Pop Torture: The Sandra Lee Dinner Party

Our writer prepares and serves the cake Anthony Bourdain called "a war crime on television."

sandra lee dinner party

By James Brady Ryan

Welcome to Pop Torture, a biweekly column in which I embrace my pop-culture masochism and search out the most painful ways to experience the movies, TV, and music that fill our lives with such ecstasy and agony. (Needless to say, I’ll mostly be focusing on the latter.) Each week I’ll take on a new challenge, and each week I’ll share my adventures with you, provided I survive them.

The Challenge: To prepare, eat, and survive a meal made exclusively of recipes from Semi-Homemade With Sandra Lee.

Sandra Lee is the host of not one but two shows on the Food Network, famous for making meals that, by design, cut as many corners as possible. Anything that can be purchased pre-made is tops in her book, which has led to a less-than-stellar reputation among other cooks, foodies, and anyone with eyes/taste buds. (She's also known for coming off as an unrepentant lush — half of her airtime seems to be spent throwing back cocktails.)

lush lagoon

But Lee does have qualifications, as her unintentionally hilarious Wikipedia page points out: "Lee's official Food Network bio states that, 'Lee then attended the world's leading culinary art institute, Le Cordon Bleu.' Lee enrolled in a recreational two-week course at the school's Ottawa outpost, which she acknowledges that she did not complete." I've spent a decent amount of time laughing at Sandra, but I'll admit I'd never tried any of her recipes. If I actually put her food where my mouth is, would I have to stop laughing?

Cocktail Time (Gin thing & Lush Lagoon): Because misery loves company (and because all of her recipes serve four), I invited a few friends over for a three-course dinner, preceded by a cocktail hour. I had a selection of two: one was some kind of gin-based fruit concoction without an official name. The other was an electric-green mixture called the "Lush Lagoon." (Possibly named after Sandra's favorite rehab center.) While the gin-and-juice was generally confusing (so many juices), the Lush Lagoon sounded reasonable — crushed kiwi, vodka, melon liqueur — until the final touch: a dash of juice from a jar of jalapeno peppers.

The group reaction was best summed up by my guest Megan: "The gin drink actually doesn't seem so bad once you've tried the other one." But if you've ever sipped down a refreshingly cool summer cocktail and thought to yourself, "This is missing a certain burning in the back of my mouth," then the Lush Lagoon is for you.

spiceycashewdip

Appetizer (Spicy Cashew Dip): In the interest of saving time (a Sandra Lee commandment if ever there was one), I went with a dip — something simple my friends could enjoy with bread or crudités. I chose the ominously named Spicy Cashew Dip. In what would turn into the running theme of the evening, this recipe seemed to go one ingredient too far. You might sign on for cashews, peanut butter, cream cheese; it's when Lee gets to the chili paste and cumin powder that you begin to wonder.

The dip tasted, unsurprisingly, like warm peanut butter and cream cheese. But we couldn't get much of it down, because... well, there's no delicate way to say this: the dip looked like crap, literally. "I can't get over how much this looks like a turd," my roommate said, as she gingerly scooped up some dip with a piece of celery. "It's... well, it's surprisingly... warm. And there are... chunks. Uh, like a turd."

Main Course (Smoked Turkey, Brie, and Apricot Quesadilla): After about an hour of enthusiastically not eating the dip while chugging the gin cocktail (only one Lush Lagoon ever sputtered into being), we were tipsy enough to imagine that the entree could be good. After all, the word "quesadilla" was in the name. And who could say no to two flour tortillas sandwiching some sliced deli turkey, brie, apricot jam, and monterey-jack cheese? While you might be thinking to yourself, "Everyone. Everyone could say no to that," I have to tell you that we were so hungry by this point we'd gladly have thrown in some fish sticks and pancake batter if Sandra had asked. The truth is, these quesadillas were not bad. Yes, we were hungry and a little drunk. And yes, we had the same issues with this dish as we had with the others — namely that Sandra Lee could really use an editor for her food.

