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March 21, 2007

Evil Is Semi-Homemade

Every morning at 8:30 AM, my TiVo wakes up to record Mario Batali, but then it mostly sits around idle until The Simpsons come on in the evening. What this means is that if I turn on the television at any point in between, I'm dropped directly into the Food Television late morning / early afternoon lineup. While I watched the channel quite a bit many moons ago, my recent viewership has been pretty much limited to the aforementioned Molto and Iron Chef, both varieties. But over the past couple of weeks, I've taken a couple of days to leave it on in the background to see what's new.

It ain't pretty.

While it's true that pure evil is Semi-Homemade, Sandra-bashing is bordering on passé, it's been thoroughly covered by those far more eloquent than me, and by writing here I realize that I'm preaching to the choir. And while it's also true that her "recipes" should rightly be feared and reviled by anybody who has a love for good food (the entire nation of Spain experienced a collective shudder when her tapas episode aired), I think most of the critics who savage her concoctions miss the point. There's a larger issue here.

Most of her recipes simply expose her as somebody with no tastebuds... or conscience, take your pick. But what makes her evil is not the quality of her food, but rather that she perpetuates the age-old frustrating myth that real, delicious, fresh food from scratch is just too hard and takes too much time. Her entire schtick is predicated on the big lie that hers is the only way to make delicious, beautiful food in a short period of time. Shredding store-bought ribs, cooking up a bottled chili sauce and taco seasoning mishmash, frying frozen potato chips and assembling the whole thing with packaged cole slaw doesn't take any less time or skill than, say, roasting a few potatoes, whipping up a fresh aioli, marinating some peppers and roasting a pork tenderloin. Marinating a salmon steak in store-bought salad dressing and grilling it on a cedar plank doesn't take any less time or skill than, say, wrapping a good piece of fish in foil with a little oil and butter, some garlic, a couple of spices and some greens. Yet in both cases, there are legions of people who are resolute in their belief that the former is doable while the latter is simply beyond their ability, and Sandra Lee only feeds this belief. What she's done is taken the noble and laudable mantra that beautiful, delicious food need not be a difficult time-consuming chore, and somehow perverted and reshaped it into her own dark, twisted, pre-processed vision.

What was most troubling about my afternoon viewing, however, was the revelation that Semi-Homemade isn't some freaky interloper, but rather the standard-bearer of the new daytime Food Network. I couldn't understand why people held TV cooks like Rachel Ray and Giada De Laurentiis in such high regard until I saw the shows they were sandwiched between. In the early years, FoodTV shows sought to educate. They taught people that good food needn't be this mystical other that was unattainable by mere mortals. You learned that if you're short on time, don't make a half-assed chicken and dumplings with heat-lamp chicken and canned biscuit dough. Take even less time and make an incredibly fresh and delicious roast chicken or a simple Italian sautéed chicken instead. But where Food Network used to encourage its viewers' enthusiasm and desires, it now prefers to prey on its viewers' fears and insecurities, focusing instead on "tricks" and "shortcuts" that rarely save any real time or energy, but almost always sacrifice flavor.

I don't know anybody so food illiterate that they can't see the difference between an average Sandra Lee meal and an average Mario Batali meal... but they both took roughly 30 minutes to prepare.

Well, more for the Sandra Lee meal if you factor in your tablescape.

Comments

I have never actually seen her show, but now I really want to. Just to see how horrible she really is. I bet I'll start watching and not be able to turn my eyes away.

It's a valuable exercise, if for no other reason than to know your enemy.

Dominic -

I couldn't agree with you more about the evilness of Semi-Homemade Cooking (the show), but due to a bad case of insomnia last night, I caught the first part Sandra Lee's Chefography (Sandra + "chef" - shudder).

Darned if I didn't feel sorry for the woman. She had a pretty awful childhood - she basically became the mom of four siblings at the age of 11. She managed the food stamps, did the groceries, made the meals - using the Betty Crocker cookbook. I sort of dozed off around this point, but she eventually must have turned things around. I think she got her show due to her popularity doing the same sort of stuff on QVC or HSN.

