150 brand-new recipes, party ideas and menus, killer playlists, and inventive beauty projects from How Sweet Eats blogger Jessica Merchant.
Jessica Merchant is like your most reliable girlfriend—that is, if your girlfriend was a passionate cook and serious beauty junkie. With her second book, she brings her signature playfulness to the page. It’s filled with 150 brand-new recipes, along with themed menus, party ideas, killer playlists, and inventive beauty projects.
She’s the extra hand guiding you in the kitchen giving you the most inventive pizza toppings (crispy kale and summer corn), showing you how to make hibiscus blueberry mint juleps, and telling you the coolest way to make an avocado face mask while you plan your weekly menu on Saturday morning. All her recipes are deliciously indulgent (think: poke tacos, toasted quinoa chocolate bark, pistachio iced latte) and all take 60 minutes or less to make.
It’s 6:47 a.m. when my alarm goes off, and as I peek at my phone screen with one eye open, I see that I have six texts from last night at 1:32 a.m. from my cousin Lacy. It’s a group text—one of my least favorite things in the universe—but it includes food, so that softens the blow a bit. Plus, the notifications all went off while I was sleeping and not doing something important like scrolling through Instagram and falling into the vortex of my brother’s ex-girlfriend’s sister who just got married to a guy I “went together with” in fourth grade, so it’s cool.
Speaking of Instagram, that’s what the group text was all about. Lacy sent a screenshot of a crazy dessert that she thinks we have to try out together, and she must have been scroll happy, because what follows are screenshots of things that are equally delicious and increasing in calories. A pizza supreme fondue, a peanut butter truffle doughnut, a quinoa salad that would utilize everything we could get at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning, and because life doesn’t exist without cocktails: a blueberry mojito punch.
Thanks to her, at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning I am now starving for
anything but the bowl of overnight oats that sits in my fridge, waiting for a sprinkling of chia seeds and dried raspberries.
There is nothing worse than the dreaded Monday breakfast, when you’re still in a food coma from the weekend and craving all sorts of crispy, crunchy tacos with white Cheddar queso and an endless pitcher of margaritas.
Gosh. This just keeps getting worse.
Food is one of the things that tie Lacy and I together; it’s one of the ways that we honor our grandmother and one of the activities that we enjoy doing together. Eating
and cooking, that is. It seems like in the last 4 years, time has both sped up and slowed down. When I was pregnant with my son, Max, everyone told me over and over again how it would be life-changing, and boy were they right. The thing was, though, that I didn’t quite feel like
I had changed. My life and circumstances changed, and it took a lot of adjusting to the “new normal” to feel like things were back in place.
Which is totally a joke, because I think I’m still adjusting to the “new normal”! Two-and-a-half years later, here I am secretly pregnant (only Eddie knows!) with my second child as I write this book, preparing to enter the next new normal that will come with the pitter-patter of multiple baby toes under my own feet.
Of course, there were times in my son’s newborn stage when I didn’t think I could even manage to make it into the kitchen. Nights when we ate egg sandwiches for dinner, and certainly not ones that you would see on the cover of
Food & Wine. I had running lists of recipes that sounded
so fantastic, but days that were rather exhausting and led me to make quick chicken quesadillas for dinner instead.
One thing that has remained constant is my complete and utter adoration for sharing food with people I love. It’s funny, because I often tell others how I really have no desire to be a chef in a restaurant and cook for strangers—my true passion lies in cooking and sharing food with people I know and love.
That totally includes
you. Writing a blog on the Internet has been world-altering for me, even if my parents (and occasionally even my husband, Eddie) ask, “Wait,
what is it that you actually do? Is this really … work?”
Writing the blog has been such gratifying work that it has changed my life. While I’ve never claimed to be a professional chef or culinary expert—and I relish the fact that I’m mom-taught, grandma-taught, and, let’s be real, Internet-taught—sharing the experiences that I’ve had making thousands of recipes over the last 8 years has been so much fun. I have met some of my closest friends this way and feel an incredible connection with the community on my website.
