Rest assured, there are cocktails in Sandra Lee's new show on the Food Network. Even if they might be mock bubblies.
The queen of semi-homemade cooking unveils Sandra's Money Saving Meals at noon Sunday with a spring brunch menu, including a bubbly apple cider mimosa. However, the "tablescape" decorations that feature prominently in her other Food Network show, Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee, didn't make the transfer.
Money Saving Meals will remain in the Sunday time slot; Semi-Homemade airs at 2 p.m. weekdays.
The new show's launch is good timing, Lee said last week in a phone interview from the Food Network's studios in New York.
The economic downturn has driven many people back to the kitchen, looking for ways to save money. To do that, she says, they need to understand how to shop for good deals.
"The price per serving is so much less if you cook at home," she says. "This show is very unique; it's Suze Orman meets Julia Child. It can help the average family of four save between 39 and 50 percent on their weekly grocery bills."
That's a tall claim, but Lee explains it all in the show when she breaks down the cost per meal. For instance, the brunch for four featured in the debut episode cost less than $18. That is for a hearty meal of French toast, tomato and asparagus tart, apple-glazed doughnuts and the cider mimosas.
But watcher beware. Though the price per serving seems accurate, you won't be able to walk into the grocery store with $20 and come out with all the ingredients unless you shop somewhere that allows you to buy two bacon slices and a couple of eggs. You'll need a stocked pantry.
The show includes "Round 2 Recipes," a clever segment in which Lee provides recipes for using the leftover ingredients for other dishes. For instance, remaining challah and egg custard from the French toast are reserved to make individual bread puddings. Remaining asparagus from the tart is used for a cream of asparagus soup. Lee directs viewers to foodnetwork.com for that recipe.
Lee says Money Saving Meals has been in development for about 17 months, during which she has been researching the cost of food in all parts of the country. Coming up with prices has been tricky, she says, because of the variations coast to coast.
Ground beef and chicken seem to be the most popular ingredients for evening meals and viewers can expect to see a number of recipes for them.
"We know that at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the Internet spikes with chicken recipe searches," she says. People are starting to think about what they might make for dinner. And lots of people have chicken in the freezer.
But these days, the immensely popular boneless, skinless chicken breasts are too pricey for some budgets. Lee suggests substituting chicken thighs.
Her trademark semi-homemade style may seem contradictory to saving money. Many convenience items are much more expensive than homemade.
Not so fast, she says. It's less expensive to buy a pound cake mix than it is to spring for the butter to make one from scratch. However, baking mix is cheaper to make on your own.
"When there is a huge savings, I'll teach you that," she says. For example, "Baking mix is $3.19 a box and it's just flour, baking soda and salt. You can make the same amount for 69 cents."
Lee is less glammed up on Money Saving Meals than viewers may be used to seeing. But her enthusiasm is still there. The show, she tells viewers and interviewers, is based on her "triple A factor of accessible, aspirational and affordable."
And something cool in a pretty cocktail glass.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on Twitter, too (@keelerstircrazy).