S’Mores Ideas and a Labor Day Sale

August 28th, 2014

It’s hard to believe that it’s the last week of August and summer is drawing to a close.  We thought that the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer would be to celebrate with some gooey, melty s’mores. Fair warning – we haven’t mastered the art of taking perfect pictures of massively messy concoctions, so brace yourselves – this gets gooey. But MAN, if you’re throwing a Labor Day Barbecue or a beach bonfire, consider setting out the fixings for s’mores. They’re a great picnic food idea – with the right mix of ingredients and options, everyone can customize their own.  If you’re only here to find out about our Labor Day Sale, scroll down to the bottom of the entry.

As you can see, we have a bit more than the traditional fixings on the table. But I always do start with traditional s’mores ingredients – milk chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers. No matter how many delicious fixings you have, someone in your crowd will be a purist. And that’s totally fine.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s how to make smores (and also, how to make s’mores in the oven, in case you don’t have access to a bonfire.)

  1. Toast your marshmallow. Either toast on a stick over a fire, or lay on half a graham cracker and broil in the oven.
  2. Layer your s’more.  You’re making a sandwich here, with the graham crackers as bread. 1 cracker, then the chocolate, then a hot marshmallow (for maximum meltiness) then the second graham cracker.
  3. Enjoy. It’s really that simple, and it works for pretty much everyone.

So, you’ve got the basics down and want to know how to make a s’more that’s a little more gourmet? The only thing that really needs to stay constant is a marshmallow.  Beyond that, listed below are some flavorful twists we’ve created to switch it up. Also, for fun, some ideas from other bloggers we love!

Gooey, Melty, Delicious S'mores

Items Shown: 7 Inch square plate

  • Add something salty. We did a layer of potato chips between the chocolate and the marshmallow for that super-trendy sweet and salty thing. I’ve also used pretzels or even a sprinkle of salt.
  • Change up the chocolate. As you can see above, we love our peanut butter cups in s’mores. I’ve also swapped the milk chocolate for dark, used favorite candy bars (make sure they’ll melt all the way through – Heath bars don’t work.)
  • Use fancy marshmallows. I recently came across some DELICIOUS coffee flavored marshmallows at a gourmet store. SO good in s’mores. Check gourmet websites and stores for interesting flavors.
  • Change out the cookies. Graham crackers are traditional, but as long as your cookies are big enough to contain the deliciousness of a s’more, you’re good.  Chocolate chip cookies work, gingersnaps are delicious. Also, ritz crackers and mini marshmallows are insanely good for s’mores. YUM!
  • Add sliced fruit. Thin sliced strawberries, crushed raspberries or slices of orange work so well with chocolate, marshmallows and the smokiness from a fire. It’ll add something addictive and unexpected!
  • Get saucy – add nutella, peanut butter or even caramel sauce for a little something unexpected!

And from some of our favorite bloggers, even more fantastic s’mores ideas.

 delicious smores, bacon smores, lime smores

smores are delicious

From Left to Right: (Top) Bourbon Bacon S’mores from Beyond Frosting, Key Lime S’mores from The Kitchn, Roasted Berry S’Mores from Jelly Toast Blog. (Bottom) Peach and White Chocolate S’Mores from  Peanut Butter and Julie, Dark Chocolate Passionfruit S’mores from Blogging Over Thyme. See how many amazing options there are?  Also, if anyone wants to give us some tips on photographing s’mores, we’d be interested. Clearly, it is possible.

Annnnd, Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about the sale.  We’re doing a labor day weekend Placemat and Wood extravaganza! Our placemat line and our Acaciaware wood line are beautiful transitional pieces – they work both outdoors and indoors, so whether you’re out on your patio enjoying the end of summer or dining indoors, they’ll look lovely.  Enter “LaborDay” at checkout for 25% off all retail orders of our placemats and our wood products.  Good stuff, right?

Happy Labor Day, friends! Enjoy your holiday. You’ve earned it.

 

 

Picnic Food Ideas – Just in Time for a Labor Day Picnic!

August 21st, 2014

It’s hard to believe that Labor Day is just around the corner!  Where has the summer gone?  With schools starting earlier and earlier, Labor Day is no longer as big of a deal, but it’s still the perfect 3 day weekend to enjoy time with friends and family.  One of my favorite ways to celebrate is to really harness the awesome summer weather and have a picnic. Whether it’s at a park, at the beach, or just in my own backyard; there’s something about eating outside, enjoying nature and playing games that’s just so darn fun!  Want to throw the best picnic ever? Keep reading for tips on how to throw a picnic that’ll blow everyone’s mind. Or, if you’re just here for the recipes, scroll to the end of the post for a killer chicken sandwich recipe that’s picnic (or lunchbox) perfect!

Pacific Merchant’s Guide to the Perfect Picnic – Food, Gear and More!

  1. Pick the perfect place: it could be a picnic area in a park, a beach,  your favorite hiking trail, or even your backyard. What matters is that YOU and your guests are outdoors, having fun. Consider a late-afternoon picnic rather than lunch to avoid being out in the worst of the sun’s rays.
  2. Fend off pests: if you’re putting together a picnic somewhere prone to bugs, consider one (or more) of the following: Keep food in covered containers, bring citrus peels and mint (bugs hate those,)  light citronella candles, or distract bugs by placing a saucer of sugar water a few yards away from your picnic spot!
  3. Find the perfect picnic blanket: (or DIY it)  I’ve used everything from a flannel sheet to an old blanket to a dedicated picnic blanket. To keep the blanket (and our behinds) dry, I lay down a tarp or a cheap shower curtain under the actual picnic blanket.
  4. Chose dishes wisely: Sure, you can absolutely use disposable dishes, but consider lightweight, re-useable options as well.  I love bringing our wood plates to picnics – they’re lightweight and re-usable and totally beautiful.