Because of all that, I find that my love for sharing food is twofold. Sharing recipes with readers of my blog, new readers of my cookbooks, and general invisible Internet friends (I know you’re real!) has bridged the gap with so many people that I would have never been able to connect with otherwise. It’s an easier way to find others who share the same tastebuds that I do, who have a passion for home cooking, and who possibly even enjoy reading the ridiculous rambles that find their way onto the pages of my little corner on the Internet.
However, the other part of this love is that this entire experience has broadened my expertise in being able to share food with family and friends. One of Eddie’s and my favorite things to do is host a homemade pizza night, which includes grilled pizzas in the summer or baked pizzas in the winter, and I’ve learned to let go of the stress of cleaning up the mess while we entertain others.
The meals in our home are not always picture-perfect. There are many nights (occasionally, even once a week) when I will eat cereal for dinner or Eddie will make pancakes and eggs. Cooking and sharing food does not have to be glamorous or even Instagram-worthy, though of course I do love a great social media–inspired cheese plate. We have our days (and weeks!) that include plain peanut butter toast, bagged salad, and more cups of yogurt than I can count. But what I like to emphasize most in our house is feeding our family and friends with love and joy, even if it isn’t perfect.
With all of this in mind, there is a big constant in these recipes: Almost all of them can be made in 60 minutes or less! 98 percent of them, to be exact. I bent the rules when it came to a few recipes, mainly ones that include use of the slow cooker, because sometimes that is just more convenient. And while those recipes may technically take 6 to 8 hours to cook, the prep and hands-on time is still well under an hour.
I want our food to taste amazing, but I want it to be made in an amount of time that doesn’t make my head hurt. I’m a true member of the Internet generation, and I want our time with family, friends, siblings, children, girlfriends—everyone!—to be taken up with good conversation and lots of ice-cold rosé (okay, not for the kids), and not while I’m slaving away to make sure a three-course meal will fit the bill.
Self-care is a trendy term these days, and I find that cooking and sharing a delicious meal with people is my own form of self-care. And, perhaps, self-indulgence! In the best way possible, that is what I hope you take from this book that is so full with recipes from my own head and heart. I want you to take care of yourself and your loved ones. I want you to read the pages of this cookbook like a novel and feel like you are cooking with your BFF. These recipes, from the food that goes in your belly to the food that goes on your face, are ones that you can make with your best group of girlfriends or your family on a Monday night at the start of a busy week. I want these recipes to feel like
See, there’s a whole other section to this book that I haven’t even touched on yet, and while it does include “recipes,” they aren’t so much ones that you will want to put in your mouth. Well, technically, some of them sound and smell so delicious that you might be tempted, but these recipes come with one very specific thing in mind: your skin! It’s food for your face
and your body, if you will.
The truth is that I’ve been a beauty junkie my entire life. I’m convinced that some of us are born with this love for products, while others are not. Of course, that’s ridiculous, and I’m sure it has to do with nature versus nurture or whatever, but really, I’m almost positive that I left the womb with one arm out grabbing for my mom’s lipstick.
Some of my earliest memories include sitting on the floor with my mom while she did her makeup, getting ready to go out for a night on the town with my dad. I can still remember the smell of her perfume (Calvin Klein Obsession at the time …
Hello ’80s!), the scent of her shampoo mixing with the electric smell of our hair dryer in 1987, the smell of powder bouncing off her brushes, and that classic lipstick taste that you either grow to love or hate.
Beauty love was all around me. My maternal grandmother (whom I refer to lovingly on my blog as Mother Lovett) would sit on one of those stunning plush velvet cushions in front of a gorgeous vanity from the ’50s to apply her makeup. (My cousin Lacy has it in her bedroom now, by the way.) She did this for as long as I can remember—even in her late eighties before she died, when it was much more common for her to draw in her eyebrows with mauve lip liner instead of an eyebrow pencil. Being legally deaf and blind made makeup application a bit harder, but somehow, she still looked classy in her heels, with her snow-white hair and purplish pink eyebrows on at the age of 87.
