Category Archives: Special Events

Blog Post de Noel

How did you spend your New Years holiday? I spent mine separating eggs! At least, looking back on it, it seems that way. You see, thanks to a shortage of oven and refrigerator space, I wasn’t able to make the dessert I was planning on for Christmas, so we put it off a week, and had our yule log for New Years. Or rather, our Chocolate-Malt Stump de Noel.

I found this recipe during my usually desultory magazine flip-through when my latest issue of “Food & Wine” is delivered. It’s from the December ’09 issue, and despite being wildly unenthusiastic about food production during the last few months, I was still totally inspired to give it a try. I’ve never had a buche de noel, nor have I ever really yearned for one, but for whatever reason, this stump version spoke to me. So heading into the long weekend, I prepared for making it.

The first step for me was to check, when I got home early from work on New Year’s Eve, whether I needed to be making any cake components so it would be ready to eat the next evening. I read all the active parts of the cake and frosting recipes, neglected to read the “make ahead” instructions about what could be kept for how long before assembly, and decided it all had to be made in one fell swoop. That was my first mistake. But at least I did think to make my meringue mushrooms ahead of time.

Meringue Mushrooms

Having never baked meringues in my life, I did consult a recipe for assistance with this. I’m glad I did, too, because it never would have occurred to me that you pipe the stems and the caps of the mushrooms separately, then assemble them with a tad more meringue and bake until the “glue” is set. I would have just tried (and failed) to pipe mushrooms in one fell swoop, and would have gotten angry, cussed a lot, and declared that we weren’t having a stump de noel after all. So thanks,! You’re a lifesaver! Or at least a stump de noel-saver.

Makin' Mushrooms

So here’s how I made them:


4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar (if you don’t have that, just run regular sugar in a food processor for about 30 seconds)


Using a mixer with clean, grease-free beaters (or whisk attachment), and in a clean, grease-free bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Then add the sugar in a gradual stream while still beating on high speed. Continue to beat until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks (about 5 minutes).

Position two racks in the oven to allow room for two sheets of meringues, and preheat the oven to 200 degrees (F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit a pastry bag with a medium-large piping tip; I think the one I used was about 1/2 inch. Put most of the meringue into the pastry bag, reserving enough to pipe later as the “glue” in the mushroom assembly (about 1/4 cup), and then get to piping those mushrooms. For the caps, pipe circles about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high, and try to twist the pastry bag so you don’t end up with peaks on the top. If you’re like me and do end up with peaks, just smooth them out with your fingertip, dipped in water. For the stems, just pipe like a little hershey kiss shape, dolloping a base onto the tray, then just lifting the pastry bag straight up. Make more bases than you have caps, because they won’t all work out, and because you’re going to want to eat them.

Bake the caps and stems for 1 hour, or until they are dry and hard, rotating the trays once after 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, and using a pointed knife or toothpick, make a little hole in the center of the undersides of the caps. Put the reserved meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a fine tip (or in a sandwich bag with a fine tip cut from the corner), and pipe a small dollop into the hole. Then fit the pointy end of a stem into the hole, and put the mushroom, cap-down, onto a parchment-covered baking tray. Once they’re all assembled, return to the mushrooms to the oven for about 25 minutes, until they’re set.

After they’re fully baked, you can sift cocoa powder over the tops for decoration, and then either gobble them all up on the spot, or save for decorating your buche/stump de noel. I know it was touch-and-go there for me whether the meringues were going to survive an entire day while waiting for the cake assembly.

Dressing the Stump de Noel

So, New Year’s Day dawned for me with a platter full of mushrooms and the prospect of baking a stump hanging over me. I hadn’t read the recipe very carefully, so I had no idea what was in store for me. When I cracked open the magazine and really looked at it, I realized I had horribly miscalculated how much work was going to go into this thing. There are a lot of steps in this cake. A lot. But with no hockey but the dumb Winter Classic on TV, I decided to forge ahead, and set to separating all those eggs. (Counting the meringue, and the one broken yolk I had, this whole baking affair used 22 eggs. All separated. I don’t think I’d separated 22 eggs in all of 2009.)

In case you don’t want to follow the link to this recipe (again, it’s from the December 2009 “Food & Wine”, just to give credit where it’s due), here it is:

Ingredients for the cake:

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/4 cup of hot water
1 dozen large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Malted buttercream and dark chocolate buttercream (recipe below)


1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheets and line them with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all of the short sides. Butter the paper and dust with flour.