  5. Plan a simple, hearty menu and know how to pack it for transport: I use Kilner clip top jars for things like pasta salad and fruit salad. I’ll sometimes even pack dessert parfaits in smaller jars. For sandwiches, I wrap them in paper (or occasionally doilies or cheese leaves if I want something prettier.) For wine, I use the incomparable Martha Stewart’s method of wrapping bottles in a blanket (often my picnic blanket.)  For things that need to be packed flat (like last week’s deviled eggs), I actually use egg cartons. Anything can be picnic food, if  you pack it right!
  6. Bring Clear Drinking Glasses: True story: When I was about 10, I was at a picnic and took a big swig from a bottle of delicious root beer. Turns out, yellow jackets also like root beer, and I ended up with a very angry bee in my mouth.  You can guess what happened next. To avoid any bug-related mishaps, I pack clear Kilner jars to drink from. I also pack their lids for people to use if they’re playing a game, taking a hike, or just not in the mood to sip. Anything to keep the bugs out.

    Peach iced tea in jars

    Items Shown: Kilner Jars

  7. The perfect picnic basket isn’t always a basket: I normally  bring 2: One large, soft-sided cooler where I stash ice, anything with meat, eggs, dairy, etc and a large canvas tote bag for non-perishables, dishes, etc.
  8. Bring Garbage Bags: A lot of designated picnic areas have trash bins, but no matter where you picnic, it’s nice to have a trash bag handy. I hang one off the end of a picnic table or keep one just a few feet away from the picnic to encourage folks to throw out trash BEFORE the wind takes it away.
  9. Plan for the end of the event: Bring zip top bags to pack any leftovers you want to keep, extra napkins, and baby wipes – the unscented kind so you don’t attract bugs. It’ll make clean up of sticky hands, plates, and more a breeze!
  10. Delegate: Let’s say you’re planning a picnic with friends – ask one person to bring drinks, one to bring chips, etc. Giving everyone something to bring (and carry in, if you’re hiking to a picnic spot) makes your job easier!
  11. Make it lovely: Picnics are casual, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be beautiful. Bring a bouquet of flowers (marigolds give off natural bug repellant,) portable battery operated lights, some music, some games, and beautiful, colorful food. Really make the most of the beautiful weather and enjoy your party!

  12. Don’t forget utensils: I’ve done that a couple of time, and it stinks. Bring serving utensils if you’ll need them, and plenty of forks, spoons and knives! I always keep some in an outside pocket of my picnic cooler after forgetting one too many times. I also always pack a small chopping board and a utility knife. They’re good for serving cheese, cutting fruit into smaller pieces for kids, and more!

Ready to throw that picnic? I sure am.  If you’re having a Labor Day Picnic, tag pictures with #PacMerchantPicnic on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter. We’d love to check out what you do! You may even win a gift certificate to our site! Now on to that recipe.

Summertime Chicken Caprese BLT

One of my favorite things about summertime is fresh, ripe tomatoes. I just can’t get enough. When thinking up this recipe I realized that I could combine two of my favorite tomato dishes into one delightful sandwich. Voila-the super addictive BLT/Caprese salad mashup was born. And oh, I added some chicken for fun.

Ingredients (Makes 2 sandwiches):

  • 1/2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and thinly sliced
  • 4 strips bacon, cooked until crispy
  • 1 ripe tomato, thinly sliced
  • Butter lettuce
  • 2 tablespoons mayo
  • 5 large fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 of your favorite sandwich rolls, split in half (I used sliced baguette for the pictures)
  • Salt and Pepper

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine the mayo, basil, and garlic.
  2. Smear onto both slices of bread.
  3. On the bottom of sandwich, lay a butter lettuce leaf. If it’s too big, tear it into a smaller piece.
  4. Next add the tomatoes. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  5. Top seasoned tomatoes with thinly sliced chicken.
  6. Add the bacon, then close sandwich with the top of the bun.

To pack these sandwiches for a picnic, wrap them tightly in foil, butcher paper, or cheese leaves and tie with baker’s twine. I love using our large banana leaves for this. They’re big enough to really keep the sandwich wrapped tight so that transporting and eating them is a mess-free experience!

Delicious sandwiches

Items Shown: Banana Cheese Leaves, Round Doilies

Happy Labor Day, folks! Enjoy this last 3-day weekend in summer!

How to Make Deviled Eggs: 2 in 1 Deviled Eggs Recipe!

August 14th, 2014

Whenever I throw a dinner party, backyard barbecue or picnic, I always, ALWAYS make deviled eggs. They’re a a ridiculously easy, ridiculously delicious bite sized snack. As a bonus, they’re a cheap party food – When I’m cooking for a crowd I buy a flat of eggs at my local bulk store, where I can get 60 eggs for under 10 bucks. Most addictive, budget friendly appetizer on the planet! Seriously – unless you’re serving vegans.

While I’m always happy to make basic deviled eggs, sometimes it’s fun to switch things up a little bit.  This deviled eggs recipe is going to give you a really solid base to work from (or eat, if you like them plain) and two killer variations that’ll knock your guests’ socks off. Whether you’re looking for a classic deviled eggs recipe or something with a little more punch, keep reading.  But first, what the devil are deviled eggs, and what does Satan have to do with them?

Short answer: Other than being diabolically delicious and addictive, deviled eggs have absolutely nothing to do with the underworld. The term “deviled” is an 18th century term for food that’s seasoned in a zesty, spicy or zippy way. And with their mustardy kick, even the basic version of these deviled eggs is indeed zesty.  Random history note: Deviled eggs were a traditional first course in ancient Roman times. If they were good enough for the Romans. . .

Anyway, here’s how to make deviled eggs. It’s a pretty basic recipe to start, but just you wait. We’re gonna spice things up. So whip out your favorite serving platter and a bunch of prep bowls. We’re gonna cook!

Basic Deviled Eggs (Deviled Eggs Base)

Ingredients – this recipe is for 12 eggs. I normally make 12-24 at a time. Just multiply the recipe as needed

  • 12 large eggs, hard boiled – Here’s how.
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 pinch of pepper

See? Simple ingredient list so far. Ingredients for our variations below:

Horseradish Deviled Eggs (for 6 whole eggs)

  • 2 teaspoons grated horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • Potato chip to garnish (optional)

Curry Deviled Eggs (for 6 whole eggs)

  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon minced parsley
  • Parsley leaves for garnish (optional)

Ok, so you’ve gathered your ingredients, right?  Here are the instructions!