I would often sneak into my mom’s room and go through her stash of makeup samples, presumably from all the “free gifts” that you would get with a purchase back in the ’80s and ’90s. The gifts in those days were fairly generous, and I’d take the eyeshadow and lipstick that did nothing for my skin and sit in front of my own light-up makeup mirror (one of the best Christmas presents
ever!) and experiment. My paternal grandmother only heightened my love because she would give me the free gift makeup samples each time I saw her, and by the age of 11 or 12, I’d say that I had quite the “collection” of samples—albeit nothing I technically purchased (aside from 20 flavors of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers) and all full of shades that were anything but complementary to my skin.
These ladies, my grandmothers especially, were truly the epitome of grace and elegance in a way that came across as anything but pretentious. If they were alive today, they’d never be the women going through the drive-thru for iced coffee or wearing glitter on their faces. In fact, they’d make simple sandwich lunches for road trips, pull off on the side of the road where a picnic table just happened to be placed under a tree, and enjoy a patient, non-rushed lunch without worrying about reaching their destination. I’m still aiming for that grace!
I’ve never had artistic talent in the form of drawing, painting, or sculpting, but in a weird way, I loved that makeup was like art for the face. I was never interested in using makeup to cover up my freckles or make my eyes appear larger. But I was totally interested in using the brightest, boldest shades and wacky, glittery shimmers to make my eyelids look like a splatter painting.
This love for makeup and beauty products has never, ever left me. But by no means do I think it’s a crime to leave the house without makeup—heck, I will go anywhere and everywhere right after I leave the gym, something neither of my grandmothers would
ever do. These days, I get just as excited about an awesome skincare regimen as I always have about colorful eyeshadow.
The minute I found out that I was pregnant with Max, I read up on things to avoid, which basically included … everything. I pared down a lot of the skincare products and makeup I use, because as a first-time mom, I flipped out about everything. After he was born, I slowly allowed a few beloved products back into my life. But it did beg the question of “If it isn’t safe while I’m pregnant, isn’t it sort of hypocritical to use it even when I’m not?”
I will forever be a beauty junkie, and I doubt that I’ll ever stop purchasing products to try. But creating the “recipes” for these beauty DIY products has been such an awesome experience. I’ve found a sugar scrub consistency that I completely adore, to the point where I’m not sure I will ever purchase another sugar scrub unless the consistency matches this exactly. I love my homemade lip balm as much as the ones I buy from Sephora or the drugstore. I even put together a homemade coconut sea salt spray to make those beachy waves in my hair that I have craved every June since I turned 12 years old.
You’ll find that most of my recipes use sugar instead of salt. This is a personal preference I developed after the multiple times I used a salt scrub after shaving my legs or got a bit of salt scrub in a cut on my finger. That is
You’ll find a lot of projects here use coconut oil. I’m always super late to trends, but I like to think that I was using coconut oil waaaaay before coconut oil was cool. It’s been a staple in my home for years. Coconut oil itself makes a great moisturizer, cuticle cream, or makeup remover, but I also like to mix it with a few other ingredients to create something amazing.
And finally, you’ll also find a lot of projects with essential oils! Essential oils are a part of our daily life. One of the biggest ways I love to use them is to eliminate cooking odors from my home. You’ll feel my pain if you ever cook bacon or fish, caramelize onions, or make homemade taco beef with tons of spices. The scent can linger for
days. I’ve found that diffusing essential oils removes odors from my kitchen so much better than a candle can, and trust me, I am one crazy candle lady!
A few drops of the oils into my favorite at-home body products give them a spa-like scent, and mixing essential oils with the aforementioned coconut oil is another one of my favorite ways to use them.
Long story made longer—all the recipes in here have a place in our home and in my heart. I hope they can find one in yours, too!
Don’t forget! If you make a recipe from the book, be sure to post it on Instagram with the hashtag #theprettydish.
Homemade Bath Melts
Bath melts are a luxurious scented way of adding moisture to your bath! I love how silky they make the water feel, because it leaves your skin feeling soft and just lightly delicious.
