They are from two different worlds.
One is an elegant hostess, willing to cook all day to make the perfect party a good thing. The other is a hurried homemaker who doesn’t want to spend time or effort in the kitchen but still wants to eat good food.
Both have written dozens of cookbooks. Both have their own magazines. Both became immensely popular on television.
On the one hand, you have Martha Stewart, doyenne of entertaining and creator of the cream cheese-stuffed sugar snap pea hors d’oeuvre that was seemingly served at every single party from 1982 until about 1985.
On the other hand, you have Sandra Lee, who parlayed a decorator’s interest in creating beautiful tablescapes into an empire based on the concept of “semi-homemade” cooking, which relies heavily on prepackaged foods for the sake of convenience.
Two different attitudes. Two different styles.
What would happen, we wondered, if you put them side to side? If we made the same dish as envisioned by both Martha Stewart and Sandra Lee?
So I made the same three dishes from the recipes of both women. And here is what I found: Sometimes it can be hard to find the ingredients that Lee specifies.
Sorry if I sound a little frustrated, but I spent far too much time in the grocery store looking for Duncan Hines’ Moist Deluxe Swiss Chocolate Cake Mix (which I never found), Greek seasoning (an employee directed me to it) and Birds Eye Garlic Pasta and Vegetable Combo (which hasn’t been made in years).
So I substituted a Duncan Hines chocolate cake mix and two frozen SmartMade Roasted Vegetables with Angel Hair entrees.
The question is: How did it taste? How did any of them taste?
I began with minestrone soup, which Stewart makes in the classic way, with fresh vegetables (though the beans are canned), including a potato and thin slices of cabbage, flavored with a hint of rosemary and a dash of basil. Lee’s version uses just five ingredients, plus shredded parmesan for a last-minute garnish.
Lee’s minestrone gets most of its flavor from the frozen pasta with vegetables, a can of Italian-seasoned tomatoes and a good hunk of tomato paste.
The tomato is so overwhelming that the minestrone seems like a tomato soup with vegetables, plus some angel-hair noodles. There is also an unpleasantly sharp taste of something, but it is possible that comes from the frozen vegetables-and-noodles that I used and that a different brand may make it more pleasant.
Stewart’s minestrone tasted clean, classic and simple, despite using many more ingredients. It took considerably longer to make, though it was still less than an hour, but the convenience inherent in Lee’s version also cost more.
In addition, Lee’s dish registered more calories and more sodium. These are trends we will see for all of the recipes.
Next up was chicken prepared in a Greek style. Stewart’s version, roasted chicken thighs with tomatoes, olives and feta, has a lovely presentation (I used multicolored grape tomatoes). And the taste is bright and fresh, which comes both from the natural ingredients and the garnishes – a pop of mint and a scattering of briny feta cheese – that are added just before serving.
Lee’s Greek chicken has the more earthy, rounder flavor that comes from spending a long time in a slow cooker. Along with the boneless, skinless chicken thighs, it is made with frozen chopped onions, Greek seasoning, a can of Italian-style diced tomatoes, a can of sliced black olives and a can of condensed cream of chicken soup.
An energizing splash of lemon juice at the end makes a lovely counterpoint to the other, well-blended flavors.
Dessert was a pair of chocolate bundt cakes topped with ganache. Once again, it was a battle between pre-packaged tools (a box of cake mix, a box of powdered instant pudding) versus a cake made from scratch.
To my surprise, a number of the taste testers preferred the Sandra Lee version from the boxed mixes. It was unquestionably lighter and more moist, with the moisture coming both from the pudding mix and the addition of vegetable oil.
The Stewart cake was definitely denser, which one tester noted is the way bundt cake is supposed to be. But just about everybody liked the extra-chocolatey ganache more on the Lee cake, and the chocolate chips mixed inside got their share of praise, too.
Stewart doesn’t use chocolate chips. Perhaps they are too difficult to make from scratch.
Martha Stewart’s classic minestrone
Yield: 6 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving (optional)
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
Salt and pepper
1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1/4 head Savoy or green cabbage (1/2 pound), cored and thinly sliced
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
1/4 cup thinly sliced basil, plus torn leaves for serving (optional)
3/4 cup grated parmesan, for serving
In a large pot, heat oil over medium. Add onions, carrots, celery, crushed red pepper, rosemary, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to turn golden, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add tomatoes; cook until some of the liquid evaporates, 1 minute. Add potato, cabbage, cannellini beans and 7 cups water; bring to a boil. Stir in green beans.