  1. First, peel the hard boiled eggs. The simplest way I’ve found is to drain those piping hot eggs, put a bit of cold water in the pot with them, and shake them up so the eggs are cracked all over. Add more cold water, let sit until the eggs are easy to handle, and peel. The peels should slip right off with very little fuss.
  2. Cut the eggs in half the long way and pop out the yolks. Every now and then, you may get a yolk that’s a little close to the edge of the white, and the white may break. That’s ok.

  3. Arrange your whites on a serving platter. I LOVE arranging them in a flower shape on a big round plate. It’s ok if there’s a little yolk still clinging to the whites. It’ll still taste delicious. I promise.
  4. In a separate bowl, mash up your egg yolks, mayo, mustard, salt and pepper until pretty well combined. It may still be a little chunky.  At this point, if you want to make one (or both) of our variations, skip to step 6.
  5. Skip this step if you’re making the horseradish or curried deviled eggs:If you want classic deviled eggs, it’s time to add the mixture to a gallon sized zip top bag. Mush it with your hands (through the bag, no need to get messy) until the mixture is creamy and smooth (no chunks,) snip off a corner from the bag, and pipe the mix into the little egg white cups. Sprinkle with paprika and serve.

    Eggs are delcious

    Items Shown: 10 Inch Round Plate

  6. To make the variations, divide the egg mixture in half into two smaller mixing bowls. They complement each other really well, so I suggest making both variations, or you can keep half plain (see step 5 for the plain instructions).
  7. For Horseradish Deviled Eggs: Combine grated horseradish and paprika with the basic egg yolk mixture. When it’s well combined but still a touch chunky, scrape into a gallon sized zip top bag. Mush the contents with your hands (through the bag) until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Snip off a corner of your piping bag and pipe into the egg whites.  When serving multiple kinds of deviled eggs, I alternate. It makes for a cool presentation.
  8. Garnish with shards of ruffled potato chips for a really cool salty, crunchy texture.
  9. For the Curried Deviled Eggs: Combine curry powder and finely minced parsley with the basic egg yolk mixture.  When it’s well combined, but still a touch chunky, scrape into a gallon sized zip top bag. Mush the contents with your hands (through the bag) until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Snip off a corner of your piping bag and pipe into the egg whites.  Garnish with whole parsley leaves for a fresh looking, fresh tasting garnish.
devil eggs

Items Shown: 10 Inch Round Plate

BOOM. Three easy deviled eggs recipes for the price of one. Whether you’re combining one or all three, you’re about to make (and eat) the absolute hit of the party. No matter what else I make at dinner parties (or even Thanksgiving Dinner)  I never EVER have leftover deviled eggs, which is kind of a bummer. I like them for breakfast.

Want some other ideas? Does this recipe for deviled eggs just not cut it? Consider the following deviled eggs variations – just mix the seasonings with the basic recipe to taste. Really, the possibilities are endless. Get creative!

  1. Truffled Deviled Eggs – truffle salt, truffle infused mustard.
  2. Sriracha Deviled Eggs – Add 2 teaspoons of sriracha to the mix.
  3. Bacon Deviled Eggs – Mince up some crispy bacon and mix it with the yolk mixture. Garnish with slivers of crispy bacon.
  4. Pickle Devil Eggs – Add some pickle relish to your deviled egg mixture. Garnish with pickled onions.

The Best Root Beer Float: Sweet, Spice, Naughty and Nice

August 8th, 2014

Anyone who knows me knows I’m an ice cream junkie. It doesn’t even need to be fancy ice cream, though I’ll never turn down the truly good stuff.  I’m the person who ate gelato 2 meals a day while traveling in Italy since a nice, fruity gelato was almost like having fruit and yogurt for breakfast. And it was SO HOT at lunch.  Naturally, if you’re addicted like I am, mixing ice cream with my soda never sounds like a bad plan.  When I was throwing a party with some good friends a few weeks ago we decided to really push it over the edge and make a boozy, sweet and spicy float that became the hit of the party. Seriously, This stuff is ADDICTIVE! It’s the best root beer float I’ve ever had!

Ingredients (for one float):

  • 1 shot ginger infused vodka
  • 1 small scoop vanilla ice cream
  • 1 small scoop cinnamon ice cream
  • 1 can (12 oz) rootbeer
  • 1 dash of bitters

As you can see, it’s not exactly a traditional ingredient list, but man, do the flavors in this sing. If you can’t find cinnamon ice cream, use 2 scoops of vanilla and a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon for a similar flavor.

Making the floats is pretty straight forward: Scoop the ice cream into a glass – we used Kilner jars – so cute when throwing an outdoor party. Add the bitters, then the vodka over the top. Top off with the root beer, pouring gradually. If you’ve ever had a root beer float, you know that it likes to foam up, so a gradual pour will keep you from making a mess. Serve your drinks with both a straw and a spoon for maximum deliciousness.

Want more float ideas? Here are a few more of my favorites – They’re delicious with and without the alcohol, so you can serve party goers of any age. Serving suggestion: Use one color straws for alcoholic drinks and another color for non alcoholic. That way, you can see at a glance if a kid picks up the wrong drink. Think of doing fun colors for kids and a more sedate color for adults, since kids are more likely to get possessive over a favorite color.

“Flipper” Creamsicle float – photo from 1BigBite, recipe adapted from 1BigBite

  • 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream
  • 1 shot vanilla vodka
  • 2 cups fresh-squeezed orange juice.

sparkling citrus float

Tropical Citrus Float – Inspired by CieraDesign. Photo Credit: CieraDesign/Lulu The Baker

  • 1/3 cup chilled, fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup chilled pineapple juice
  • 1/3 cup chilled club soda
  • 2 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1 Dash Bitters
  • 1 Shot rum

Turkey-Burgers-and-Beer-Floats__0103_flat.jpg

Bourbon Stout Float – Recipe and Photo credit: A Better Happier St Sebastian

  • 2 scoops caramel ice cream
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • Stout beer (if serving kids, try this with coke. Still delicious.)