I'm doing my best to block out that show so I can go back to my old burning hatred of everything related to "Semi-Homemade". Saturday mornings are the only time Food Network has shows that actually teach cooking, so I just Tivo them and "Good Eats".

Brian...

Oh, to be clear, for all I know she's an absolutely wonderful woman, pillar of the community, doting wife and mother, straight as an arrow, right as rain and sweet as gutted apple pie filling.

But in the culinary world, she's the antichrist.

I did see the promo for her "chef"ography, and thought about it... then decided it'd probably just irritate me further.

I've definitely got the TV chefs I like (Alton Brown, Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay to name 3) and the ones I dislike (Emeril, Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay are in my personal axis of evil). Besides Sandra Lee who, I've gathered through deductive reasoning, you dislike and Mario Batali, who I assume you do like...who are the TV chefs on your "listen to these guys and girls" list and your "talentless hacks" list?

I don't know that it's so easy to draw a line down the middle and toss everybody on one side or the other, but clearly there are people I like and dislike. And the truth is that I don't watch cooking shows very much, so these are opinions formed mostly on an episode or two.

Batali, for me, is the perfect television chef. He knows his stuff, communicates it well, doesn't talk down to his audience but doesn't pander to the LCD either, and is actually enjoyable to watch.

Alton Brown I like. I went to nerd school, so it's a little hard not to... even if he seems a little overly focused on THE WAY at times.

Bourdain can be drop-dead hysterical, and he can also get way too full of his wiseass self. But, man, it's impossible not to like him when he's on. And he knows his stuff, I think, even if he is too quick to dismiss that which doesn't mesh with his real, badass persona.

My only experience with Ramsay was one episode of Hell's Kitchen. I'm open to the possibility that he's different on other shows, but if not... thanks, no.

Emeril, to me, is kind of a tragedy. In the early, early years of FoodTV, I thought the original Essence of Emeril was great. He was still fun without being over the top, he was big into trying to make the kitchen less intimidating without dumbing things down, and the guy can cook! Then they gave him a live audience. It was all downhill from there.

Flay's a prick.

I used to watch Ming Tsai a little, but I got tired of feeling like he was my kindergarten teacher.

I can't get past the weird, creepy, annoying, mega-amplified fakey mannerisms of RR and Giada long enough to actually consider what they're doing.

I suppose this is why I don't watch much cooking TV anymore.

I'd definitely recommend checking out "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" or "Gordon Ramsay's The F Word" on BBC America. On the US "Hells Kitchen" he was definitely doing what I like to call "FOXing it up", i.e. he was playing an overblown caricature of himself. In the other shows, he seems like the "tough love" type...he'll yell when all hell is breaking loose, but when someone truly needs help he can be almost nurturing. I think they're planning a US version of "Kitchen Nightmares", which I believe will also be on FOX. In other words, I would expect a similar Ramsay to who we see on our version of HK. If you get BBC America, check out those versions.

Don't feel too sorry for SLop. That ChefFAUXography was written to garner sympathy for a woman whose husband (AKA "The Wallet") bought her this TV show.

Not only did "The Wallet" support her but I'm sure sleeping with David Elliot is the reason she is on now.
Funny though, David was seen all over Paula Deans Chefography but no where to be seen in Sandi’s(?)
If I were Sandy I'd feel unloved!
As the Mother of 4 teens I have found a purpose for her show. I'm sure it's not the purpose Food Network would find appealing! None of my kids are that interested in cooking yet, but, Semi-Homade is enlightening them as to what cooking Should Not Be. If I can't interest them in learning I can at least show them the evils of ignorance.

David Elliot = Gordon Elliot oops!

do you people have too much time on your hands? Get over it and go make some food from scratch. Get over your selves! Who cares if she does it differently than Wolfgang, choose and move on for goodness sake.

Becky...