2. In a small bowl, whisk the 1 cup of flour with the cocoa and salt. In another small bowl, combine the chocolate and espresso. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg yolks with 2/3 cup of the sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk and beat at high speed until the yolks are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture along with the vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on moderately high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and continue beating at high speed until the whites are glossy, about 2 minutes longer. Whisk one-fourth of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter with 1/2 cup of the batter; fold this mixture into the batter. Working in 2 batches, sift the cocoa powder mixture over the batter and gently fold it in. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading it out to fill the pans. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the cake feels springy and dry; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Transfer the pans to racks to cool completely. Run the tip of a knife around the edges, cover with parchment paper and a baking sheet and invert; peel off the parchment on top.

5. Spread the Malted Buttercream over the cakes. Using a ruler, cut each cake precisely in half lengthwise, cutting through the paper; you should have four 6-by-17-inch strips of cake. Roll one strip into a tight coil, leaving the paper behind. Roll the 3 remaining cake strips around the coil in the same way to form a very wide, short jelly roll. Set the cake on a large plate, spiraled end up. Frost the outside of the cake with the Dark Chocolate Buttercream. Refrigerate until set, at least 8 hours. Decorate the cake with meringue mushrooms, cranberries and rosemary sprigs and serve, cutting the cake into wedges or horizontal slices.

Ingredients for the frostings:

5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 cup malt powder, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water
12 malted milk balls, crushed


In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are just warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and beat the egg whites at high speed until firm and glossy, about 5 minutes. With the machine on, whisk in the butter a few tablespoons at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, continue to beat until smooth before adding more butter. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream to a bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Beat the dissolved malt powder into the remaining buttercream, then beat in the milk balls.

(For the record, I omitted the malted milk balls.)

Stump de Fridge

The stump was too tall for my cake dome, so I had a bear of a time jury-rigging a foil covering for it that wouldn’t mess up my “artful” frosting.

Whew! That’s a lot of recipe there. Oh, it might not seem like it on paper, but dude. I think I used every single bowl I own. Making the cake batter was almost comical, how the steps just would. not. end. I was cool with beating the egg yolks and sugar, then adding the chocolate. And I was cool with folding that into the egg whites. But dude, the folding in the butter? That’s just crazy! Anyway, after what seemed like a lifetime of tempering and folding, the batter (which was delicious, I might add) was ready to bake, and I was ready to wish I’d made the frosting ahead of time. My recommendation if you try this recipe is to read all the notes about how you can make the frosting up to four days ahead of time, and to have someone else do the cleanup for you.

What I discovered about the frosting part of this project is that it didn’t take 8 hours to set, as the recipe suggests (I let the frosting chill in the fridge for about 2 hours before assembling the cake, and it could have been sliced right away, I think). Also, I didn’t have enough of the chocolate frosting to do much more than crumb-coat the outside of the cake. It barely hid all the cracks. I’m not sure that separating out more of the frosting to mix with the chocolate would be a good idea, though, because there was a perfect amount of the malted buttercream for the filling as the recipe is written. I dunno. My advice is to make more chocolate frosting. As it was, I didn’t have enough on the outside to do any artful fluting to create realistic bark to go with my realistic mushrooms.

January 1 2010

But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care that my stump wasn’t barkfully fluted. I don’t care that I reached the end of my rope when making the buttercream and didn’t mix in all the butter perfectly. And I don’t care that I didn’t have the recommended rosemary sprigs and used bay leaves to set-dress my cake instead. You know why? Because the cake is AWESOME. I have never made anything that looked this incredible. I am so delighted with it. I love it. When we got out the tripod and staged our stump de noel photoshoot, I was as giddy as if the Devils had just won a huge game. This cake was a total victory for me.

Furthermore, look how cool it looks sliced!

Slice of Stump

I had my concerns when I was handling the cakes that this would be dry, but it wasn’t. It was perfect. As adorable as it looked assembled, it tasted even better. It was a ton of work, with a bit of frustration, but was absolutely worth it. We managed to kick off 2010 with a bang, and so far, it’s been a great year!

[Posted by Schnookie.]