Making bath melts at home is similar to making lip balm—they need a touch of beeswax so they firm up. This makes them portable and, better yet, so giftable! You can find a ton of cute molds online or in craft stores, but an ice cube tray (kept solely for making melts!) does great in a pinch. Make these as party favors or as Mother’s Day or holiday gifts. Or just for yourself because you’re oh-so special!
Lavender Honey Bath Melt
1/4 cup shea butter
1/4 cup cocoa butter
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon beeswax
4 drops lavender essential oil
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
In a double boiler, heat the shea butter, cocoa butter, honey, and
beeswax over medium-low heat until they melt. Stir in the essential oil.
Let cool slightly. Once cool, stir in the dried lavender. Gently pour the
mixture into 2 molds and let firm up overnight. Once the molds are set,
package them in cute containers or jars.
1. What you need
Your favorite ice cream flavors! i suggest going with about six to eight flavors. My favorites include chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, pistachio, cookies and cream, blackberry, and coconut.
An espresso machine or an easy plan to brew a few ounces of strong coffee.
A variety of toppings, including but not limited to: flavored syrups (vanilla, caramel, mocha, hazelnut), cookies, chocolate chips, biscuits, and colorful sprinkles.
Bowls for the toppings; cute bowls, mugs, or jars for serving the affogato; utensils for serving.
3. How to do it
The easiest way to serve ice cream to a crowd without it melting is to keep it in the containers, provide each container with its own scoop, and set the containers on a bed of ice. This can be in a cooler, in a large bowl, on a large platter with a lip (so the ice doesn’t melt off!), or in a beverage bucket or tub.
Set up an assembly line starting with the mugs first and heading into the ice cream. Finish with a spot for the espresso to be poured over top (if you’re not using an espresso machine, you can keep the strong coffee hot in a thermos) and toppings to be sprinkled on top.
Poblano Pesto Zoodles
Vegetable spiralizers have changed my life. I know that’s a dramatic statement, but as someone who has never enjoyed eating vegetables and always struggles with new ways to serve them, I’ve found that this kitchen tool is a game changer for me. It’s also another way to make eating vegetables fun, and Max loves it.
Now, first. I do not think that zucchini noodles (or, as I so lovingly refer to them, zoodles!) taste like traditional pasta noodles. As long as you don’t expect them to, they can be enjoyed. I really love them for what they are, though. They take on the flavor of whatever you pair them with. And I even prefer them a bit crunchy, for that whole texture thing I’m into.
This pesto has a little heat from the poblanos and truly reminds me of a summer garden because that summer pepper flavor is strong. I like to toss the warm noodles with lots of pesto and add tons of Parmesan, because cheese will always be my one true love.
Makes 2 to 4 servings
2 poblano peppers
1/2 cup fresh arugula
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium zucchini squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red-pepper flakes
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Torn fresh basil, for topping
Grated parmesan cheese, for topping
To Make the Poblano Pesto
To roast the poblano peppers, preheat the broiler. Remove the core and seeds from the peppers and slice into pieces. Lay the pieces on a baking sheet. Broil skin side up for about 10 minutes, or until the skins are completely charred and black. Broiling time can vary, so check every 2 minutes or so. Immediately remove the peppers from the oven and use kitchen tongs to quickly place them in a resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes, or until
Remove the peppers from the bag. Peel off and discard the skins. It’s okay if a little bit of char remains as it adds to the flavor.
In a food processor, combine the peppers, arugula, basil, cilantro, Parmesan, salt, and black pepper. Process until the mixture is combined, then stream in the olive oil with the processor running.
To Make the Zoodles
Spiralize the zucchini into noodles. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and red-pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, then stir in the lemon juice. Add the zoodles and toss well to coat. Cook, tossing often, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the zoodles soften slightly. Add in the poblano pesto and toss well. Cook for 5 minutes, or until warmed. Serve immediately with basil and Parmesan.
Tip: If you’re just getting into zucchini noodles, try combining them with pasta. Use half regular pasta, half zucchini noodles, and toss. it’s a great way to incorporate more veggies and lighten up the meal.