Is it so ridiculous to think it's important for people to feel comfortable cooking real food in the kitchen? Is it so unnecessary to call somebody out for referring to herself a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu when she dropped out of a week long course that was open to the public? Is it so absurd to loathe somebody who claims to stand up for "all the women out there who are just trying to get it done", yet spends more time on her tablescapes than her food?

This IS a blog about food. And here you have somebody who is, for better or worse, one of the single biggest trendsetters in home cooking in America today. If Sandra Lee isn't fair game for discussion (and ridicule) in a FOOD BLOG, then who is?

I'm a typical mom....work 8 hours, run home and help kids with homework then it's off to drive them to sports practice or games. There is not much time left for cooking. Sandra's style of cooking is how a typical working mom cooks. I may roast a pork tenderloin for dinner but then grab a boxed cake mix for dessert. Semi-homemade is how the real world cooks...us non chef people who try to juggle work and kids and still try to feed our family a healthy meal. I think her show is aimed toward us and not people looking to expand their culinary skills. You just might be surprised at how good some of our cooking really is.

Typical Mom...

From 7:00 AM until 7:00 PM, while my wife is at work, I take care of my infant son. When my wife gets home, we have 2-3 hours to spend together. She and my son go to sleep around nine or ten, at which point my workday starts. I usually work from nine or ten at night until two or three in the morning, at which point I catch four or five hours of sleep before my son wakes up and my wife's off to work.

I don't cook anything like Sandra Lee. But do you really think I spend more than 15-20 minutes every night cooking dinner?

Of course that's how a typical working mom cooks. The typical working mom has been lied to and taught that that's the only way she can cook given her schedule and ability. The point is that THIS IS A LIE. It ISN'T faster. It ISN'T healthier. It ISN'T easier. I understand why you might not believe me. Like I say, today's cooking shows are designed to pander to this mistaken notion. But I toss a piece of salmon in the oven with some panko breadcrumbs and a few fresh herbs, then crack a can of coconut milk and warm it with some fresh lime juice and fish sauce, it takes ten minutes and I'm not doing anything you couldn't do right now.

Do you disagree?

It seems to me that there is nothing wrong with the way that Sandra Lee cooks. It is just a question of how much time you have to do it. "A Typical American Mom" ( a poster above) is right. Some of Sandra Lee's food is good. The danger with Sandra Lee's approach to food is that it makes cooking novices entirely dependent on prepackaged food, which is then "jazzed up." Novices should also know how to do simple, basic things that don't take much time, and do it from scratch.

I disagree, Geoffrey, it has absolutely nothing to do with time. Many of her recipes have extra time-consuming steps THROWN IN purely to preserve A) her formulaic ratio, or B) the impression that she's actually preparing something.

I read one of her recipes that called for mixing cocoa powder with canned vanilla frosting to make chocolate frosting. What does that achieve that buying canned chocolate frosting doesn't? It isn't tastier. It isn't easier. It isn't quicker. It's a completely superfluous step included purely to give her concoction the appearance of an actual recipe. She's telling you she's saving you all this time while simultaneously instructing you to waste it. The whole thing is a total farce, and this is the point. Her show doesn't teach you how to save time. It teaches you how to pretend you're saving time while preserving the illusion that you're cooking. In most cases, neither are true.

I believe I saw the frosting recipe in question and started laughing about it - how much quicker was it to throw some cocoa powder into a canned jar of frosting when the simplest homemade frosting is confectioners sugar, cocoa, and butter (with a touch of cream if too thick)....

But, Lainey, then it would be ACTUALLY homemade and obviously too hard! :-)

Hey, grilling on a plank is a legitimate technique for real chefs. The hack part is using a salad dressing as opposed to say dusting it with some dried herbs and olive oil. Using foil is a great way too, but sometimes a fish, especially an over used one like Salmon, needs the smokey richness of plank cooking.

my .02

Anon...

