Friday, May 8
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.