Filed under Baked Goods, Celebratory!, Fancy Dessert, Pommerdoodling, Seasonal, Special Events, You Don't See That Every Day

Game Diary: A Semi-Homemade Holiday Party

For the first time ever, we are cross-posting a game diary from our hockey blog, IPB, over here at IPB Living. The reason is this is no ordinary diary — this is a diary of Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade Christmas Party, ergo perfect material for this space. Bon appetit!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Gentle Reader! That’s right – it’s Sandra Lee’s holiday special! We spent an exhausting day in New York City today, but our aching feet and bone tiredness won’t stop us from diarizing what we can only assume is an absolute gem from the Food Network. Our diary will play out like a regular game diary, with the time on our clock indicating exactly how long it’s taking us to get through this.

10:20 p.m. AIIIEEEEE!!! There should be a warning before showing something like this:


Damn but Sandra’s in fine form. We are all mesmerized, of course, by her cleavage, or, as Pookie calls them, “The Ladies. Ms. Canned Frosting and Ms. Extract.” Also notable: she is orange everywhere except her neck and just around her eyes. And in our still shot, she looks facially remarkably like a Barbie. Boomer is especially hung up on her eyebrows, which we decide have so little relation to nature that they are neither animal nor vegetable.

10:22 p.m. It takes us a while to get past that opening shot, but Sandra’s intro involves her telling us this episode is all about party ideas (probably why it’s called “Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade Holiday Party”), and includes a kicky swing/jazz soundtrack. Or the Sandra Lee approximation thereof.

10:25 p.m. It’s hard to tell whether this is in HD or not, because the picture seems to undulate. And not just around Ms. Canned Frosting and Ms. Extract. Sandra is leading off with a self-serve drink bar (so her guests can have moderately alcoholic drinks for a change) that includes cocktails such as the “Mistletoe Mojito”, “Sugarplum Berry Cocktail” and “Polar Espresso” (that’s pretty clever, actually. Pookie: “That’s particularly clever if you’re like Sandra and pronounce it ‘expresso’”). These drinks are “guaranteed to get the party started”, especially if you use Sandy pours.

Next up, the appetizers. We get a look at what Sandra’s own sister Kimber looks like when she eats Semi-Homemade recipes:


The recipes are “Savory Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms” and “Potato Leek Soup” (the clever names were all used up by the cocktails).

And the main course, which Sandra assures us everyone will enjoy, is a cranberry-glazed turkey served with “Brown Buttered Almond Brussels Sprouts” and “Sweet Potato Souffle” (we’re calling shenanigans here because she’s made sweet potato “soufflé” before. This better not be a recycled recipe!).

Kimber will be stepping in to lend a hand with dessert, showing us how to make her “Smart Cappuccino Cup Cakes” and then Sandra will be making this monstrosity:


In case you can’t tell, that’s a “Wreath Cupcake”.

The tablescape teaser promises great things to come:


Pookie is positing the napkin ring looks like “a Cher-ified pilgrim hat. If Cher was going to dress as a sexy pilgrim for Halloween, that hat is what she’d wear.” We can’t wait to see Sandra dressing for Halloween as Cher dressed as a sexy pilgrim.

10:32 p.m. The intro behind us, Sandra leads off excitedly with her self-serve bar. She is most enthusiastic about it because it means she won’t have to play bartender throughout her entire evening. Considering what a heavy hand she has with the booze, we can only assume any guests who are repeat invites to her shindigs know better than to let her make them drinks anymore, and demanded a self-serve bar. She instructs us to place the bar immediately inside the front door, because any guest at a Semi-Homemade party should turn around and go home if they’re not given a chance to get hammered post-haste.

10:34 p.m. The “Mistletoe Mojito” is the first drink demonstrated to us. She muddles whole, fresh cranberries with sugar, lime juice and mint leaves, then tops with ice, pours in a modest (!?! The hell?) amount of white rum, then tops with “old-fashioned” seltzer water, from ye olde fashioned seltzer bottle, just like all the Semi-Homemakers have in their pantries. “Be careful,” she warns us, “This is bubbly.” Thanks, Sandra. Schnookie: “I’m not going to lie. I’d drink that.”

10:36 p.m. We cut straight from the mojito to the turkey.


“It’s a modern way to update an olllllld cllllllassic that everybody llllloves.” Oh Sandra. You and your “L”s. Pllllllllease stop.

She starts with ¾ cup of softened butter, and to this she is going to add a couple things. First up is a handful of dried fines herbs (she calls it a tablespoon), then a teaspoon of what she calls “crushed garlic”.