Dessert (Kwanzaa Cake): And finally we came to the dish for which Sandra Lee is infamous. Not so much a dessert as a sugary confusion. The Kwanzaa Cake. This was actually the first dish I prepared — oh, how young and naive I was then, four hours previous — and let me tell you: this cake did not want to be made. The pre-made angel-food cake would not come out of its container. The icing refused to stick to the oddly plastic surface of the cake once I did pry it out. (Megan questioned the wisdom of buying plain frosting and then adding cocoa powder to it when chocolate frosting is readily available, a point which Sandra might want to consider.) And then, as I poured apple pie filling from a can into the center of the dish (really), the can actually attacked me, slicing open my middle finger, presumably enraged by its forced participation in a crime against contemporary African-American culture, good taste, and nature. Sandra Lee suggested I garnish with acorns. My mother suggested that acorns are not edible.

cake

As I sliced into the cake, my guests all uttered a collective prayer. Then we dug in, trying to capture each element in that first bite. This was the cake that Anthony Bourdain famously said would set your eyes on fire, but if only Tony knew what it would do to your mouth! It's like being orally sodomized by the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Result: Perhaps twenty minutes after we had finished, my friend Joe texted me from the safety of his own home asking if any of us weren't feeling so hot. As it happened, the three of us still at my apartment were lying on the couch clutching our stomachs in pain. I concluded that something in the meal was responsible for our gastro-intestinal problems. Was it the mix of so many different flavors? Was it the jalapeno juice in the Lush Lagoon? Was it the sugar from the cake? I contemplated these things as I ran to my bathroom to vomit. (Seriously.)

In conclusion: fuck you, Kwanzaa Cake. If you ever find yourself seriously considering a trip into Sandra Lee's food fantasia, perhaps due to a lack of time or a lack of energy, let me give you the greatest corner-cutting tip of all: pizza delivery exists for a reason.

FIND MORE
Pop Torture: James watches every episode of Band of Brothers in a row, tries not to cry like a little girl.
Pop Torture: James sees Valentine's Day on Valentine's Day, alone in body and spirit.
The Ten Sexiest Chefs - Does Sandra Lee make the cut? (No, she does not.)

Commentarium (62 Comments)

Mar 24 10 - 12:38am
Dan

This article has convinced me that Nerve needs to implement a "Like this article" button and allow me to click it an infinite number of times. This is one of the funniest things I have ever read.

Mar 24 10 - 1:03am
dj

this is great : )

Mar 24 10 - 1:26am
Jaydn

This was hilarious. I cant stop laughing at the "It’s like being orally sodomized by the Sugar Plum Fairy." line.
I honestly dont understand why this woman has a show.

Mar 24 10 - 8:14am
cb

TWO shows no less! i get that she makes things on the cheap but COME ON. you can make a completely decent lasagna for like $10-$15, and they usually make 8-10 servings. and why is she so obsessed with making things spicy? and disgusting?

Mar 24 10 - 8:51am
ana

I was curious about her I went to check out her website on Food Network. I am so sad to say that thanks to her I've found a food with bacon that I don't think I find at all appetizing (and I have a very obvious and obsessive love of bacon). Bacon wrapped cheesy corn? Really?

Hilarious article. I hope all ya'll's digestive tracts are back to normal.

Mar 24 10 - 8:59am
Nate

This article is hilarious!

Mar 24 10 - 9:16am
rine

love this.

Mar 24 10 - 9:32am
JK

If your stomach can handle it, could you please do another one of these and make the Cauldron of Bubbling Cheesy Bean Soup?

Mar 24 10 - 10:14am

hysterical!

Mar 24 10 - 11:12am
Cat

wow,so funny! even before the cocktail! awesome.

Mar 24 10 - 12:01pm
Obviously

the recipes were selected for the ability to contribute to the humor of the article.

Mar 24 10 - 12:11pm
TheTits

Bacon-wrapped cheesy corn sounds like a reason for me to get out of bed today.

Mar 24 10 - 12:52pm
mx

This is so, so funny. I know I shouldn't be reading Nerve while in lecture, but I had to. And then I had to stifle a snorty laugh.

Mar 24 10 - 12:56pm
pott

Great stuff. Why is there a fish bowl on your counter?

Mar 24 10 - 1:36pm
pjt

Those red eyes should have been a warning!

Mar 24 10 - 4:18pm
EPRT-Bronx

keep 'em comin', this was great. Hope you are all feeling better. Will they ever come to your apartment again?

Mar 24 10 - 7:14pm
JJ

That was brilliant -more!

Mar 24 10 - 9:09pm
Tumor

How is this bitch so skinny? All she eats is animal products!

Mar 25 10 - 11:28am
Rebeca

Please, please, please, please, please make Sandra Lee recipe articles every week until you have tasted every recipe... this was awesome.

Mar 27 10 - 11:19am
RastaRican

Man, I have tear in my one good eye.
This had my laughing for a while, neighbors might come a knocking.

Mar 27 10 - 3:54pm
Adriane

I actually watched the "Kwanzaa Cake" episode with a combination of shock, horror and anger! What, I repeat, what on earth would posess someone to take perfectly normal ingredients and turn them into something so horrid that it should be barred by the Geneval Convention? Satan, I tell you! Seriously, I applaud you for even trying her recipies and hope none of you have sustained any permanent damage!