Oh, you're absolutely right. I'm not knocking plank roasting. It the whole package I'm taking a shot at :-)

I am totally with you on the Sandra Lee bandwagon, but I don't despise all semi-homemade recipes. I've sure been known to use a shortcut or two. I'll admit that I can whip up a spaghetti sauce using canned San Marzano tomatoes in just a few minutes more than it takes to jazz up a jar of Prego, but there are still times I go for the jar.

My problem with Sandra Lee is that she makes bad semi-homemade food while focusing far too much attention on her tablescapes and cocktails.

As perky and annoying as some people find Rachel and Giada, I believe they enjoy their food. I love Ina and Paula's recipes always taste good when I feel the need for heart attack inducing levels of butter and cream. But I take one look at plastic Sandra and think she's more likely to stick her finger down her throat than to really enjoy an exquisite meal.

hey dom - recently discovered your blog through lthforum and am loving it, especially the top chef rankings! thanks for clearing up the polish sausage debacle - i feel better about the way it went down knowing that they actually did include polish sausage in their dish. your semi-homemade post had me rolling on the floor - you just had to slip in that tablescape comment!! i am in total agreement with it, but wanted to mention that there is a "foodie" version of semi-homemade out there - you may know her from l.a. - nancy silverton. she has a really wonderful cookbook called "a twist of the wrist" that uses some shortcut techniques, but really retains the integrity of the food and the passion for cooking. thanks for the entertainment and looking forward to your future posts!

I just found this blog a few days ago through the Top Chef site, and I'm enjoying it so far. HOWEVER...

I think there's a place for a show like Semi Homemade. I think there's a certain kind of viewer who could get some benefit from it who lands somewhere between a serious foodie and a serious hack: A true novice in the kitchen who's still intimidated by cooking in general. It's not just about time, at least not the time it may take to make one dish. It's about the long-term time it takes to learn what in the blue blazes you're doing in the kitchen!

I'm a very good home cook, with a love of good food, and a willingness to take time and experiment... now. But that wasn't always the case. And isn't starting somewhere lower on the scale like this better than not starting at all? Seriously, guys. Foodies rock, but an ounce of pretention is worth a pound of manure.

Stacy...

It's an opinion that you're obviously entitled to, but I have to disagree. Point me to a Sandra Lee recipe that you feel shoots this gap -- something geared towards the "true novice" -- and I'll send you a similar recipe that's just as easy for the true novice, but doesn't involve hacking pre-processed food. It'll be tastier, just as easy and quick to prepare, probably healthier, and will actually help you to gain some skill in the kitchen.

Consider it a challenge -- I anxiously await your reply :-)

(P.S., I'll never understand how encouraging people to use the same amount of time and energy to make good, simple, fresh, healthy food qualifies as pretentious, but again, that's an opinion you're entitled to, I suppose.)

Wow, thanks for the fast reply :)

First things first: Please let me clarify, what I consider pretentious is NOT the encouragement you speak of. Not at all. What I'm talking about is how so many people who have developed an understanding of and love for the kind of food you're talking about, and/or a skill for cooking, tend to forget that everyone had to start somewhere (the same goes for any skill, but food is why we're all here, no?).

If you're one of the rare few (I'm using "you" in the general sense here) who right from the start came out of the gate with a knife in one hand, a lovely bundle of nice fresh herbs in the other, the exposure to that kind of food before you started cooking it yourself, and the instinctive talent to make it work in your soul, my hat is truly off to you. I'm glad some of y'all exist, because I learn from you, I've become steadily better at it myself because of you, and I love eating your food. But you would indeed be rare. And when I was first venturing into a kitchen? Frankly, y'all would have scared the hell out of me. If "your way" was the ONLY way, just the sheer intimidation factor could very possibly have prevented me from learning to cook. Assuming you've never felt that intimidation, I hope you can just take my word for it that it does exist. And I believe that there are more of us than there are of you (possibly even moreso now, because of the emergence of the all-so-serious Foodie Culture? Not sure about that, but it's a thought...)

But anyway...