Reduce to a simmer and cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; stir in garlic, if using, and basil. Serve sprinkled with parmesan and, if using, torn basil. Drizzle with more oil, if desired.
Nutrition | Per serving: 284 calories; 8 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 9 mg cholesterol; 15 g protein; 41 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 10 g fiber; 273 mg sodium; 258 mg calcium
Sandra Lee’s minestrone soup
Yield: 4 servings
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1 (16-ounce) package frozen pasta with vegetables, preferably with garlic pasta
1 (15.5-ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can Italian-seasoned tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
Shredded parmesan cheese, for serving
In a large pot, bring broth to a boil. Stir in garlic pasta with vegetables, beans, tomatoes and tomato paste. Return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes.
Ladle soup into 6 soup bowls and sprinkle with plenty of cheese. Serve with bread.
Nutrition | Per serving: 371 calories; 5 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 9 mg cholesterol; 21 g protein; 52 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 11 g fiber; 1,308 mg sodium; 261 mg calcium
Martha Stewart’s roasted chicken thighs with tomatoes, olives and feta
Yield: 4 servings
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 2 1/2 pounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup pitted Spanish olives
6 medium shallots, halved lengthwise and peeled, about 6 ounces
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Feta cheese, crumbled, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine chicken, oil, tomatoes, olives, shallots and thyme in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and toss. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and spread chicken mixture, skin-side up, in a single layer. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thighs (do not touch bones) reaches 165 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes.
Transfer chicken to a platter and loosely cover with foil. Return vegetables to oven and roast until golden brown in places, about 10 minutes more. Transfer vegetables and accumulated juices to platter with chicken, and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with mint and feta.
Nutrition | Per serving: 508 calories; 37 g fat; 9 g saturated fat; 207 mg cholesterol; 36 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 506 mg sodium; 88 mg calcium
Sandra Lee’s Greek chicken
Yield: 4 servings
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Greek seasoning (such as Cavender’s)
1 1/2 cups frozen chopped onions
1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano, drained
1 (3.8-ounce) can sliced black olives, including liquid
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Hot cooked rice, for serving
Season chicken with salt and Greek seasoning. Place onions in slow cooker, then top with chicken. In a bowl, stir together soup, tomatoes and olives and pour over chicken.
Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Stir in lemon juice.
Serve hot over hot cooked rice.
Nutrition | Per serving: 518 calories; 20 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 230 mg cholesterol; 45 g protein; 38 g carbohydrate; 6 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 1,447 mg sodium; 98 mg calcium
Sandra Lee’s chocolate Bundt cake with ganache
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
From “Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Desserts” by Sandra Lee.
1 box (18.25-ounces) Swiss Chocolate Cake Mix, Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe
1 box (3.9 ounces) chocolate instant pudding
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 (12-ounce) bag plus 1/2 cup (4 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels, divided
1 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt ban. Combine cake mix, pudding mix, water, eggs and oil in a large bowl. Beat for 2 minutes or until well-blended. Stir in 1/2 cup of the chocolate morsels. Transfer batter to prepared bundt pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center of cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on cooling rack for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto cooling rack. Place cooling rack on top of cookie sheet. Cool cake completely.
2. Heat cream in small saucepan over low heat until small bubbles appear. Remove from the heat. Add the 12 ounces of chocolate morsels to cream and stir until smooth. Cool ganache until just slightly warm. Pour ganache over cooled cake, coating cake completely. Transfer cake to serving platter. Garnish with additional chocolate morsels, if desired.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 661 calories; 40 g fat; 17 g saturated fat; 107 mg cholesterol; 8 g protein; 78 g carbohydrate; 53 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 632 mg sodium; 121 mg calcium
Martha Stewart’s chocolate Bundt cake
Yield: 14 servings
8 ounces (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
Make the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 14-cup Bundt pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Mix milk and sour cream in a glass measuring cup.
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 8 ounces of the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition; add vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture, beat to combine; add the milk mixture, beat to combine; and add the remaining 1/2 of the flour mixture, beating just to combine.
Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the glaze: Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan; pour over chocolate and let stand 2 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and mix until smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Pour glaze over cake.
Nutrition | Per serving: 347 calories; 24 g fat; 15 g saturated fat; 110 mg cholesterol; 4 g protein; 31 g carbohydrate; 25 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 290 mg sodium; 38 mg calcium