Pookie: “There is something wrong with that crushed garlic. I think it’s mustard.”

Then she adds 2 tablespoons of orange marmalade, then 2 tablespoons of dried onion flakes. The butter is then rubbed beneath the skin of the turkey and all over the outside of it. Pookie becomes squeamish when Sandra teaches us how to separate the skin from the meat on the turkey, and as if she’s heard it, Sandra cheerfully says, “There’s no way around it. You’re just going to have to get your hands in here.” The boom-chicka-boom music then kicks in as she massages the turkey with the mountains of butter.

Inside the turkey Sandra puts a bit of the “dry rub”, which is apparently poultry seasoning, fines herbs, salt and pepper, and then outside the turkey she puts boatloads of it.


Inside the turkey Sandra also puts oranges and chopped leeks, and then she also puts them in the bottom of the roasting pan. She adds a quart of chicken broth to the bottom of the pan, then packs the turkey away into the oven with perfectly normal roasting guidelines. Which is a bummer, because normally she bakes/roasts things for ungodly lengths of time at ridiculous temperatures.

10:45 p.m. Next up is the glaze. It’s ½ cup orange juice, ½ cup of orange marmalade (she coos that the marmalade is full of gorgeous orange pieces that make this look like it was made from scratch. Pookie: “No, it looks like it was made from marmalade”), “an entire can of cranberry jelly” (no specification of can size), and 1 tablespoon of fines herbs. This is all melted together on the stovetop. We then cut to commercial with Sandra telling us that her guests are about to arrive, and teasing her appetizer recipes yet to come. Of the potato leek soup, Pookie says, “I’m going to guess the first ingredient in that soup is cream of potato soup.” Boomer: “I’m going to guess it’s cream of leek soup.”

10:50 p.m. We come back from commercial to see footage of Sandra’s “party”.


It looks so real! And fun! And the cocktails have gumdrops on the rims of the glasses – that sounds delicious! No, wait, what’s the opposite of delicious?

Sandra then tells us that everyone is “soooo hungry”, so she needs to get her appetizers started. First up is the stuffed mushrooms, which she assures us everyone loves.


Pookie: “Everyone loves them. Except me.”

The first step is to stem huge button mushrooms, put the caps on a baking sheet, then chop the stems and sauté them in olive oil. Before the mushroom stems are at all cooked, Sandra adds some sweet Italian sausage. Then she teaches us to chop leeks, cutting the white parts into uneven rounds that are saved for the potato leek soup (she does rinse them in a bowl of water), then the greens are chopped finely (and rinsed) before being added to the not-very-cooked sausage-and-mushroom mix. Then the mixture in the frying pan is “left to simmer”. Because it’s so full of liquid? Boomer is distracted by the snowman in the window behind her; “Is that a snowman delivering a pizza?” That’s what Sandra’s guests are going to be hoping for.


While the mushrooms, sausage and leeks are simmering, we move on to the cornbread part of the mushroom stuffing. Pookie: “This is not very semi-homemade.” Sandra’s semi-homemade step immediately rears its ugly head, in the form of pre-dried cornbread, to which she adds half a cup of warmed chicken broth. She leaves the cornbread/broth mixture to “plump up” (Pookie is distracted here again by Sandra’s boobs and the word “plump”) while she brushes the mushroom caps with olive oil. Then the sausage stuff is added to the cornbread stuff, along with a half teaspoon of sage, a teaspoon of that crushed garlic/mustard stuff, and a few tablespoons of shredded parmesan cheese. This is really not very semi-homemade at all. Nor is it cheap. We can say this having made her other stuffed mushroom recipe for a Semi-Homemade party we had with friends a few years ago; that recipe was expensive, had no shortcuts, was extremely labor-intensive, and really wasn’t half bad. So, uh, there you go. The less “semi” in the Semi-Homemade the better. Sandra fussily scoops the stuffing into the mushroom caps, then sprinkles each with parmesan cheese, a topping she says she calls “snow caps”. Right. These bake for 20-25 minutes at 375. Okay, whatever. That wasn’t funny at all.

11:00 p.m. Sandra gives us a voiceover decorating tip suggesting we fill our hearths with candles and other decorative items so we have the glow of a fire without having to tend to one.


We love how she’s got little dried brush polar bears next to those unattended open flames.