Today I can make a glorious herb crust for a prime rib roast without popping a sweat. Today I trust my skills enough, and have learned enough about how food works together, to know that shallots, apples, thyme, chicken stock, and apple cider are a delicious concoction to deglaze the skillet I just pan-seared the bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin in. But let me tell you, my very first (Sandra Lee-type) pot roast 30 years ago, seasoned with an envelope of italian salad dressing mix and braised in canned beef broth, made me feel ten feet tall in the kitchen. And a Duncan Hines cake mix made what I thought was a very nice cake, which led to trying doctored cake mix experiments, which led to the fact that I haven't used a cake mix in about a decade, and wouldn't dream of it now. For MOST of us... you may not be one, but once more please take my word for it when I say that we probably outnumber you... it's a progression.

I suppose the above paragraph will be as close as I'm going to come to addressing your challenge. The thing is, I don't watch her show regularly (I've seen maybe three episodes total), because I'm not her target audience any more than you are, or any other foodie is. I know, understand, and can somewhat appreciate her premise, but I don't have first-hand familiarity with her specific recipes.

Taking it just a step further, I've had the exprience where I've given what I thought was a VERY easy chicken and pasta dish to a non-cooking co-worker, only to have her later admit in defeat that she didn't make it past the produce section in the grocery store. The thing is, it IS a ridiculously easy recipe for me. But for her? She said she felt stupid because she didn't even know what a scallion or fresh parsley looked like, and gave up on the idea. Do you think that feeling is going to encourage her to learn to cook? Would I be doing her a huge disservice by suggesting she try something more Sandra-like just to get her stirring spoon wet? You may think so, but I genuinely don't.

I want to be sure that you understand, I DO know that you're right with the points you make. Of course cooking with fresh whole foods can be very simple, easy, cheap, and wonderful. The point I'm trying to make is that I know it NOW, but I remember the time when I didn't know it. Those who still don't know it are Sandra Lee's target audience.. I would have been, a long time ago... and god bless her for it. Food like hers can get someone comfortable and confident in the kitchen, and THEN they can start to experiment with better, fresher, healthier cooking. It's not an all-or-nothing thing here, or at least it shouldn't be.

Make any better sense?

Hey, Stacy...

First off, let me say thanks for making a serious discussion of this. I think it's important, not as a matter of snooty foodie pride, but as a matter of basic human nourishment, both body and soul.

I believe I understand what you mean. There are people who are scared to death of the kitchen, and there's no probably about it, they outnumber people like me by a vast degree. Of course, I understand that everybody has to start somewhere. My family got me started young, but I understand that isn't the case for everybody. And believe me, I've coached some people like your coworker through recipes before. It is, indeed, easy for us to take certain knowledge for granted. And I would agree with the idea that getting these people into the kitchen can't be a bad thing -- to a point. But as mentioned above, while I think her goals are admirable, Sandra Lee's method has just the opposite effect.

One of the biggest problems with Sandra Lee is that she STIGMATIZES cooking dishes from fresh ingredients. In her world, "from scratch" isn't something you might someday achieve, it's something you go out of your way to avoid. The covers of her books proudly proclaim "nothing from scratch", as though this is some kind of achievement. She's not using pre-processed "shortcuts" as a stepping stone to more competent cookery, she's touting them not only as a viable alternative, but a PREFERABLE one.

Adding insult to this injury is that the claims she makes when it comes to time, energy and necessary knowhow aren't even true! I'd urge you to look through her recipes if you think she's performing a valuable service by teaching get into the kitchen 101. I agree, in theory, that it's important to have ridiculously simple recipes for those who have never been exposed to the kitchen and don't even know where to start. And I might be inclined to agree with you in how that pertains to Sandra Lee IF that screen time she spends showing you how to dismantle grocery store BBQ ribs and stuff them into mangled canned dough couldn't just as easily be used to show somebody how to pull a chicken breast out of the package and wrap it in foil with a couple of fresh herbs, some oil and a squeeze of lemon. Her recipe isn't any faster or easier, but it's a dead-end street and terrible food, to boot. The latter is something that a kid can do, but it's creating fresh, healthy food and it's teaching all sorts of basic kitchen lessons that can be built upon.