Dark Chocolate Bourbon Cherry Soda Floats I howsweeteats.com

Dark Chocolate Bourbon Cherry Float – Recipe and Photo Credit : How Sweet Eats

  • 2 scoops chocolate ice cream
  • 2 shots bourbon
  • 1 bottle cherry soda

As you can see, float possibilities are pretty much endless, whether or not you partake in the alcohol consumption. Get experimental with yours – tag photos with #PMTCFloat on instagram to show off your favorites. We may share your photo or hook you up with a gift certificate!

Better than Maraschino Cherries: DIY Cocktail Cherries Recipe

July 31st, 2014

Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time, I was a 5 year old flower girl in a wedding. White dress, adorable, the whole nine yards. Well adorable until I, the 5 year old flower girl, got rip-roaring drunk. No, this is not a tale of bad parenting, but a cautionary tale.  You see, at the wedding they served a cocktail, and in those cocktails were maraschino cherries. You know, the bright red ones. Anyway, since maraschino cherries are somewhat gross to the adult palate, apparently, lots of the adults left them in their empty glasses. And since as a 5 year old child nothing tasted better than super-sweet candied cherries, I went from table to table, plucking the booze soaked cherries from the empty cocktails and eating them. A few dozen boozy cherries later, and I was tanked.  My parents were somewhat embarrassed and my pristine white dress was stained red from cherry juice.

homemade cocktail cherries

Cut to 25 year later. I STILL love boozy cherries, but I’ve learned to enjoy them more responsibly. Of course, at this point, in the age of craft cocktails, I’m not satisfied with the almost-glowing red canned maraschino cherries of my ill-spent youth. Instead, I generally make my own homemade cocktail cherries. These awesomely flavorful brandied cherries are perfect in a cocktail, incredible on ice cream, and delicious on their own. We’ve also mixed them in to sangria, syrup and all – SO good.  making brandied cherries from scratch

While it is very possible to buy high-quality cherries for cocktails (think luxardo cherries rather than maraschino cherries,)  those high-end bottles of cherries in syrup are expen$ive!!! And with it being cherry season, and cherries being so cheap, I thought, why not make and can some of my own? They’ll be just as good (even better) than store bought, significantly cheaper, and way less scary.  Bonus: they make awesome gifts or party favors. This recipe is really easy to multiply if you’ve got an abundance of cherries.  Ready for an awesome cocktail cherries recipe? Lets go.

How to make your own maraschino cherries

Materials

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound Pitted Cherries (pit then weigh)
  • 1 cup brandy or maraschino liqueur (like luxardo, available at most well-stocked liquor stores)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • zest of one orange, in large strips (use a veggie peeler or knife)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Brandied Cocktail cherries

Instructions

  • Add all ingredients except brandy and almond extract to a saucepan.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until cherries release their juice.
  • After about 5-7 minutes, turn the heat to low and add the maraschino liquor or brandy.
  • Cook on very low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • When the syrup is very thick and sticky, remove the cinnamon stick and orange peel from the mixture and set aside.
  • Remove from heat, add the almond extract.
  • Immediately pour the cherry mixture to clean, sanitized jars. I like these kilner jars (or these!)for party favors or gifts, or these larger ones if I’m just keeping them on my bar cart.
  • Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
  • When properly processed and sanitized, these cocktail cherries will stay good for up to 6 months at room temperature, or a month opened in the refrigerator. They won’t last that long.

There you have it – a simple, delicious way to preserve delicious cherries during the peak of the season. If you really want to show these beauties off in a cocktail, keep it simple. A Manhattan or an Old-Fashioned will do the job.  Other delicious ways to use up these cherries – drizzled over ice cream or yogurt, blended in to a milkshake, between layers of a black forest cake,  or strain and bake into your favorite chocolate dessert. Just don’t throw out that syrup! It’s delicious!

homemade maraschino cherries

Easy Summer Snacks: Pita Chips and Hummus Recipe

July 24th, 2014

Pita Chips and Hummus are snacks I can actually eat every day, all year round, and never get bored. However, I find myself making hummus the most in the summer – I just whip up a big batch on Sunday and bring it to work for snack (in jars with carrot sticks), use instead of mayo on sandwiches, and serve it plated elegantly when guests come over. Making hummus from scratch is super-easy, and I love having a healthy, protein-rich treat I can grab and go whenever I’m hungry.

The Best Hummus Recipe on the Planet

What is hummus? Simply put, a delicious spread with chickpeas, garlic and tahini. I’m going to avoid getting into the history of hummus but I will say this: There are a BUNCH of countries in the middle east that all claim hummus as their own, so in an effort to stay neutral (just call me Switzerland) I’m not picking a side. I’m just going to say that wherever it’s from, it’s delicious! Personally, my favorite way to eat hummus is with pita chips.  At times, I buy chips in the store,  but it’s so easy to make my own, and it’s the perfect use for any slightly stale pita you may have lying around.  Without further ado, I give you our best hummus recipe as well as a bonus recipe for super simple, extremely flavorful baked pita chips.  If you plate these beautifully on a chip and dip tray or a couple of platters, you’ve got an instant appetizer. It’s a gluten free, vegan appetizer that even die-hard carnivores will go nuts for!

Ingredients for hummus, ingredients for tzatziki

Pacific Merchants’ Best Hummus Recipe

  • 30 oz cooked chickpeas*
  • 4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup tahini**
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons ice cold water
  • 4 oz sundried tomatoes, drained (optional)
  • salt (to taste)
  • Olive oil, paprika and cumin, for garnish

*You can either use 2 15-oz cans of chickpeas/garbanzo beans that you drain and rinse, or you can cook dried chickpeas until tender. Both work. If you use canned chickpeas, you’ll probably need to add less salt than if you use fresh.