11:03 p.m. The mushrooms come out of the oven. Sandra gushes as she pulls them out of the oven, “Mmm, they smell good and they are slllllliding right off the pan…” Pookie finishes for her, “And that’s how you can tell they’re deeee-llllllicious.”

11:05 p.m. After plating the mushrooms Sandra walks into the family room where the “party” is “going on” and pretends to announce what the dish is. Then she hands off the tray to one of her revelers and turns to the camera to confide, sotto voce, that she loves to enlist the help of guests while entertaining. Then she turns to a guest and says, “Lisa, can you come in here with your cocktail?” Then she turns back to the camera and stage whispers again, “It’s cocktail #2.” That was so convincing! We feel like we’re at Sandra’s holiday party!

11:06 p.m. Lisa, as it turns out, is the editor of Hallmark Magazine. There’s a Hallmark Magazine? This sets Boomer off on a mumbled tangent about how she’s the editor of “Let Your Kitties Take Over Your Life” Magazine. We look over to see that two of our cats have managed to stretch out on her footstool, pushing her feet off the side.

11:08 p.m. Lisa was supposed to be making a cocktail! This isn’t a cocktail! We’re suddenly melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pot and tossing in the leek whites. Okay, it might be a cocktail, but we’re not sure we want to drink this one. Then Lisa shovels in a couple of teaspoons of that mustard/crushed garlic.


Lisa puts in too much garlic, in fact, and Sandra chastises her while she sheepishly shrugs, “You can’t have too much garlic!”

As it turns out, a lot of garlic will be welcome in this soup to mask the other flavors, as Pookie and Boomer were both wrong about the primary ingredient. It is, in fact, drained canned potatoes. Dude, canned potatoes. Canned potatoes. Why would anyone want to do that to another human being? The secondary ingredient, though, is cream of potato soup, so Pookie’s the big winner. Then you add a cup of light cream, and six cups of chicken broth. As Sandra dumps the slimy potatoes into the pot, she assures us that they are already cooked, so all we’re doing with this soup is heating the components up. To which we wish Lisa would sheepishly shrug, “You can’t have too much raw garlic!” The whole kit and caboodle gets immersion blended, and then given a dash of salt and pepper.

Sandra serves the soup in little demitasses, which we grudgingly admit is a clever presentation for a cocktail party. She meticulously drops giant clumps of chopped chives onto the tops of every cup of soup, then turns to the camera and golly-shuckses, “It looks like it came straight from a fancy restaurant.” Ah, innocent party-goer, tread lightly. Looks can be deceiving.

10:23 p.m. We go to commercial with a teaser of the upcoming sweet potato soufflé recipe, and in the glamour-shot video, the spoon is unable to cleanly pull a bit of the stuff out of the ramekin because it’s all being glued together by its various components, not least of all the flat, gummy marshmallow topping. Mmmm.

10:25 p.m. We come back from commercial and Boomer is horrified by Sandra’s hair.


Pookie, matter-of-factly: “It does look like a particularly unkempt bird’s nest today.” Schnookie: “I think that’s what it looks like when you do your hair with an eggbeater.”

10:27 p.m. Sandra is standing at the microwave in that picture because “My sweet potatoes are rrrready for Sweet Potato Souffle.” Then she opens the microwave and pulls this out:


Wait, where are the sweet potatoes?

“Miss Amanda” is another “guest” hanging out in the kitchen to help, and when asked, Miss Amanda says she knows how to make soufflé, but “it doesn’t always work. Sometimes I end up with biscuits.” Sandra chortles, “or hockey pucks.” Hey! Leave hockey out of this! And furthermore, don’t worry about it, Miss Amanda. These aren’t going to be real soufflés anyway.

Miss Amanda is put to work spraying the ramekins with cooking spray, while Sandra unceremoniously dumps the suspiciously carroty sweet potatoes out of the bag while telling us that these bags of peeled, chopped sweet potatoes are “the hottest thing”. Whatever you say, Sandy. This recipe calls for two bags of potatoes (however much that is) and one stick of butter, and those are creamed together to make “the base of the soufflé”.

Sandra puts Miss Amanda to work whipping up the potatoes with a hand mixer while she readies the other ingredients, and something happens that we’ve never seen before on this show – some food flies up from the beaters and lands on Sandra. She immediately tells Miss Amanda that she’s whipped the contents of the bowl enough, and Miss Amanda protests loudly, “I was just trying to get the lumps out!” Sorry, Miss Amanda, you don’t get away with getting crap on Sandra’s cooking clothes.