Mar 28 10 - 11:06am
gbmbg

Okay, I just watched the video of her making the "Lush Lagoon", and I am confused as to why she's putting all the ingredients in a shaker, and then stirring them inside the shaker. With a spoon.

Mar 30 10 - 12:05am

Oh god this was sooo funny

Mar 30 10 - 9:28am
Emily

"orally sodomized by the sugar plum fairy" I love love love this post. Haha. . . she's such a crock.

Apr 02 10 - 6:27pm

As a point of clarification that makes the Kwanza cake even more vile, Sandra actually suggested you use corn nuts to simulate acorns!

Apr 02 10 - 6:34pm
Not Feeling It

I'm no defender of Sandra Lee's, but this is so astonishingly flimsy. Your aesthetic criticism of the spicy cashew dip is completely baseless; it basically looks like chunky hummus, and if your shit is hummus-colored, you're the one in trouble, not Sandra. I'm also not sure what prompted the horror over the cumin and chili powder.

Finally, while the Kwanzaa cake is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst-conceived, most retarded pastry concept of all time, once you take away the Kwanzaa theme, it's an angel food cake with some choc frosting, apple pie filling and a sprinkling of nuts. If you are going to implicate the Sugar Plum Fairy in some kind of sexual abuse charge, let the epithet fit the crime. It's just not that bad.

In short, this could have been done much better, but is really just you guys flinging spitballs at a pathetically easy target.

Apr 02 10 - 8:27pm

Hilarious!

Apr 02 10 - 9:45pm
Christen

This was funny! I bought one of her books and have never made anything in it. I thought her tv show was ok, but nothing in her cookbook looks like something I'd want to eat. Love the part about just buying some chocolate frosting; that's so true. Another I wonder about is Giada. She's so pretty, but I made one of her cookie recipes and they were kinda weird.

Apr 02 10 - 11:02pm
Caitlin

Ever notice how she never tries anything she makes?

Apr 02 10 - 11:10pm
CP

Had a loooong week. Sat down to read some of the articles recommended by the Fug Girls. So glad I did. Hoping I didn't wake up the kids b/c I was laughing so hard. Thank you! Thank you! "In conclusion: fuck you, Kwanzaa Cake."

Apr 03 10 - 5:44am
Janellionaire

She has a sister named Kimber. As in, KIMBER. LEE. Their parents should have been shot.

Jul 19 11 - 4:19pm
RaefA

Actually, her parents divorced when Sandra was 11 and she was forced to go on food stamps and take on a mothering role for her siblings as her mother was not present very much. Bitch.

Apr 03 10 - 9:51am
Lizzie

Oh my GOD!!!! I am crying from laughter!

Apr 03 10 - 9:52am
maryr

I've just watching the Kwanzaa clip and I think I can address the garnish issue. What she's calling "acorns" appear to be corn nuts. Because what that recipe needed was corn nuts.

Are we sure that this show isn't a joke? I'm serious. It's like the Colbert Report of food.

Apr 03 10 - 11:03am

Simply beautiful... I laughed, I winced, I felt a sympathetic stomach twinge. Your dedication to suffering for the entertainment of others is heroic!!

Apr 03 10 - 5:01pm
teri

OMG, this was the best thing I've read all week. I've been laughing for several minutes and had to come back and comment. ha!

Apr 03 10 - 8:03pm
Katie

If you REALLY want a taste of Sandra Lee you have to look at her "Desserts" cookbook, not only does it have the cake of doom in it is has "chocolate truffles" which are made by mixing cans of chocolate frosting with BOXES of confectioners sugar until its thick enough to roll into balls and recipes for cosmetics using corn syrup and food dye!

Apr 03 10 - 9:39pm
texasexile

OK,I have now read this twice and it confirms everything I ever thought about Sandra Lee - she's obviously sold her soul to the devil which is the reason she has two tv shows and no talent for cooking. Period. Laughed so damn hard I cried.

Apr 03 10 - 10:59pm
tamuchi

my sincerest thanks for this. i NEVER liked Sandra Lee and cannot stand to even watch a second of her on tv.

Apr 05 10 - 7:33am
Lisa

I love how at the end she always says "Keep it simple". Because yeah, her "tablescapes" are about as simple as it gets. And that cake...good Lord, I agree with Tony!

Apr 05 10 - 8:26am
Ina Garten DaVida

High-larious!

I laughed til I cried.

But you'd think her drinks would be good at least.