**Tahini is ground sesame paste. You should be able to find it in the international section of your local grocery store. If presented with the option, go for a light roast tahini. If you can’t find any and/or want to make your own, here’s a recipe. And here are a few more things to do with tahini, since it comes in a big jar.

blending garbanzo beans for hummus

Instructions: If you want to get really technical, you should pinch the skins off each chickpea. It’s tedious work, but it leads to the smoothest, creamiest hummus ever. If you’re fine with a more rustic texture, you can skip this step.

Put everything except for the salt and the garnish in the bowl of a food processor (or a powerful blender.)  Pulse it until mostly combined, then blend until smooth. Taste and add salt as needed.  The beautiful thing about this recipe for hummus is that it’s totally customizable. Add more garlic and you’ve got garlic hummus. Add roasted peppers and you’ve got a red pepper hummus. Throw in a jalapeno for a spicy hummus.  We added the sun dried tomatoes listed above along with some beautiful basil for a tomato-basil hummus.   If you’d like your hummus a little creamier, add a bit more water or blend in some plain yogurt.  I occasionally mix mine almost 50/50 with yogurt to create a really good, creamy dip.

Once your hummus is flavored to your liking, Scoop into the dip portion of a chip and dip plate or mound onto a platter. Garnish hummus by drizzling it with good-quality olive oil and sprinkling with paprika and cumin.  Serve with pita chips (recipe below) or veggie sticks and you’ve got a really easy, crowd pleasing appetizer or snack.

how to make pita chips at home

How To Make Pita Chips From Scratch

My favorite pita chips at the grocery store aren’t cheap, but the pita at my local middle eastern market is, so I took a day and figured out how to make really nice, richly flavorful pita chips. Of course, you can always serve your hummus with soft pita or with veggies, but everybody loves chips, so when I’m cooking for a gathering, I make these every time.

  • 4 rounds pita, cut into wedges
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp za’atar (optional)*

*Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend. It generally consists of sesame, sumac, and  thyme, with other herbs, and sometimes salt. I got hooked on it as a kid in Israel, where we’d get grilled flatbread sprinkled with za’atar and olive oil from street vendors for snacks. SO delicious, but these chips are delicious without, if you can’t find it.

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 375.  In a large bowl, combine the oil and seasonings.  I sometimes need a little more oil than this recipe calls for, but most of the time, this is plenty. Toss the bread in the oil/seasoning mixture until thoroughly coated.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until tops are crisp and golden brown (5-10 minutes.)  Flip over and bake other sides (another 5 minutes) until chips are crisp.  Remove from heat and serve.

Now, if you want to get really fancy,  you can do what we did and create cute little plated appetizers. Simply pipe some hummus onto a chip and garnish and arrange them on a nice plate. We did a little preserved lemon peel, some herbs, and sun-dried tomatoes. It was awesome! You can also serve up the hummus and dip along side some totally cooling tzatziki. Check back next week and we’ll teach you how to make this classic Greek yogurt based sauce!

easy appetizers, easy vegan appetizers

 

 

 

Say Cheese: How to Make a Cheese Plate

July 17th, 2014

Now I know what you’re thinking: Cheese Plates are easy. Put some cheese on a plate and BOOM! But really, a beautiful cheese plate makes an easy party appetizer or even a simple dinner. I love arranging cheese platters for dinner parties or large gatherings because with a little planning and a teeny bit of work, you’ve got a crowd pleasing appetizer folks can nosh on while you’re still frantically cooking dinner, mopping up spills, and trying to frost a cake…or maybe that’s just my dinner parties.  I always try to over-achieve.

How to make a perfect cheese plate
Here’s how to assemble the perfect cheese plate in 8 easy steps. Believe me, it’s insanely easy.

  1. Figure out how much you need.  Anticipate needing about 3-5 ounces per person, unless your friends go crazy for chevre, bonkers for brie, or psycho for Parmesan. Ultimately, if you like your selection, it’s not the end of the world if you have leftovers. Cheese lasts a bit, and it’s good on everything from sandwiches to eggs to salad. . . but then, I don’t need to tell you that!
  2. Pick your cheeses. Try to include a variety of textures and flavors.  I normally do 3-5 cheeses on a plate. Most cheese belongs to one of four basic categories:  soft, firm, semi-firm, or blue.  Try to pick at least one that fits into each category. I also make an effort to pick some cows milk cheeses, some goats milk cheese, and occasionally some sheep’s milk cheese.  If you’re not sure what you’re getting into, talk to someone at a local cheese shop (list here) or your grocery store cheese counter.  Remember that particularly pungent cheeses will overpower a cheese plate, no matter how delicious they are. Here are some ideas, but by no means the only cheeses out there.

    - Soft: Brie, Chevre, Camembert, Brillat-Savarin, Humboldt Fog, Manouri
    - Firm: Manchego, Parmagiano, Pecorino Romano, Asiago,
    - Semi-Firm: Cheddar, Comte, Edam, Emmental, Fontina, Gruyere,
    - Blue: Cabrales, Gorganzola, Fourme d’Ambert, Maytag Bleu, Roquefort, Stilton

    Blue cheese on cheese plate

  3. Pick some accompaniments. A great cheese plate is more than just cheese – you’re going to need a cheese delivery system (think bread or crackers) and some delicious accompaniments.  Consider textures and flavors, and make sure you get something crunchy, something salty, something sweet.  I normally serve at least one kind of cracker, some sliced baguette, fruit (dried or fresh,) nuts, and either jam or honey (often both) with my cheese plate.  Below are some of my favorites

    - Crackers: Raisin Rosemary, Black Pepper, Gluten Free rice crackers
    - Jam: Fig Jam, Spiced Blueberry Jam, Peach Jam, plum compote, quince paste
    - Bread: Sliced seeded baguette, toasted brioche, raisin challah
    - Fruit: Grapes, Sliced strawberries, dried apricots, fresh plums, raisins
    - Honey: Thyme-infused honey, orange blossom honey, truffle honey
    - Nuts: Candied pecans, salted roasted almonds, chile lime cashews
    - Etc: Olives, Cured meat, breadsticks, artichoke hearts, pickles

  4. Pick your cheese board or cheese plate.  As you see in these pictures, I often use a few smaller plates rather than one big plate.  Why? Less mess, and it allows people who aren’t as comfortable with funky blue cheeses to steer clear entirely. Plus, placing a few different boards at different heights adds visual interest to a table. Occasionally I’ll use a huge platter or a large plank for my cheese board, but I still find myself using tiny bowls for accompaniments, a separate plate for  my soft, spreadable cheeses, and jars for honeys and jams.  Check out my top five cheese dishes here, here, here, here and here and my favorite little bowls here.