Sandra adds one cup of evaporated milk to the sweet potato mixture while admonishing us that we have to measure exactly, “because this is baking, not savory cooking, where you can feel your cooking.” Miss Amanda inexpertly cracks three eggs into the bowl, and Sandra adds a cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, a tablespoon of baking powder (rounded, as she is being ever-so-exact), and a cup of chopped pecans. The bowl is way too small for all this stuff. And Miss Amanda did a terrible job of getting all those lumps out. The guests from this party are going to be talking for years to come about the crappy, lumpy soufflés Sandra served, and it’s all Miss Amanda’s fault.


One half a cup of the goo is scooped into each ramekin, according to Sandra, but then we see shots of her heaping more and more into each ramekin after the original half cup. Because she’s all about being exact. Sandra tells us to bake them for 30 minutes at 350, and then Miss Amanda asks if Sandra can tell everyone that she (Miss Amanda) made the soufflés herself. Sandra looks more than happy to let her take all the credit.

11:34 p.m. Before we go to commercial, we get a “Tip Of The Season”. Sandra tells us to make a spiced cider just to make the house smell good. It’s actually not a bad tip, especially when she also suggests you could actually serve the cider to your guests.

11:35 p.m. Oh, that wasn’t a commercial break. It was just a “the soufflés are baking” break. We come back from the Tip Of The Season to see Sandra and Miss Amanda eagerly taking the soufflés out of the oven while Boomer’s favorite side table of all time lurks in the background. Pookie: “That table looks like it’s trying to be sexy Cher for Halloween.”


Sandra and Miss Amanda gush about how “soooo good” the soufflés look. Because they rose soooo much:


The topping for the soufflés – which Sandra hinted about earlier with an exclamation, “I’ve got the best marshmallow topping for this!” – is quite a creative recipe for marshmallow topping. It’s just marshmallow topping. That’s right, Sandra is just scooping a heaping dollop of Fluff onto each soufflé while her swing/jazz music sha-boops along in the background. Sandra then teaches us how to use a kitchen blowtorch as she browns up the tops of the Fluff. We’re still waiting for the soufflé part of these soufflés. And we’re all in agreement that Miss Amanda was surprisingly fun and off-the-cuff for a guest kitchen assistant on a Semi-Homemade show.

11:40 p.m. We come back from commercial to see a montage of mingling party guests, several of whom are demonstratively laughing. Pookie: “Those people are going, ‘Wait, you actually took a bite of that stuff? WAH HA HA HA HA!” Sandra then pops up in front of the camera to confessionalize that the open bar is working well, before turning to two guests and engaging in a stiffly-acted script where the male guest takes the cocktail Sandra was hoping was for her, and the female guest then extemporizes that she was planning to try the Sugarplum Fairy recipe. How convenient, because it’s time in the show to teach us how to make it!

The drink is two parts champagne (Sandra nods her approval as the guest gives a healthy pour and murmurs, “Heavy on the champagne”), one part plum wine, and a splash of cranberry juice. While the woman is pouring her drink, Sandra jumps in to stick a “sugarplum” (read: “gumdrop”) on the rim of her glass. The woman is not pleased with this turn of events, because what kind of person wants a gumdrop anywhere near her champagne flute?


(It should be noted that this woman does a lousy job of making the drink. That was not a full part of plum wine, and if someone handed us that half-filled flute and told us it was a whole drink, we’d throw it in their faces.)

11:45 p.m. Sandra dismisses the Sugarplum Fairy woman, then turns to the camera and says, “Where is my sister? It’s time to get bakin’!” Pookie: “Bacon? Pre-cooked bacon?” It really is time to up the gross ante, because this episode is really letting us down in that regard. Bacon in the cupcakes is as good a place to start as any.

11:47 p.m. We cut straight to Kimber, whom we actually really like on the shows Sandra makes her appear on because the two of them really genuinely seem like good friends. What can we say? We’re suckers for sisters who are friends. Anyway, as Kimber carries a measuring cup of hot water from the microwave, she and Sandra have a little exchange in which Kimber explains that these are “Cappuccino Cup Cakes” and not “Cappuccino Cupcakes” because they are baked in cups. Since Pookie made merciless fun of the way Sandra so deliberately said “Cup Cakes” in the show’s intro, only to have Boomer and Schnookie shoot her down , she laments, “Kimber, you could have explained that to me a long time ago and saved me a lot of embarrassment.”

