Wednesday, February 02, 2005

High Priestess or Semi-Ho

Okay, let's talk about my latest obsession. That would be a show called "Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee." Sandra Lee is a former QVC personality, who came to prominence selling Sandra Lee Kraft Kurtains.

Now she is a figurehead for a new marketing scheme, er, "lifestyle philosophy" -
'Semi-Homemade' -- with books, a television show, and god knows what else coming down the chute after that. She recommends things like sprinkling Pixie Stick powder on yourself and your bedsheets to ignite a romantic spark.

Sandra clearly considers herself the heiress apparent to Martha Stewart; she is salivating over the prospect of becoming the new High Priestess of Domesticity.

Too bad no one is salivating over her food.

The "Semi-Homemade" concept is not a bad one - easy, time-saving and economical recipes using 70% pre-made store-bought foods and 30% fresh ingredients. Martha Stewart was often mocked for saying things like, I made this bread from wheat I grew myself in a hot house and ground using nothing more than a round riverstone. Obviously, no one has the time. I like making things from scratch, but I've been known to use a pre-made pie crust or a can of cream of mushroom soup if need be.

But Sandra Lee - or "SemiHo" as some of her critics refer to her - really takes the cake. She takes it, stuffs it full of crap, frosts it with canned frosting, and calls it genius.

She loves making cakes - or doing things to cakes. Consider her "Star of David" Hanukkah cake recipe. This consists of a store-bought angel food cake, which has marshmallows stuffed into the hole. The whole thing is frosted blue, and topped with a Star of David made of beads.

You can see it on her own website; the Food Network site removed the recipe when a reader pointed out that marshmallows are made from gelatin, which is made from horse's hooves and is not kosher.

Fear not; you can still make her Kwanzaa cake, which is topped with corn nuts, among other things.

It's not just the hideousness of the recipes - like "truffles" made from chocolate frosting and powdered sugar, or potato chips made from slices of potato coated with flour and four packets of ranch seasoning mix and then deep fried, or tiramisu made with vanilla pudding cups. No, it's her general cluelessness in the kitchen, and her insistence that every tiny tip she offers is her own Brilliant Invention ("here's something I thought of - sprinkle cake mix in your cake pans so you don't have flour on the cake surface" - a tip as old as Betty Crocker.) She never washed her hands after handling raw meat (until the network came down on her for that); she scrapes around in her non-stick pans with metal utensils (which damages the surface); she confuses cooking terms ("Just let this simmer and saute..." "Mmm, look at all the bacon juice..."); she slaps her concoctions together in a sloppy way - but when the camera cuts away, her sad attempts are replaced with stunning creations made by her invisible production assistants.

She plays on the old "cooking is hard" fears which were fanned by the processed food industry throughout the 20th century, convincing people that it was easier to rip open a packet or a box than to actually cook anything.

Her recipes are more expensive to make, full of sodium and fat, and are just generally unappetizing and poor tasting. But her chief achievement is her repertoire of disgusting cocktails.

I first saw her show as she made "Apple Pie Punch", which involved apple cider spiked with rum and cinnamon schnapps, topped with Cool Whip and graham cracker crumbs. She has since followed this up with a "Cinnamon Roll Cocktail" ("tastes just like an authentic cinnamon roll from your local mall!") which involves weak instant "cappucino" made from powder, more cinnamon schnapps, dark rum, vanilla rum, and caramel liqueur, topped off with Cool Whip and ground cinnamon. Never mind that Cool Whip is essentially grease, and creates an oil slick on any hot beverage. Never mind that nobody keeps things like caramel liqueur lying around. It's just craptastic. Frozen limeade in beer? Check. White zinfandel with frozen grape juice (dubbed a "Grape-Tini")? Check.

But why do I watch the show? I can't help it. It's like a car accident in a kitchen that I can't turn away from.

Luckily, I'm not alone in my astonishment that the inept Ms. Lee has a cooking show, when she obviously doesn't like or understand food. Amanda Hesser reviewed her cookbook, and pointed out the falseness of the "Semi-Homemade" idea: it's all an excuse to shill brand-name products. Ms. Lee's constant refrain is, "No one will ever know you didn't make it from scratch ... it will look gor-may and you can take all the credit ... all your friends and family will think you slaved for hours ..." reinforcing the insecurities of her audience. You want approval? Do things the Semi-Homemade way.

There's part of me which is fascinated by the recipe-on-the-can approach to cooking. In fact, this past Thanksgiving, my sister and I baked up a Mock Apple Pie using Ritz Crackers that I had wanted to make for years, ever since reading the recipe on the back of the box (it's not bad - sort of like a pecan pie sugar syrup filling - but it dissolves all over the plate if you try to reheat it in the microwave. Just a word of warning.)

I also am fascinated by food-pretending-to-be-other-food, like this Twinkie sushi.

But I would never try to stir a bunch of canned crap together and call it gor-may. I know people are short of time, and the food industry has made sure that our palates are dull, only responding to overloads of sugar, fat and salt. But it just kills me that such blatant hucksterism gets rewarded with a huge marketing push (her show is produced by Miramax, for corn's sake!)