Apr 05 10 - 9:21am
Chiffonade

Bravo!!! As someone who has been snarking Shamdra Lee since the airing of her first episode of Semi-Edible, I salute you. I used to watch her shows and review them but I decided I shouldn't be wasting that kind of time. What a fantastic piece! Thanks again for your bravery.

You've heard of the Purple Heart for being wounded in battle - you qualify for the Purple Stomach.

Apr 05 10 - 5:35pm
Robin

As an African American, may I also add a rousing "Fuck you, Kwanzaa Cake!"....HILARIOUS!!!

Apr 05 10 - 5:47pm
HeatherAdair

So, um - what about your "TABLESCAPE?" Did you cut things out of construction paper and staple them to a goodwill table cloth and find some reason to stick barbie dolls in plastic vases and call it a "centerpiece?" that's the other best(WORST!) part of sandy's gig - the "tablescapes."

well done, well done (totally amused).

Apr 05 10 - 10:28pm
You really don't get it.

Remember, she is bringing back a better time when TV diners were chic and the most important part of the meal was a cocktail. I think the reason she always has a cocktail (and some are quite nice) is that it makes the rest of the meal palatable. What would you expect from the woman who brought us Kurtain Kraft (bringing overdone curtains reminiscent of bad prom dresses and Laura Ashley prints gone bad to households of the 90's). Did you expect Julia Child for goodness sake?

http://www.amazon.com/Kurtain-Kornice-Valance-Decorating-Sandra/dp/B0018...

Apr 06 10 - 9:31am
Dave

Why the hell wasn't this posted on FoodNetworkHumor.com ?!?!?!

Apr 06 10 - 12:16pm
Say WHAT?

Bravo! One of the funniest snarks on SKANKdra's russipees I've read in a long time. I knew that sh*t couldn't be easy on anyone's tummy!!!

Apr 06 10 - 4:41pm
Steph

LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE <3
Best thing I have read this week by far.

Apr 06 10 - 5:16pm
Ana

Hilarious! I'm always excited when someone actually tries her stuff. It's like a dare. Reminded me of this (her top 10 worst dessert disasters):

http://blogs.westword.com/cafesociety/2009/09/_love_her_or_hate.php

Apr 07 10 - 12:22pm
Allison

I was in tears at my desk from laughing! Thank you for risking your stomach and your dignity to prepare such a horrifying meal for the entertainment of your readers!

Apr 09 10 - 10:04pm
CaliCoco

She is the anti-Christ...jalepeno juice laced cocktails...seriously??!!

Apr 11 10 - 1:55am
Julie

I have never finished an episode because I just can't get past the fact that she matches her curtains to her wardrobe. Martha Stewart on crack. Great article!

Jul 23 10 - 4:28pm
Monika

I was commenting, to a friend, on the ridiculousness that is Sandra Lee, when she sent me the URL for this article.

This is so dead on and well-written... I have no words. Let's just say you are an awesome individual, you remind me of my buddy Jake--and under different circumstances--I should like to befriend you. :)

Definitely keep writing!

Aug 02 10 - 12:32am
carnal

that cake looks disgusting but that girl with the red eyes is hott

Aug 15 10 - 7:34pm
Chiffonade

Wonderful! I'm giving you a standing ovation. I see someone upthread feels we "don't get it." Get it? Lee is a Crapmeister to the nth degree. It is SHE who doesn't "get it." What she doesn't "Get" is that a person doesn't have to go into hock and spend hours on end to make a party. (I love cooking marathons but I admit I'm in the minority.) Lee is a walking biohazard after eating all that crap. But don't you worry about her, she'll survive just fine. As long as she can seduce the likes of Andrew Cuomo and be a barnacle on his career, she won't starve... more.

Nov 28 10 - 12:04pm
Say WHAT?

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this. It's too hysterical. I don't outright hate Sandra, but I realize what a soulless hack she is (and I heard someone else on another foodie forum call her this), and how ridiculous her recipes and tablescapes are.

You are to be commended for risking your life for trying her food. I made one of her russipees once - her Shrimp Noodle Bowls. It was so salty and I used the cheap-ass ramen she used too - so chewy. I made it again using more expensive noodles and no seasoning packets, and it came out fine.

Jul 19 11 - 4:03pm
RaefA

Apricot quesadilla? GROSS.

Jul 22 11 - 1:36am
Mccayde

Dag naibbt good stuff you whippersnappers!

Aug 24 11 - 11:10pm
rtyecript

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

Nov 24 11 - 8:14pm
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Dec 03 11 - 2:15am
DonHerbarni

I enjoyed this, great stuff! Stop by and say hi sometime windermere accommodation