I suspect the crux of our difference here is that you believe Sandra Lee's recipes really ARE easier for people who don't know the kitchen from the garage. I submit to you that they absolutely are not (to say nothing of some of the instances mentioned in the comments above, where she intentionally and needlessly complicates recipes so they conform to her "formula"). Some of her devotees will insist they are, but this is because they've been lied to and convinced, erroneously, that Sandra Lee's brand of cooking is the best they can do. And this is precisely why I issued the challenge -- to demonstrate this fallacy. That her pre-processed recipes are easier than very, very basic fresh recipes for kitchen novices is a flat-out lie, and it's one I think you'll see right through if you take the time to browse her recipes -- or, even more significantly, if you stop to think about just how simple and easy good, fresh recipes can be.

I agree wholeheartedly that there's a niche to be filled and that she's filling it. I'm just saying the way she's going about it is completely wrongheaded and ultimately more destructive than helpful. A good teacher shows you that you're more capable than you think you are. Sandra Lee is the anti-teacher, telling her students they're just not good enough to do things that they are, in fact, perfectly capable of doing right there and then. There is nobody -- nobody -- so unskilled that their only option is to resort to the kind of pre-processed hacks that are the cornerstone of her show. But she has countless people believing this as gospel.

And that's why she's evil :-)

I love Semi Homemade she is a beautiful person, ... you all are so jealous, ....

I still remember the first time I saw Sem-homemade w/ sandra lee. I actually felt sorry for her. I remember thinking, 'Oh dear god, this poor woman is never going to last against the likes of Mario and company..." Oh, if only I could go back in time and pull the scales from the eyes of that naive lad of yore. Little did I know the depths Foodtv would sink. I think my grandfather helped dig the hole with the WPA in which Foodtv now resides actually.

Then I noticed she ended up on foodtv specials, like some xmas dinner special, with other foodtv stars and I thought, 'oh, they're giving her a chance. How sweet that they are taking pity on this poor illiterate woman."

And then I noticed that her show aired more and more, and not just in the middle of the night or early sunday morning.

Now I realize that she was a part of much larger conspiracy to dumb down the whole network. Way down. Way way down.

I do have to give her a huge amount of credit for making an incredibly successful business out of warming up premade food and convincing people that she's cooking. She's not evil, she's a god damn therapist. She let's a huge amount of people off the hook by saying, "Everything you're doing is good, and caring. You're not a bad person because you can't cook. You're fine, it's fine."

Foodtv executives are the evil ones. They sucked us in and sold us down the river. F them in the A.

The root of her evil is quite simple: product placement, that is totally why the networks love her. She uses and tours processed brand named stuff.

Long Time Reader De-Lurking Here.

I personally think that a part of the problem is that for whatever reason, many people simply are not curious about food today.." How was that done..what is that ..".

I am fortunate to have worked in food service and my husband was a cook in the Navy for 13 years , so I am comfortable with a lot and put off by other things...it is what it is. My grandmother taught me how to bake and my mother was epi-curious .

I work 50 hours a week for attorneys and my husbands job in prosthetics is about the same . There is always a pot of some form of Marinara in the fridge and veggies...it can be done.

But that being said..I absolutely refuse to believe that going to your pantry and slapping a meal together is as satisfying as figuring out how you could execute a dish.
Experiment, make notes on why this or that could make a recipe better...My problem is thus with Aunt Sandy...She makes it seem that it's okay to settle in what ever level your skills are and that it's not worth it to try to step outside your comfort zone...even for just one meal.

