Cincy Chic: How do you apply the 70 percent store-bought, 30 percent homemade — termed “Semi-Homemade” in your books — philosophy to the rest of your life?
Sandra Lee: Life is about getting that “from scratch” results without all the energy and effort. It’s also about priorities. Life is short and I have learned how really insignificant perfection is. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to do things well, but you want to do them faster so that you can spend time with your family, take a hot shower, drink a glass of wine or read a book. The Semi-Homemade concept is applicable to cooking, decorating, gardening, entertaining, crafting and more, to allow people more time to live better.
Cincy Chic: How would you describe your personal style/fashion sense? In your opinion, what qualifies as “chic”?
Lee: “Chic,” to me, is someone who is comfortable and confident in their own skin. Chic is also knowing when and how to embellish your outfit by adding creative personal touches such as a necklace, scarf or belt. My personal style is casual, comfortable and practical. Wearing white always lightens up my mood in autumn or winter and is timeless. My closet, like my pantry and refrigerator is organized by item and style, so I can mix and match. I love soft fabrics like cashmere!
Cincy Chic: Of all the recipes you’ve come up with, what’s your all-time favorite? Why?
Lee: My all-time favorite recipe? I can’t pick just one, but I will tell you that dessert is my absolute favorite part of a meal. The Heirloom Desserts chapter in my new book Semi-Homemade Desserts 2 is close to my heart. It is a treasury of some of my family’s favorite from-scratch recipes. From Apple Ginger Crisp to Chocolate Souffles, these old recipes have been updated with new fruits, toppings and ingredients. I can look at a recipe from scratch that has 25 ingredients and break it down into five and seven ingredients and cut the time in a quarter. The best part is that these are classic desserts, but much quicker versions of each.
Cincy Chic: What’s your favorite reader/viewer/Semi-Homemaker Semi-Homemade story? Recipe?
Lee: I love seeing people interact on the Semi-Homemakers club on my Web site because it really shows that the lifestyle is applicable and we are all helping each other. When men and women share their time-saving tips and sanity-saving shortcuts for quick and easy recipes, it constantly reinforces the idea that for busy homemakers and professionals on the go, Semi-Homemade really works.
Cincy Chic: When you aren’t in front of the camera, writing books or on tour, how do you spend your free time?
Lee: As the CEO of Semi-Homemade I am constantly working with my fantastic team on building my brand. Between my national book tour, taping my show and preparing for the launch of my Semi-Homemade magazine in February 2009, free time has been limited. However, I always look forward to returning home to spend time with my friends and family — especially my nieces and nephews.
Cincy Chic: We have our “Quality of Life” issue coming out next week; how do you improve/maintain your quality of life? What advice do you offer others?
Lee: Learning to stand strong in the face of challenge and adversity is my secret to survival. Picking up and moving forward is the only thing we can do. Resilience is the key. In today’s hectic world, we sometimes go through the motions, without taking time to enjoy life.
Take cooking, for example: I don’t believe that anyone should feel guilty because they don’t have time to cook a meal from scratch. A family of four can have an affordable meal out, without the shopping or the cleanup time of eating at home. But that doesn’t really create the kind of environment you want your family to have every night, does it?
Semi-Homemade was created so that the busy homemaker would have time to sit down with the family. It’s the solution to bringing the family back together at the table, to enjoy a good meal and share in one another’s company without sacrificing quality or taste. I try to live an authentic life every single day and feel fortunate that I love my job. Do what makes you happy and you can’t go wrong.
Cincy Chic: In 1989, you developed Kurtain Kraft. What is the most important advice you can offer financially-strapped individuals seeking home decorating tips?
Lee: For those of us who want to work within a budget, I recommend creating an outline of your home and pre-planning the theme, colors and design of each room. The best advice I have to offer is be creative and take your time figuring out what style really suits you best. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on elaborate home decorating items.
