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Friday, May 8

Food Network Addict Review: Sandra Lee's 'Money Saving Meals'

Pop Quiz: Which of the following does Sandra Lee say or advocate for in the first episode of her new show Money Saving Meals, which premieres this Sunday at 12pm/11c on Food Network.

A: "I think we can all afford to make it from scratch."
B: "Definitely buy in-season."
C: "Chop your own onions instead of buying pre-chopped."

The answer is: ALL OF THEM! Crazy, right?

Now before you go get your tablescape into a tizzy, let's be clear: Sandra Lee's new show isn't all about green markets and seasonal vegetables. She's not Alice Waters with a pushup bra. That would be crazy. But I do think Sandra must have seen a small beam of culinary light recently, as the "semi-homemade" style of cooking is not the #1 priority in Money Saving Meals. Now, Aunt Sandy's goal is to save us time and money.

Don't worry, though -- the Queen of Qocktails hasn't lost all of her campy charm. She does use the Vidalia Chop Wizard to chop her onion, saying it's something "no one has ever seen before." That's at least chuckle-worthy.

While Semi-Homemade was known for its intricate decorations, kitchen decor and tablescapes that often matched everything from Sandra's outfit to the napkin rings, MSM has stripped that all away. Sandra's now in an almost all-white, suburban looking kitchen with nary a napkin ring or handwritten place card in sight. While Semi-Homemade was sometimes mocked for those colorful details, I'm kind of misty about not seeing them anymore. Sandra Lee=tablescapes! I realize she's got her magazine now, where she's over-indulging the decorating side of Aunt Sandy, but still. Give us a little bit!

As for Sandra's ability to show viewers how to save money, there does appear to be a fair amount of research (down to the penny!) when it comes to choosing ingredients and offering suggestions. And like a few other hosts (Robin Miller still out there), Sandra will use the same ingredients from one dish to make a different recipe. There are also some web-only recipes at foodnetwork.com/round2recipes.

But the problem is a lot of Sandra's money-saving secrets aren't really secrets at all. Like her suggestion to use store brand refrigerated biscuits instead of a fancy name brand can of Pillsbury. "Oh, so by using items that cost less I will in turn save money. Now I understand!"

And then there are Sandra's recipes that show you how to make something at home that you'd normally pick up or get delivered. In the first episode it's donuts. Pizza is featured in a future episode, with Aunt Sandy promising us big savings over delivery!

For me, donuts and pizza are indulgences. They're the things I buy on a somewhat regular basis, knowing they're not all that great for me, but whatever. I still want them and I know they'll taste good. It's not like it's the cost of donuts that stops me from making them at home; I just don't want to make them at home. I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who gave up his Dunkin Donuts habit, only to suddenly start indulging in donuts once more thanks to Sandra's suggestion that he fry rings of refrigerated biscuit dough in his home kitchen.

In general, I think Sandra would be better off just showing people how to make recipes they already normally make at home for less money. (And I don't care what you say. Using a can of pizza dough and spreading a few things on it does NOT taste the same as delivered pizza.)

Mockery aside, it's refreshing to see Sandra liberated from her 70/30 "philosophy" that lately started feeling like a hindrance. While Aunt Sandy might have used frozen asparagus tips for a Semi-Homemade recipe, she actually urges us to use fresh in-season asparagus, pointing out that it's not only cheaper but will also taste better. "Taste" was one of those things that didn't always make the cut in her 70/30 recipes.

So is Money Saving Meals a whole new Sandra Lee? Not really. Things are still "super simple," the recipes are still kind of 50s housewife bakesale, and even though there's no on-screen graphic for it, "cocktail time" lives on (she makes a sparkling cider mimosa in the first episode). That's something to toast to.


Money Saving Meals' theme song is Chic's Good Times or is one of those sound-alike songs that's just different enough to avoid paying royalties. Either way, there's that disco element to the show, plus songs that sound like cowboy music and bad, 80s soap opera elevator music going on in Money Saving Meals. For the minority out there that pays attention to the music on Food Network, this show's a doozie.

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At 5/08/2009 1:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review, Jacob! I can't wait to watch!
Aww, that's too bad Semi-Homemade is gone, that show was a classic. :(

At 5/08/2009 1:21 PM , Blogger Jeremy said...

I can't wait to watch this show. It kinda sounds like a hot mess. Love it.

At 5/09/2009 1:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot wait.. for the new show. I'm sure she will be giving us all kinds of great tips on how to save money. Yeah.

At 5/09/2009 7:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Aunt Sandie for keeping the liquor flowing!!

At 5/09/2009 10:32 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

well written!

At 5/10/2009 12:30 AM , Blogger imjacobsmom said...

Great review! You made me chuckle a few times - especially when you commented that her current recipes lack taste! And of course, we can't forget to booze it up!

At 5/10/2009 2:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never understood Ms. Sandy. I really have made an effort in the past to watch Semi-Homemade, but I just couldn't get into it.

I'll have to watch Ms. Sandy's newest offering and see what she has to say.

I agree with Jacob's mom, boozing it up always helps!

At 5/10/2009 10:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

- The show SEEMS well-researched, but where does she (or the producers) get the numbers? Maybe the Food Network web site says, but many of the numbers in this episode weren't remotely close to my own experience. I live in an area where asparagus cannot, and never will, be grown locally, and the rock bottom price in spring when it's in season is $2.99 a pound - far more than quoted on the show. And store brand biscuit dough for 59 cents? Where? In my store it MAY be 20-30 cents less than Pillsbury... but more often, they only carry Pillsbury.