Kimber tells us we are making standard yellow cupcake mix with milk in place of water, while, on the side, making a coffee mixture out of instant coffee and hot water. That is less a “coffee mixture” than just plain “instant coffee”. But who are we to split hairs? We are discussing the finer points of “coffee mixture” vs. “regular coffee made with instant coffee”, but then we see a shot of Kimber adding a teaspoon or so to the cake mix while warning us that it’s very strong, and it is clearly instant espresso that she’s used. Well why don’t you tell us these things, Kimber? Those of us who are cooking along at home are having a terrible time with this!

Sandra pours the mixed batter into oven-proof coffee mugs, and Kimber tells us to save a bit of the batter for the cappuccino swirls at the tops of the mugs. Can do. The two share some patter about how much richer the batter looks when made with milk instead of water (they really belabor this point), and then Kimber adds the rest of the coffee/espresso mixture to the remnants of batter in the bowl. Why haven’t we been given exact measurements for this? Isn’t this baking? We want to get this exactly right! Anyway, into the “some” batter still in the bowl, Kimber adds a tablespoon of cocoa powder, and then Sandra tops each mug with a tablespoon of the cocoa-espresso-batter mix, and Kimber swirls the darker blobs with a bamboo skewer (“Or you can use a toothpick! I’ve used a toothpick for this!”). While Kimber artfully swirls the batter to get a surprisingly clever cappuccino look, we get a close-up look of Sandra artlessly just stirring one of the mugs vigorously.


It’s like she’s trying to sabotage Kimber’s moment of baking glory.

Once all the cup cakes have been swirled, Sandra steps back to tell us these are a great gift idea. Boomer isn’t getting on board with that, because she has more pressing concerns: “I am just so distracted by her hair. I can’t pay attention. All I can see is her hair. And her boobs. And her eye makeup.” Pookie: “And her skin. And her awful food.” And this paddleball game.

Oh, and if you’re baking along at home, you want to put those mugs into a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

12:00 a.m. The end is in sight. But before we get there, we get a tip that we should place disposable cameras around the house with notes that exhort our party guests to take pictures. Then later you should get the pictures developed and distribute them to your friends, or even download them “and publish them online”.


Just be sure to wrap the cameras in ribbon that matches your tablescape.

We’re still working on the Cup Cakes. Only two of Sandra’s eight baked up evenly, but apparently that swirling was a total waste of time, because we’re about to cover them all up with what Kimber delightfully snarkily calls, “your famous whipped topping”. Way to hide your disdain for Kool Whip, Kimber! She pours a capful of vanilla (because a capful is a teaspoon, according to Sandra, no matter what size bottle of vanilla extract you use) into a tub of Kool Whip, then hands it off with a sneer to Sandra and snidely digs, “You stir this up, because you’re good at it.” Sandra doesn’t seem to notice.

Once you’ve globbed a whole bunch of Kool Whip onto your carefully-swirled cup cakes, you sprinkle them with cinnamon and then stab a cinnamon stick into the side, to make them look fully cappuccino-ish.

12:05 a.m. Holy crap. We haven’t even gotten to the Brussels sprouts yet. Or the wreath cupcakes. We go to commercial with Kimber and Sandra digging into their cup cakes while making “princess bite cheers”. What?

12:07 a.m. We’re getting repeat shots in our “coming back from commercial” party montage. Regardless, Sandra’s friend Mark is now on hand to help with the Brussels sprouts. When Sandra asks Mark how to “doll up” Brussels sprouts for the holidays, he chirps, “brown butter!” Way to stay on script, Mark.

While Mark is stirring the butter in a large frying pan, Sandra pulls a very pink turkey out of the oven to brush it with her neon red glaze, and warns us to put the glaze on only an hour before taking it out of the oven, otherwise it will burn. As she says that, she just dumps most of the pot of glaze over the top of the bird and doesn’t bother brushing it evenly. She’s all about presentation.

