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Review: Semi-Homemade Cooking

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Semi-Homemade Cooking
By Sandra Lee
ISBN: 140135923x
Publisher: Miramax
Publication date: Oct. 2002
Format: Paperback
List price: $19.95 (Canada, UK)
Type: General: Quick & Easy
Sample recipe:  Classic Holiday Wreath Cake, Ravioli Stroganoff, Steak Pinwheels with Sun-Dried Tomato Stuffing & Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive Biblical stature coffee-table
competition: outclassed also-ran midrange strong challenger leads the pack
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 >300
practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% >80%
# of ingredients: <3 <6 <9 <12 >12
ingredient hunt: 7-11 pantry supermarket online airfare required
recipe complexity: baby steps simple medium intense professional
instructions: inadequate bare bones full figured educational verbose
time conscious: outright lies speed of light fairly quick takes time takes all day
photos/drawings: skimpy adequate generous instructive glorious
recipe results: dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
flavor quotient: disappointing fair good delicious exceptional
layout: ick cluttered clean kind to cooks work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable years of service gift-quality stunning
value: ouch! a little pricey on the money excellent worth splurging
Ease of Use
page numbers: invisible hard to find spotty adequate obvious
table of contents: missing frustrating passable useful helpful
index quality: none tragic adequate good excellent
page flipping: infuriating tedious acceptable rare never
writer: hack cook turned writer writer turned cook comedian auteur
cook: self-taught non-restaurant chef teacher celebrity
overall rating: fair good above average excellent Ochef Top 100

Hmmm. An attractive blond woman telling you what music to listen to while you eat dinner, and it's not Martha Stewart? Indeed, it is not. Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking is about as far from Martha Stewart's world as you can get. The recipes are child's play to prepare, rely on lots and lots of packaged prepared ingredients, and are fast. (In fact, the cover proudly states that "Nothing is Made from Scratch.") Needless to say, this doesn't taste like Martha Stewart's cooking either. But in this world, that's a trade-off many people are willing to make.

People who will make use of Lee's book are not looking for alternatives to Martha — they're looking for alternatives to McDonald's, off-the-shelf microwave meals, and yet another night of Lean Cuisine frozen dinners. In that context, these recipes shine. They provide more variety than you find in the supermarket freezer case. And in many households, it's not that people can't cook, it's that they need ideas (simple and fast ideas) for what to cook.

The recipes start at breakfast, take in lunch, and move to main-course dinners (generally a pasta, or meat with an accompanying starch recipe), with appetizers, snacks, soups, salads, desserts, cocktails, and, yes, a few pet foods along the way. Lee also includes information on how expensive a dish is to prepare, as well as suggestions on the wine to accompany the meal.

We find the references throughout the recipes to which brand of soup and which brand of mashed potatoes to buy to be tedious and a little cheesy. Must we buy Wonder® raisin bread for the French Apple-Raisin Sandwiches instead of another raisin bread? We're also pretty sure most people can figure out on their own which brand of granulated sugar to buy. We doubt Lee is getting kickbacks from the manufacturers, but it looks a little like it.

Also, Lee lives in Los Angeles, and may have much better access to certain packaged foods than most of us. We can't find cans of Aunt Penny's® hollandaise sauce or Mrs. Frieda® prepared crepes in our supermarkets for the Crepes Benedict. We noticed a few other recipes, as well, where the ingredient search may be a problem. But in the context of a solid, practical cookbook, these criticisms are modest.

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