When you decorate the Semi-Homemade way, focus on recycling items that you already have in your own home and then you can spend on new, must-have items. For example, you can re-cover chairs with recycled fabric and decorate your dining room by embellishing glasses, vases, bottles or terra cotta pots. Stock your closet with extra fabric, wrappings, candles, flowers, ribbon and cards. With the holiday season coming up, you can create personal items and a beautiful atmosphere for your guests.
Cincy Chic: When you were younger, you experienced a lot of hardships and “adult” responsibilities at a young age. How were you able to keep it all together? What is your fondest memory from your childhood?
Lee: There were many scary moments in my childhood when life felt completely out of control. I daydreamed of being a normal kid, but that wasn’t the reality I lived in.
The fondest memories of my childhood are of baking with my Grandma Lorraine in our little Californian cottage. My grandmother is the true inspiration behind Semi-Homemade. She taught me what a gift life is and how important it was to embrace the joy in each and every day. Her vanilla cake with butter cream frosting is still my favorite.
Although much of my knowledge had been borne of a difficult situation, I found a way to use those skills to make life easier and more fulfilling for my viewers and readers, who are the real stars, the real home heroes of today.
Cincy Chic: Your tablescapes are legendary! How do you come up with the themes? Are you involved in every aspect of executing them? Why is presentation such an important aspect to you?
Lee: For the themes on “Semi-Homemade Cooking” and in my books, I draw inspiration from everything – a hair pin, a blouse, fruit, traveling. I am always thinking about what would make our heroes of the home’s lives easier everyday. When designing new tablescapes, I love to sit in a quiet place and brainstorm. Throughout my career I have earned the title “Princess of Presentation,” which, I have to admit, is very fitting.
I am proud that my show on the Food Network, “Semi-Homemade Cooking,” has a wider focus that any other Food Network show. When you do 200 Semi-Homemade shows, you have 200 window treatments, 200 tablescapes, 200 place patterns, 200 outfits that match, 200 colored kitchen sets. In order to keep this accessible for my viewers, I approve all presentations, and the show cannot spend more than $1,000 for props on a single episode.
Cincy Chic: You have done many themed-shows on “Semi-Homemade.” Which is your favorite? Why?
Lee: Halloween is one of my favorite themed-shows, because you can completely transform and play as someone else. This year for my Halloween episode I portrayed some of the greatest queens of all time such as Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette and Queen Elizabeth. We filmed the show in a medieval castle, and I created a royally delicious, party-friendly menu. Halloween is fun for adults and kids and the perfect opportunity to let loose and have a cocktail.
Cincy Chic: As a philanthropist, in your opinion, how can we improve the quality of life of those struggling with poverty and are less fortunate than others?
Lee: In this economy, it is more important than ever for our country to come together and help those who are less fortunate. I am proud to serve as the national spokesperson for Share Our Strength and its annual “Great American Bake Sale,” a national organization that focuses on childhood hunger – and I know a lot about that. When I was growing up, we were on welfare and food stamps, so it’s a very personal cause for me. It means so much to me for people to support this cause. We can improve the quality of life for those struggling by donating our time and spreading awareness to causes that are important to us.
Cincy Chic: Who/what is your favorite Food Network star/show?
Lee: The Food Network has created a very diverse family of chefs that I am proud to be a part of. Each host has their own special talent, message and personality and I admire them all. Of course, I am the only TV chef to cook the Semi-Homemade way. I recently celebrated my 200th episode and look forward to 200 more.
Cincy Chic: What is your most memorable on-screen experience?
Lee: My most memorable on-screen experience is when my family is on-set cooking right next to me. Food is the quickest way to make others feel special and blessed. When my sister Kimber joins me on the show there are always a lot of laughs, and it feels like one big party.
Cincy Chic: What is your favorite recipe from your latest books Semi-Homemade Money Saving Meals, Semi-Homemade Desserts 2 and Semi-Homemade Fast-Fix Family Favorites? What was the inspiration behind the books?