Buy day-old bread to save money? Sure, if you can find it. I don't know of a bakery in my city that even sells day-old anymore. There are FAR more profitable uses for it, such as making bread pudding and selling it at a hefty price the next day in the bakery! And the higher-end bakeries don't want to give the impression they do anything less than sell out every day.

Are all ingredients calculated in the cost? For example, my pantry has plenty of spices but pumpkin pie spice isn't one of them. If I had to go out and buy that spice, would the entire cost be included in what the show is quoting? Even Ina says from time to time if you don't have a special ingredient don't worry about it. Sandra should have at least mentioned allowable substitutes, such as cinnamon or allspice.

And I don't think those sparkling apple cider mimosas were alcoholic. Sure, without champagne, the beverage will be cheap, but I'd get laughed out of town if I even attempted to serve a non-alcoholic mimosa at a brunch :)

I commend Sandra on getting away from semi-homemade and showing recipes with more fresh ingredients that are still easy to make. I'd make any of the food ones shown in today's episode. I just think she needs to be more forthcoming about where the numbers are obtained, acceptable substitute ingredients, etc. The show has promise and I'll continue watching.

At 5/11/2009 10:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get a life.

At 5/11/2009 2:08 PM , Blogger Lana said...

Agreed with Anon 10:12. Produce cost in particular is so region-dependent! I dunno. I kept thinking to myself, "Uh, yeah. I knew that already." But I'm not blowing the show off entirely, after seeing only one episode. hmmmmm

At 5/11/2009 3:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish Aunt Sandy could teach me how to make my own vodka at home. That Smirnoff stuff is expensive.

By the way, I'm watching Food Tee Vee right now. Can someone tell me why Guy Fieri has autographed his own wall?


At 5/11/2009 4:34 PM , Blogger Single Serving said...

I caught it this morning AFTER reading your review... dead freaking on. So funny!

At 5/11/2009 4:51 PM , Anonymous Turtle said...

@Anonymous 10:12 -- I agree with almost everything here. I live in Los Angeles and you can't find pumpkin pie spice at every market.

Jacob has complained before about FN cooks who say "add any old thing" as substitutes, and he has a real point. But a show like this one is tailor-made to offer substitute spices, or do like Ina says and just drop it if you don't have it. Rachael offers substitutes all the time, so I know the FN staff can do it.

Agreed also about the pricing of everything. Sandra should be more forthcoming about how and where those prices were derived. It can't be that hard to figure out an average. I don't know that they have to be so specific down to the penny. That probably appeals to Sandra's OCD personality, but pricing around the country varies greatly.

Otherwise, it's good to have her change up her formula. I'll watch the show for now.

At 5/11/2009 4:52 PM , Anonymous Turtle said...

P.S. Jacob is bang-on about the soundtrack to this episode. Not FN's best work. It was probably the worst aspect of the show, which otherwise looked okay.

At 5/11/2009 5:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE your review on the show...However I was really disappointed with Aunt Sandy's "Money Saving Meals". I miss the demonstrations she's so famous for, which are put on fast forward and the attention to them isn't the same. IT seems the entire point is to get to the tally to see how much each meal was...Granted she makes tons of meals, but I wish they'd pick a main one to focus on, and take a bit slower, then get to the all important tally.

I think Aunt Sandy's personality comes through, but the show seems so lifeless and rough, it's not quite the same....I'm not all impressed with the show, but I'm glad Sandy's successful with it.

At 5/12/2009 9:32 AM , Anonymous Laura said...

Anon 1012 and 451. I agree with everyhing you said. I don't know of any store that sales 10 count biscuits for 59 cents. The 5 cound, yes. My thought during that donut making process, did she figure the cost of the oil in with the final price. The show seemed like a tamed version of her other show.

At 5/13/2009 4:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about that new 5 ingredient show? I thought it would be 5 ingredients for the ENTIRE meal not 5 ingredients per recipe. It ends of being a ton of ingredients for 1 meal.

At 5/14/2009 2:56 PM , Anonymous Jeff said...

Oh, no! You mean, I missed the premiere of MSM? Noooo!
(Did Aunt Sandy use cheap hooch instead of the good stuff in her cocktail?) Also, I just bought a Crock-Pot(TM). Think she'll have recipes for same on the new show?

At 5/26/2009 4:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen the most recent episode and still think she's an embarrasment to chefs and good cooks everywhere. And sorry, but some of her money-saving "tips" are so commonly used that she sounds condescending. I'll never like her and I'll never understand why the Food Channel continues to air her stupid shows.

At 5/31/2009 11:51 PM , Blogger WesternLady said...

I've seen Snads' new s-HO-w. She still can't cook. And she's still matchy-matchy with her kitsch-en day-kor and her wardrobe. As a person who knows how to set a table, I am glad the detested "tablescapes" (not even a word) is not on the agenda. Regardless, this show is worth nothing more than the komik relief the other proved. Sorry, Snads, you are no Martha Stewart. Even if you do live in the Hamptons. I didn't know they have a trailer park there.

At 6/02/2009 2:30 PM , Blogger anonymous said...

Her food handling techniques leave much to be desired. She just stuck her hands into aa bag of shredded cheese to remove and put onto a plate. Someone who is teaching cooking should be better versed in proper food handling!

At 6/22/2009 10:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've only watched the first ep so far but on the whole, it's a different delivery system to spread a skewed message. She never quite gets it right. Shamdra doesn't know how to focus on cost while not compromising taste but then remember, this is the woman who toothpicked mango slices on an already overcooked rotisserie chicken, then returned it to the oven. She's NEVER known about flavor OR cooking - I think she's being coached by a better grade of puppeteers this time around.


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