Excuse while I make sure the TiVo is set. Her next show? She cooks Chinese.


Blogger kristin said...

i had no idea she is a former QVC personality. THIS. is amazing news. i love QVC. someone recently suggested that my flaming hatred toward ms. lee is simply a cover for the fact that i love her absolutely. i think this may be true. the same thing happened with my hating paris hilton, whom i now look upon with great fondness. i've had too much coffee...(oh. i'm kristin of kristintracy.diaryland, by the way. thanks for the link!)

6:36 AM  
Blogger David said...

Oh, crumb vassals . . . he has now written down a speech he has delivered orally in my presence at least six times. Every time, this woman gets worse and worse. I used to feel sorry for her, but now I don't.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Broadsheet said...

That's "gore-may". And I don't know which is funnier - your obvious fascination (obsession??) with her, or your penchant for self abuse. You went to a lot of trouble pulling that research together...

That said - I have never heard of her before now, and I always love a good train wreck - thanks for the tip!

6:44 AM  
Blogger Pony said...

I can promise that *MY* cooking show would be worse.

7:51 AM  
Blogger jwer said...

OMG! I am soooooo making that Twinkie Sushi tonight... y'all are welcome to join me, and if you're very lucky, I will share some of my Personal Life Tips, such as: Putting Your Pants On One Leg At A Time, and Always Remember To Put Down The Toilet Seat Before Sitting...

8:41 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Mine and Karen's families both love Rachel Ray, who I just can't stand. I think they should rename her show "Heart Attack in 30 Minutes" because she makes all this high-fat comfort food (which clearly has landed on her thighs). A few more years and you won't be able to tell Rachel Ray and the Barefoot Contessa apart (I bitchily type as I dig into my bag of M&Ms).

11:42 AM  
Blogger Broadsheet said...

I agree with you Jen. Rachel Ray makes Katie Couric look likes she's had too much Zanax, or Kelly Rippa on Valium. She takes "perky" to a whole new "slap-me-now" kind of level. She has to be stopped.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

It's like a whole new "Gallery of Regrettable Food":

2:59 PM  
Blogger barb said...

So what WAS the name of that dish you served up ever so often?

1 10oz Carton Generic Frozen Peas
1 Soup Spoon
1 Dish Towel Tied Around Your Neck
1 Sunday Funnies Covering the Table

5:37 PM  
Blogger jwer said...

I am so stepping in whenever Saatchi kicks it... Nigella Lawson is soooooo hot...

5:44 PM  
Blogger crumblord said...

That dish was simply called "Frozen Peas from the Bag." Simple, all-natural, and easily eaten with the fingers while reading the comics or watching TV.

7:24 PM  
Blogger David said...

Some of us have noticed that the determining factor is the comics section. Spread that out near the Crumb Lord and watch the transformation.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Thankfully Not You said...

I agree that some of Lee's recipes or ideas might not be extremely original but I can't help but think you have to much time on your hands. I happen to run across your 'blog' when I was looking for recipe ideas. Being a 36 year old full-time working mother with 3 kids of my own (ages 8,12 & 17,
4 step-children (ages 11, 17, 19 & 23) and a 10 month old grand-daughter, I don't have a lot of time to spend baking or cooking things from scratch. Have I made homeade meals? Of course! I am a very good cook whether I make something from scratch or throw something together from a box with added touches of my own.
You sit their bitching about Lee's success and how she is undeserving of it because her ideas/recipes are simplistic and disgusting. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion and here is mine....
In this day and age a single parent income is almost impossible to live off of so I work 8-10 hours a day and if I can find something to shorten the time I have to spend cooking, cleaning, decorating I can spend more time with my large family then I will do it. If Lee can spark ideas to help the many people like myself who is short on time then I say 'GREAT JOB LEE AND THANK YOU!' To you I say, "don't be mad because your not as successful with your endeavors as Lee has been with hers." Same goes for Rachael Ray.....maybe her ideas, recipes, creations are not your 'cup of tea' so I have a suggestion to you and anyone else who can sit there bitching and complaining about someones weight gain, their high fat recipes, their lack of orginality etc.....TURN THE CHANNEL!!!! The beauty of television is if we don't like something on one channel we have the ability to push a button and find something we like or even better, shut the damn thing off! Personally I can't believe I just wasted 10 minutes of my day off writing this comment when obviously simple minded individuals such as most of you won't have the ability to really understand the concept of choice and being open-minded.

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love how housewives feel the need to validate their opinions by giving the age of every child related to them, just in case we doubt their inherent wisdom.

12:12 AM  
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7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thankfully Not You... If you really want to feed your children bacon-wrapped dates that taste "just like barbeque potato chips" while relaxing with a "beer margarita" (Corona mixed with tequila and limeaid), nobody's stopping you. Of course, there are other ways to get around a busy lifestyle to enjoy a fresh, home-cooked meal, like investing in a crockpot.

2:43 PM  

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