Back to the Brussels sprouts, Sandra has already warmed “two packages” of frozen sprouts in the microwave, and she has Mark pour “an entire bag” of sliced almonds into the now browned butter. After stirring in the almonds, she has him pour a teaspoon almond extract into the concoction. Dare we say it? Ew! And remember – that’s just a capful. Mark is stunned to hear that particular tip, but he doesn’t challenge her; instead, he just stirs the Brussels sprouts into the butter-almond-extract mix while pretending to talk about his wife and kids with Sandra. They plate up the sprouts after salting and peppering them, and then Sandra sprinkles on some chopped chives. Pookie: “You know what I didn’t think this dish needed? Chives.” Sandra and Mark do a very unconvincing job of enjoying their taste of the Brussels sprouts, and then, mouth still full, Sandra blurts, “It’s cocktail time!” Pookie: “I think just one taste of those Brussels sprouts would have me running to the cocktail table, too.”

12:15 a.m. Miss Carol is at the cocktail table making the “Polar Espresso”, which is, as it turns out, actually called “Polarespresso”. We like it better as two words. This particular beverage is one shot of espresso, an indeterminate amount of peppermint schnapps, a Sandra pour of white chocolate liquor (Miss Carol looks horrified), and a splash of half-and-half. All the elements are shaken and then strained into a martini glass. Pookie: “That looks disgusting.” Miss Carol does a surprisingly good job of looking like she’s enjoying drinking it. That Sandy pour of white chocolate liquor must have essentially lobotomized her. Sandra sends us to commercial with a pitch about what’s to come, including the tablescape. “I promise to set a place for you!” Sandra gushes. Pookie: “Please don’t.”

12:17 a.m. We come back from commercial to see this:


Words fail us.

Sandra tells us she likes to platter up her turkey whole, explaining it’s because it’s such a pretty turkey. We see right through it. It’s because she A) doesn’t know how to carve a turkey, and B) is not willing to cut this thing open on television. She piles her platter high with herbs and fruit and assorted greenery. It’s… staggering.


Now, on to dessert. In case the Cup Cakes weren’t enough for you.

12:20 a.m. “If you are not someone who likes to bake,” Sandra enthuses, “You can still make something beautiful out of what’s in your pantry.” Pookie: “I can make something beautiful from what’s in our pantry , too. It’ll be liquor surrounded by dried beans. Because that’s all we’ve got. Beans and booze.” It’s true. This particular dessert Sandra’s making, though, starts with something she’s seen in the bakery section of her grocery store: “those premade cupcakes. Or muffins.” Because there’s no difference.

Oh my god! Here we go! The Semi-Homemade highlight of the night! Sandra cuts off the top of one of the chocolate chocolate chip muffins she’s got, scoops out the middle, and fills it with… cherry pie filling. She then plops the muffin onto a piece of tin foil and starts wadding it up around it while telling us, “You want to create a beautiful presentation.”


She then pipes a bunch of stars around the edge with peppermint extract-laced pre-made buttercream frosting, to make it look like a wreath. Only it’s white, not green. The hell? The next step involves a “fruit strip”, and before Sandra can tell us what she’s doing, Pookie delights, “I love that the third ingredient in this dessert is tin foil and the fifth is a fruit roll-up.” Sandra has cut the fruit roll-up into a thin strip and shaped it into a bow, which she then adorns with another blob of frosting and a red hot.


We are truly appalled that she didn’t dye that frosting green. Seriously, Sandra. What’s going on inside that head of yours? Oh, she tries to make up for the lack of green with “a very light hand” sprinkling green sanding sugar over the whole thing, but it’s barely even paying lip service to green. This is a travesty.

12:30 a.m. Ooh! Tablescape time! Sandra tells us her inspiration is her white Christmas tree decorated with white and black ornaments. “I really wanted something that was winter wonderland crossed with disco chic,” she explains. But of course! Sandra has the editor of In Style magazine help her put together the tablescape, and we get an awkwardly long montage of them setting the table. Pookie: “That was… dynamic television.” The end result? Sexy pilgrim Cher, along with this simple and affordable “holiday ball” tableau:


Who doesn’t have all those things lying around?

We get another montage of people having joyous conversation around the table interspersed with repeated shots of some of the food prep from earlier. We hate to have to say this, but it looks like this hour-long show only had 57 minutes of content.

Sandra gives this toast to her “guests”: “I want to thank you all very much for your friendship every day of the year, and I wish you a very happy, very healthy, and very fun New Year and holiday season.” Cue: the same montage from before, then Sandra turns to the camera and says, “And I want to thank you for joining me. Happy holiday.” And to you, Sandy. And to you.


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