    Beautifully Plated Brie Cheese

  5. Line your plates or boards. If you’re using acacia wood dishes or another super-resinous wood, or if you’re using a non-porous material, this step isn’t absolutely necessary, but it’s still nice. You can use parchment paper, but I love the look of cheese leaves. They add a bit of visual interest to the plate, they’re food safe, and they help minimze the mess from gooey cheeses and drippy honey. If your dishes are porous (many wood types, slate) lining your plate with cheese leaves will keep the flavor and scent of your cheese from seeping into the dishes. As good as that cheese is, I’m sure you don’t want to be tasting it next week with your chocolate cake.
  6. If you bought cheese ahead of time and stored it in your refrigerator, remove it 2 hours ahead of time.  You want to serve cheese at room temperature to really show off the full flavor and texture of the cheese. After all, if your brie is so cold that it’s hard, it’s not going to give you the creamy, rich experience you’re hoping for.
  7. Arrange your cheese plate(s).  I do this about half an hour before the party is supposed to start. When serving wheels of brie or other creamy cheeses, I leave them whole but supply spreaders. With harder cheeses, I cut some slices and put out cheese slicers or knives for my guests to cut the rest. People are more likely to eat the cheese if they’re not the first one to slice from a wedge, so I make it easy by cutting some slices.  I also put out smaller wedges rather than massive, daunting ones. I hold the rest in the kitchen so that I can replenish the plate as needed. By keeping my cheese plate(s) a little sparse-er, it gives people room to maneuver. When considering how to arrange my cheese plate, I also consider my accompaniments and utensils. Fruit can be grabbed with fingers or tongs, but jam needs spoons, spreaders or knives.  If your guests are prone to food allergies, it may be smart to put nuts and any gluten free bread items on separate plates. If you’re serving on multiple plates, do what we have here and divide some accompaniments among the plates or even top off some of your cheeses, such as our thyme-honey topped goat Brie above.pre-slicing cheese
  8. Last, but not least, enjoy, and enjoy the extra time your cheese plate just bought you.  You may be in the kitchen doing the last few dishes, topping off those cupcakes or plating the chicken, but you can rest assured knowing that your guests are enjoying, and you will too!

Summer Drinks: How to Make the Best Lemonade and Peach Iced Tea Ever!

July 10th, 2014

Kilner Glass Jars

Featured: Kilner Vintage Clip Top Bottles, Kilner .5L Preserve Jar, 4″ Acacia Wood Bermuda Bowl

Thirsty? Good. Follow your thirst, and quench it with our Thyme Lemonade and Peach Iced Tea Arnold Palmer; the perfect summer drink. Our homemade lemonade recipe is simple and easy to make, and provides you with a twist (no pun intended) on the classic lemonade recipe. Follow these super easy steps for a lemonade experience you’ll never forget.

Here’s what you’ll need:

-6-10 Large Lemons

-Small bundle Thyme

-Two medium peaches

-1/4 cup granulated sugar

-1/4 cup water

Ingredients

Lemon press

1. It’s thyme…to make our thyme simple syrup (Pun intended. I had to.)! This part is easier than you may think. Combine 1 part sugar, 1 part water. Bring to a boil, and then turn off the heat. That’s it. It’s SIMPLE syrup; don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be! Pour your syrup into a Kilner Clip Top Jar, add thyme, and let it infuse as the syrup cools. You can strain this syrup and store it in a jar in your fridge for up to 2 weeks. It’s great in cocktails, as well as to sweeten lemonade.  Let it cool completely before using it in the lemonade – to speed up that process, you can put the entire pan in a bowl of ice water.

2. Once that syrup is done, it’s time to move on to the lemons. Start squeezing all the lemon juice we possibly can out of our lemons. I find the best tool to do this with is a manual citrus juicer. SUCH a great kitchen investment. I use it to make fresh squeezed grapefruit juice for brunch, cocktails, and the like. Pour collected lemon juice into one of our Kilner Vintage Clip Top Bottles, and set in fridge for later. We’ll get back to our lemon juice.

3. Start boiling water for the iced tea. Yes, we’ll have to boil water, steep it, and then let it cool down. An alternative is to use sun tea, which will steep in room temperature water.

 

Steeped Peach Iced Tea

4. Once your tea water is boiling, pour into a large heat safe container. We used a Pyrex glass measuring cup. Add your sliced peaches and tea bags. Let steep for around 8-10 minutes, but keep the peaches in there even after the tea bags are pulled out. We want to extract as much flavor/juices from those peaches as possible without touching them.

Thyme Simple Syrup

5. Now, it’s time to make that lemonade!  Remember the lemon juice you put in the fridge? Combine 3 parts water, 1 part lemon juice, and add that thyme simple syrup to taste. If it’s too strong, add more water. If too sour, add more syrup. If too sweet, juice another lemon.  Once you’ve made that lemonade, stick it in the fridge.  If you’re short on fridge room and want cold lemonade, you can mix 2 parts water, 1 part lemon juice, and 1 part ice (by weight) and then add the simple syrup. Leave on the counter. As the ice melts, you’ll have perfect, cold lemonade.

6. Time to check on your tea. It should be significantly cooler, but if it’s not cool enough then add ice and stick in the fridge.

Peach Iced Tea in Jars

7. Garnish some glasses, and get pouring! You’re almost done. Pour either your iced tea or lemonade first–they’ll be mixed in the end, so it doesn’t much matter!