I think most of you have green eyes where Sandra Lee is concerned. I have tried many of her recipes and find them very good. Who cares if they have some pre-pared ingredients - I have cooked for many years -- am now a senior citizen and welcome a change in cooking. Some of these ingredients are better than we could do from scratch and certainly are a time saver. And as for her program - it is delightful - and I enjoy seeing the different way she presents it. Just because some of you like to cook from scratch doesn't mean it's good.

(Edited to remove all-caps -- hope you don't mind, Dorothy.)

Hello, Dorothy!

Thanks for commenting -- I hope you don't mind that I edited your comments to remove the all-caps. That's the internet equivalent of shouting what you have to say.

You may think my eyes are green, Dorothy, but I think yours have been blinded by Sandra Lee's dazzling smile :-)

When it comes to taste, we may simply have a fundamental difference of opinion. You think her recipes taste good, I find them terrible. That's simply a matter of taste that can't be disputed.

Sandra Lee says you should cook like her because you don't have the time and skill to cook from scratch. But every time I ask somebody to describe to me an example of how Sandra Lee's recipes are quicker and easier to make than cooking simple, fresh dishes from scratch, they can't. Give me an example. Tell me a Sandra Lee recipe you love and how long it took you to prepare it. And I wager I can give you another similar recipe that's just as easy, cheap, fast, tastes better, and doesn't require pre-processed food.

And speaking of pre-processed, I never said there was anything inherently wrong with pre-processed food. If you reread my post, you'll see that what I object to is Sandra Lee's adherence to pre-processed food as dogma. Even setting aside flavor issues, in many instances she uses pre-processed foods in ways that take even MORE time than it would take to prepare them from scratch, and sacrifices flavor by doing so.

There is one thing you've said that I completely agree with. Just because you cook something from scratch doesn't automatically mean it's good. But if I may turn that around and throw it back at you, just because you make something with pre-processed foods doesn't automatically mean it's quicker and easier! The problem with Sandra Lee is that her show tries to teach you that her pre-processed recipes are a faster and easier way of cooking, when they simply aren't. It's a lie!

I would have to agree with you, Dominic. I agree ten times over when it comes to restaurants. Saturday night, I had a semi-late night drink in what's probably the best restaurant in my town. I ended up talking to the chef after they closed up while I sipped on my mojito and ate my charcuterie. Served with the cheese and meats were these amazing marinated olives which tasted of cinnamon and jalapeno. Amazing. When I asked how they made it, he said they got it from another company. I felt disappointed. They went on about how you shouldn't bother making something if someone already makes it well. Bull. So, basically I paid for absolutely nothing made in the kitchen, besides my drink. Next time I'll make my own damn olives.

This article is hysterical and a little sad, too. I'm by no means a good cook; I'm novice in every sense of the word. However, I still see Sandra Lee's show as a joke. All she does is, for lack of a better phrase, puts shit together. She spends as much time on her cocktails and tablescapes (and finding matching outfits for them...) as she does actually cooking. It's pretty gross.

Giada may not be your cup of tea, Dom, but if you look past the gimmicky events centered around the episode, she's actually a proponent for what you are championing: fresh ingredients are easy to prepare and are better. I think you'll find her methods refreshing!

I actually thought about this post while I was shopping this weekend.

My building is going through some extensive construction/repairs this week, forcing them to shut down power from 9-6 over the next five days. I spent the weeekend trying to consume everything I knew wouldn't survive the outage, and then shopped for things that could do without refrigeration.

Sandra Lee-styled pre-fab cooking was a distinct option. The thing is... nothing of the sort really appetized me. Instead of fixating on the preserved, pre-cooked stuff I could leave in my pantry, I noticed how much else was available to me.

In the end, I wound up with a case study on just how easy it is to make a tasty meal from scratch. On the menu this week? Pasta tossed in olive oil, fresh herbs, and vegetables. Fresh bread (flour, water, yeast, and salt). Homemade hummus. Sauteed spring vegetables with rice. Ma-po tofu.

Nothing I'm making takes more than an hour (and most take far less). All of it is considerably cheaper, healthier, and tastier than the prepackaged stuff.

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