Lee: We are all watching our budgets these days and trying to find meals that are both economical and easy. At Semi-Homemade, we always try to focus on being ahead of trends and identifying the needs of overextended, budget-conscious professionals and homemakers. My three new cookbook releases: Semi-Homemade Money Saving Meals, Semi-Homemade Fast-Fix Family Favorites and Semi-Homemade Desserts 2 are dedicated to these “home heroes,” who balance budgets, work, kids in an effort to do more with less.
Sheperd’s Pie, in Semi-Homemade Money Saving Meals is classic. There are many ways to embellish it. You can top with bacon to add a salty flavor and texture to the potatoes, add peppercorn gravy mix, horseradish or Worcestershire sauce. I love to sprinkle cheese evenly on top, which compliments the flavors of the cooked meat and vegetables. My new favorite fast-fix potatoes to create a Sheperd’s Pie are Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash, because they are super easy to make, and you can use the leftovers for other dishes as well. They’ve peeled, boiled, and chopped fresh potatoes for you. You just steam and add the love!
In Semi-Homemade Fast-Fix Family Favorites there are over 300 quick and easy dinners. The recipe for Wisconsin Beef and Cheddar Sausages can be found in Semi-Homemade Fast-Fix Family Favorites and is a personal favorite. I learned how to make brats when I was growing up in Wisconsin, but there’s a little trick to it: Simmer the onions in beer and cook until the beer has evaporated. When mixed together with the juices from the kraut, you have a simply sizzlin’ Semi-Homemade dish.
The Pink Party Cake in Semi-Homemade Desserts 2 is also one of my favorites. From start to finish it only takes 25 minutes to prep and 28 minutes to bake, and you have a sweet, strawberry cake. Coat with whipped fluffy white frosting and this cake is perfect for a young girl’s birthday party, baby shower or engagement party.
Cincy Chic: How do you keep your sanity on tour?
Lee: This is my most ambitious national book tour and I am thrilled to add three new must-have cookbooks to the Semi-Homemade collection: Semi-Homemade Money Saving Meals, Semi-Homemade Fast-Fix Family Favorites, Semi-Homemade Desserts 2. Although my schedule is very demanding, I stay sane by taking a few minutes of quiet time for myself each night. Because I fly so frequently, I often use that time to get some shut-eye. I am disconnected from e-mail and cell phones, but there is always work that needs to be done.
What is your favorite thing about Cincinnati? Favorite Cincy/Ohio foods?
Lee: I can’t travel to Cincy without having some of your famous chili. Chili is one of my favorite cold weather, comfort foods. White Bean Chili, Chocolaty Chili, Chunky Chili or classic — it is the perfect combination of ground meat, beans and tomatoes. It is a hot, healthy meal that’s also portable.
I look forward to visiting Cincinnati and sharing Semi-Homemade tips that will provide Cincinnati families with practical solutions to create dramatic results, for all aspects of their lives. I hope that you will come see me at my book signing events on Thursday, November 20. The chic women of Cincinnati can expect a good time and everyone will leave feeling as though they have a new arsenal of information to help make their lives easier.
Win a chance to meet Sandra Lee!
Cincy Chic is giving two lucky winners a chance to not only meet and get their picture taken with Sandra Lee, at her Joseph-Beth appearance, but also signed copies of Lee’s latest books, Semi-Homemade Money Saving Meals, Semi-Homemade Fast-Fix Family Favorites and Semi-Homemade Desserts 2!
Cincy Chic readers who submit their best “semi-homemade story” which illustrate how they improved the quality of their life or the lives of others — similarly to what Lee did in her own life — in 200 words or less, will get to experience the entire Sandra Lee extravaganza!
Submissions will be accepted until Wednesday, Nov. 19 at noon. Cincy Chic staffers will then choose the two most “semi-homemade”- worthy stories. Just send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Sweet & Simple Bake Sale Joseph-Beth Booksellers
2692 Madison Road, Cincinnati OH 45208
Store Phone: 513-396-8960
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade Sweet Soiree at Joseph-Beth Booksellers
2692 Madison Road, Cincinnati OH 45208
Store Phone: 513- 396-8960
Photo: Courtesy of Sandra Lee