Arnold Palmer in Kilner Jars

Arnold Palmer

8. Sit back, relax, and sip the fruits (and herbs) of your labor! A great drink for guests or just to keep stocked in your fridge. Enjoy the best lemonade and peach iced tea ever, together or separately!

Let us know how your drinks turn out. Tag your photos on Instagram and Facebook with #pacificmerchants and we’ll repost our faves! Talk to us in the comments.

Love,

Pacific Merchants

 

 

How to Have a Spa Day at Home: Homemade Sugar Scrub and Avocado Honey Face Mask

July 3rd, 2014

Coconut Lime Sugar Scrub

It’s time to start your home spa journey. Are you ready? Deep breath in! *hyyouuuuuuuuuuuuuuu* Deep breath out *haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa*. Now we’re talking. It’s time to get luxurious in the comfort of your own home.

Whether you’re throwing a spa party for a small group of friends, or enjoying a day off of work and some alone time, you can never go wrong with a spa day. We’re really excited to share both our Homemade Sugar Scrub Recipe, and our delightful Organic Avocado Honey Face Mask. They both take ten minutes or less to prepare, make a great gift for friends and family, and save you tons of money on skincare. I guarantee–if you use this scrub 2-4 times a week and follow your scrub sesh with the avocado and honey face mask application, your skin will feel softer and more hydrated than it has in years. I gave a sample to my mom last week and she is absolutely in love! This is a woman who does not cheap out on her skincare regimen, and who I’ve been trying to convince for years that she doesn’t need anything fancy to upkeep her -already- beautiful skin. Last week she finally used some of this magic scrub, and her mind totally changed:

Mom Sugar Scrub Screen Shot

Mom approved! #Score #ImDoingSomethingRight

The benefits of avocado and coconut oil for skin are endless. If you’re looking for a cheap, easy and healthy way to cleanse and hydrate your skin, look no further.

Sugar Scrub Ingredients

Featured Items: Kilner Blue Top Jars (Made in the UK!), Acacia Wood Round Calabash Bowl, Acacia Wood 12″ Square Plate

Hydrating Coconut Lime Sugar Scrub

What You’ll Need:

-1 cup white sugar (you may use brown, but I like to use white for citrus scents.)

-1/3 cup coconut oil (found at most local grocery stores these days! People also use coconut oil for hair maintenance, butter substitution in baking and cooking, etc.)

-Zest of 1 lime (may substitute with 1/2 grapefruit rind if you would like a noticeably sweeter scent or like this scent better. It will also color the white sugar a lovely coral color.)

-5-15 drops lemon or lime essential oil (lemon is easier to find.)

-5-10 drops coconut essential oil (optional)

Sugar and Coconut Oil

1. Combine sugar and coconut oil. If it’s too dry for your taste, add more coconut oil and if it’s too oily add some more sugar! The consistency is totally up to you. The nice thing about coconut oil is that it’s almost entirely unscented, so it won’t make a difference in the scent if you add more or choose to dilute it with additional sugar.

Lime Zest

Featured Item: Acacia Wood Round Calabash Bowl

2. Add the grated lime zest to the sugar coconut oil mixture. We actually chopped up our lime peel to make it more chunky, but zesting is recommended and preferred. You can also add lime juice, or even lemon juice/zest. The goal of this scrub is to be generally citrus-y, so if there’s one citrus fruit you prefer, this recipe is definitely flexible! The benefits of lemon and lime include preservational qualities and natural antiseptic properties. By adding a little bit of lemon or lime juice to this scrub we are not only extending its shelf life, but also providing the benefit of a deep, thorough skin cleanse that will kill off many unwanted “germs”. Pretty awesome that this is a natural attribute of the fruit!

3. Add your essential oil drops, and stir thoroughly. If you actually want to smell any coconut you’ll have to add a coconut essential oil. Otherwise, as mentioned above, the coconut oil is basically scentless. This allows you to add as little or as much scent as you want according to personal preference! Brilliant.

Coconut Lime Sugar Scrub

4. Pack your Kilner Jars full of your homemade sugar scrub, and voila! Gift, or keep for yourself. This is a great party favor or group activity for a spa party, wedding shower, or craft day. It’s also entirely edible, so it’s safe to make both around and for kids! If you skip on the coconut oil, this also makes a great “rim sugar” for beverages. Our adorable Blue Top Kilner Jars come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, from a sample size to a more hefty pot of scrub.

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Honey Avocado Face Mask Ingredients

Avocado Honey Face Mask

What You’ll Need:

-1 medium to large avocado, preferably ripened

-1/3 cup honey

-1/2 a lemon or lime (to squeeze!)

-1 Kilner .25L Preserve Jar

Scooping Avocado

1. Scoop the avocado into an Acaciaware Bowl from its shell. This recipe makes 1 small jar of face mask, which is good for personal use. If you’re making a larger batch, simply multiply the ingredients by the number of jars you’d like to make.

Add Honey to Face Mask Mix

2. Add the honey. At this point it’s also time to add that squeeze of lemon or lime; this will keep the mix green/fresh for a longer time due to the acidic properties of the juice.

Mash the Avocados for Face Mask

3. Mash the avocado honey mixture with a spoon or with your hands! This part is fun. How easy is this?! If you’re looking for an extremely smooth avocado face mask, put the mixture into a glass or metal mixing bowl and use an immersion blender to smooth out/puree the avocado honey mix.

Finished Honey Avocado Face Mask

4. Apply liberally to your face after using the coconut lime sugar scrub. That’s literally it! The face mask has a shelf life of about 3-5 days in the fridge. Sometimes it even lasts a little longer. We’d love to know how you like both the sugar scrub and this face mask: please tell us in the comments, or shoot us an email at social(at)pacificmerchants.com!

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Last but not least, no home spa day is complete without hydration. Staying hydrated is a great way to make your skin truly glow, and your body function at its full capacity. Your body works so much better when it has water! Sometimes drinking plain water can be boring though, so we decided to try out a flavored water recipe.

Flavored Water

Featured Items: Kilner Vintage Clip Top Bottles, Kilner .5L Preserve Jars, and our Acacia Wood Baguette Tray.

