 10+ years.

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5. Matcha Pesto at Extraordinary Desserts: This fresh take on pesto has quickly become a favorite in the restaurant and is delicious as a dip with veggies or on sandwiches. Made with kale, basil, almonds, sunflower & pumpkin seeds, parmesan, matcha, and lots of garlic, all you need to do is blend and enjoy!

6. Matcha Crème Brûlée: A unique twist on a classic – Matcha green tea flavored creme brulee with a dark chocolate ganache bottom. Finished with chocolate tipped whipped cream and a mini matcha truffle.

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Inspiration, Not Lost in Translation

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For me, in order to be my best creative self and develop desserts that my customers love, I need to allow myself the time to seek inspiration. More often than not, that inspiration comes through travel. Nothing reinvigorates me more than landing in another part of the world, near or far, to reset my creative process.

This summer was a busy one and in between work, prepping for my daughter to start high school, and just life, I was able to carve out 10 days to plan a mother-daughter trip to two of my favorite cities in the world – Tokyo and Kyoto – and they did not disappoint.

The juxtaposition of tradition and modern innovation – from architecture, to fashion, to food – stimulates the senses. Everywhere you go, there is something to explore, delight in, and discover.

Below were some of our favorite stops along the way. I’d love to hear some of your favorite spots in Japan, as I am already dreaming of my next trip and plan to return over and over again.

  1. Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto – This was our home base during our trip and I can honestly say that no detail is overlooked at this location when it comes to inspiring the body and mind. Set in a beautiful location, the hotel has top-notch amenities including a surreal breakfast buffet, sophisticated cocktail program, expansive indoor pool, and gold leaf facials at the spa.
  2. Yakumo Saryo Restaurant, Tokyo – Truly a temple of food. Each course was a combination of pure tradition and WOW factor. The space was stylish and serene, combining a gallery, restaurant, and tea salon.
  3. Pass the Baton, Kyoto – A modern second hand shop that connects the past and present, it was here – on a very hot day – that we found the Holy Grail of Matcha Shave Ice. The hour-long wait was worth it to enjoy this cool treat and explore this unique, Instagram-worthy spot.
  4. Janice Wong – A seven course culinary journey of dessert and drink pairings (cocktails for me!) that left us speechless. A true, next-level sugar feast experience.
  5. Taiyaki (matcha soft serve fish cones) – A traditional sweet street food that are widely available, Taiyaki are fish-shaped waffle cones that can be filled with a variety of different things – our favorite was matcha soft serve ice cream. The combination of the creamy, cool matcha flavor with the spongey sweetness of the Taiyaki was the perfect simple treat and tasted like having pancakes, waffles, and donuts in one perfectly shaped cone.
  6. Aoyama Flower Market Tea House – Designed to give the feeling of a greenhouse where flowers are in bloom and surround you, this magical hidden floral shop is located off of a busy main street and features a lovely menu of salads and drinks served with beautiful flowers. Our favorite was the Flower Parfait with Rose Jelly. Expect a long line to experience this gem.
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