‘The Pretty Dish’ cookbook author talks calories, Instagram and avocado toast.
Do you want to make quick and easy meals as beautiful as the photos you see on Instagram? Food blogger Jessica Merchant’s second cookbook “The Pretty Dish” is chock-full of the social media friendly dishes she’s become known for. Think poke tacos, banana cream pie ice cream and “hot pink” beet avocado toast. But in addition to 150 time-saving dishes (all take under an hour from start to finish) and cocktails, “The Pretty Dish” includes 50 natural beauty DIY recipes like sugar scrubs and lip balms with edible ingredients. I sat down with the “How Sweet Eats” author when she was at Room + Board on the DC stop of her book tour.
WL: Why did you decide to write “The Pretty Dish” and how is it different from your first book?
JM: My life totally changed when I had my son, but I knew I didn’t want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen. I loved to cook but I didn’t want to spend hours in there and I wanted my recipes to be easier to make throughout the week but still just as unique. I call them modern twists on classics. I wanted to figure out a perfect book I could put together that had all of my favorite things that worked for this time in my life, and I want people to know that even if you haven’t cooked before, you can make the recipes in this book.
WL: What made you decide to include beauty recipes?
JM: When I was pregnant I knew there were a lot of ingredients I couldn’t be using, so it seemed hypocritical of me to go back to using them when I was not pregnant. If they’re not safe for the baby, are they really going to be safe for me? Long story short, I did go back to using some, but I really wanted to make things at home I could use that I loved like sugar scrubs and lip scrubs. I also wanted to bring the spa night, friendship, gifting idea into the book, the idea of getting together with your girlfriends and creating something fun.
WL: Are there recipes in the book that you find yourself making the most?
JM: We constantly make the bolognese recipe. You can easily freeze it, my husband loves it, and in the book I have it made with ground beef and ground pork, but I lighten it up all the time with a lean ground beef and ground turkey. I also make tons of salads. Right now I can’t stop making the charred pineapple salad, and the chopped bacon blue shrimp salad is also amazing. And I love avocado toast. I eat it every day.
WL: When you started your blog ten years ago, Instagram didn’t exist. How did your content change with the growth of social media?
JM: I feel like the biggest downfall and hardest thing as a blogger or content creator is that we can’t take anything away. Things keep getting added on–Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook fan pages, Instagram and Facebook live. Everything keeps getting piled on, but the nice thing about Instagram right now is that I can recycle content without people realizing it, because we consume so much content that we don’t remember. I have thousands of recipes on my blog that I’ve reshot since 2008 or 2009 and I can take a lot of that content and repost it. When I began photographing for my blog I started with a little point and shoot and the picture were like thumbnails. Now I use a Canon 5D Mark IV.
WL: What food blogs or social media accounts do you love to follow?
JM: I follow a ton. I love Cozy Kitchen, Hungry Girl and The Almond Eater. The Almond Eater helped do the food styling for my book. Her styling is amazing.
WL: You have joked that ‘The more calories, the better.’ What do you mean by that?
JM: I like to have a balance of indulgent recipes and healthy recipes. My family eats really healthy and balanced during the week so that we can indulge on the weekends. If I’m going to indulge in something I want the real thing. I want real cream in my coffee or real ice cream. I’d rather have a little bit of the real stuff than a bunch of the not-real stuff.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.