Strawberry Water

Featured Item: .5L Kilner Preserve Jar

Simply add quartered strawberries and sliced lime to your water for a lovely and naturally sweet-sour flavor, or a combo of basil and cucumber for a crisp, savory flavoring. Do this in a Kilner Bottle, and keep refrigerated for a few hours before serving so the fruit has a chance to more greatly flavor the water. Serve in our adorable .5L Kilner Preserve Jars, and garnish for insane cuteness. I am seriously obsessed with jars, it’s a problem. #JarHoarder

Me (warning: this is terrifying):

Jar Hoarder

Feeling a bit more relaxed? We hope so. Hopefully the above photo didn’t jar you too much on this day of relaxation (get it, get it?).

Let us know how your projects turn out, and if there’s anything you tried that you liked better! Also tag your photos on Instagram with #pacificmerchants to show us what you’re up to. Remember people…it’s all about enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Everything else falls into place.

Love,

Pacific Merchants

Vibrant Summer Salad Recipes for your Next Picnic

June 19th, 2014

It gets hot here in LA, and on a 105 degree day, the last thing I want to do is fire up all my burners, crank my oven, and make my apartment even toastier.  So what do I do? I make a ton of salads. Sure, some of these require a little bit of burner usage, but turning on one burner to boil water for pasta or cook a piece of chicken is nothing compared to throwing together an involved meal. .  Ready to get your summer salads on? Break out your salad bowls and dressing bottles. We’re gonna do this thing!

Bowls of Green Salad Recipe - So Easy

First up, let’s talk about the green salad.  Sure, it’s a great way to eat your veggies, but the humble green salad gets a little boring.? Here are my top 10 tips for spicing up a green salad.

  1. Right before serving, salt your salad. It tempers the bitterness, wakes up the taste buds, and adds texture.
  2. Unless it’s a kale salad, dress at the last minute to avoid wilted, sad greens.  Always use a large bowl to dress salad so the salad is fluffy and crisp, not matted and soggy.
  3. Hand tear your lettuce/greens into managable pieces. Tearing avoids blackened, wilted edges and breaking your greens up means you’ll get a little something extra in every bite.
  4. Got extra fresh herbs wilting in your fridge? Add them to your salad for unexpectedly flavorful greens.
  5. Add something crunchy. A variety of textures makes a salad feel more satisfying. Consider adding croutons, nuts, carrots, crushed tortilla chips or wonton strips. Let your imagination run wild. I like pretzels instead of croutons.
  6. Add some protein (but cut it small.)  Add cooked chicken, shrimp, tofu, steak, fish, or egg.  But don’t put a whole chicken breast or salmon filet on that salad. Breaking it up means you get a little more with every bite.
  7. Add a hint of sweetness. Most salads benefit from a sweet kick, whether it comes from the dressing or added fruit. I often add a bit of honey to my dressing, but during the summer I just add fresh fruit to the salads. Peaches and arugula are pretty much perfect together, as are blueberries and kale, strawberries and spinach, etc.
  8. Add extras, but not too many. A simple green salad is a great thing, but adding a couple of veggies can really punch it up.  Cut them small so they don’t weigh down the salad and don’t go crazy- 3-5 is more than enough to enhance your salad while still making it feel focused.
  9. Make it a full meal salad by adding whole grain. Barley, quinoa, wheatberries, wild rice and more turn a simple salad into a filling main course. Plus, they all work so well with dressing.
  10. Add brightness – A squeeze of citrus, whether it’s lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange, really makes the flavors in a simple salad pop. Whisk citrus juice into dressing or just sprinkle it over your dressed salad. How to Make a Beautiful, Balanced Green Salad

Inspired?  Good. Now whip out that salad bowl, harness the power of summer produce, and make something delicious happen.

Want an even heartier salad? Consider a pasta salad. Growing up, I always considered pasta salads weird, overly-mayoed side dishes for potlucks and barbecues. I avoided them at all costs. But you know what? They don’t need to be mayo heavy or even pasta heavy to be an excellent summer side dish.  Here’s my absolute favorite of all the pasta salad recipes I’ve got: A simple caprese pasta salad. With all the ripe tomatoes gracing farmers markets and supermarkets this time of year, it’s the perfect time to make this salad.

Pasta Salad Recipe for Summer

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta, cooked (I like shells best. Whole wheat is fine.)
  • 1 pint container boccocini (small mozzarella balls) or 1 large ball mozzarella cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 lb fresh, ripe tomatoes, cut into bite sized pieces, or cherry tomatoes sliced in half.
  • 1 large bunch basil, leaves sliced.
  • 1/3 c Olive oil
  • 2/3 c Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt
  • Fresh Cracked Black pepper

Instructions

  1. In the bottom of your large salad bowl, add the tomatoes and a healthy pinch of salt. Let sit while you make the dressing.
  2. In a jar or bottle, combine olive oil, vinegar, mustard and garlic.  Shake well to combine, then add half of the dressing to the tomatoes.
  3. Add the mozzarella to the mix and toss to combine.  At this point, you can go ahead with the salad or let this mixture marinate for up to 1 day.
  4. When ready to serve, toss pasta and sliced basil with the  tomatoes and mozzarella.  Add salt, pepper, and extra dressing as needed.
  5. Magic – you’ve got a fresh, light summer pasta salad that’s picnic perfect.  Sometimes I add steamed peas, roasted peppers, olives or capers to this salad. Sometimes I don’t.
  6. If you’ve got extra dressing, try it on a green salad. this is a killer basic balsamic vinaigrette. You’ll love it, I promise.

Easy healthy salad recipes

There you have it, folks – a couple of picture perfect summertime salads that’ll remind you why vegetables are so delicious, just in time for those 4th of July barbecues and cookouts. Check back next week for a fruit salad that’ll become your go-to weeknight dessert. Seriously, fresh fruit tossed with mint and raspberry sauce. Could it get any more summery?  Let me know in the comments -what’s your favorite salad? We may re-post the recipe!

Colorful Summer Fruit Salad

 


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