Archive for Food & Drink

Phyllis Diller’s Chili Recipe

Despite her comedy act describing how terrible she was in the kitchen, Phyllis Diller was a really wonderful cook, with recipes of hers printed in books and magazines for many years. But she was really famous for her chili. It was so good, it was even put in cans and sold in grocery stores. Now, the product was not around forever — maybe just a 3 year period, starting in the late 1980s. But those who ate it remember it well.

Phyllis had a whole line of products beyond the beef chili, which was the flagship product. There was also chicken chili and chili beans. (She sent me a photo of her standing next to her product line which I should scan for you all.) This was under the label of Phyllis Diller’s Original Recipe. The original can was very nondescript, with a picture of Phyllis in a glamor pose (seen above). Obviously, this was done so customers would take the product more seriously, and she could be a contender in the market place. This concept did not seem to gel. Later, it was re-branded as Phyllis Diller’s Philli Dilli Chili, with a much more comedic tone, featuring a cartoon of Phyllis in a superhero costume as “The Crusader of Great Tasting Food.”

During this time period, there were a lot of celebrities who tried to be the next Paul Newman, with a range of products that bore their familiar names. (Of course, it was only Paul Newman that gave his money to charity.) Some of these products only lasted a few years, some made it to shelves only to disappear soon after. There was Frank Sinatra’s Sugo di Tavoli (which was pretty bad), Tommy Lasorda Spaghetti Sauce (which was very good), Chicken by George (Phyllis George, and her product was great). Phyllis was definitely jumping on this bandwagon… but at least her product was really good.

At 2:18, you can see David Letterman making fun of her chili during a skit of terrible products found in stores. Of course, the chili was nothing to sneeze at and Dave never even tasted it, but it at least got some free publicity in the process. Supermarket Finds – 1989

Phyllis had mentioned the reason why the product went bust was due to the fact that people only ate chili during certain times of the year, and did not think about it the rest of the time. That may be true for some people, but I ate it all the time. As a starving college kid, it was a tasty and affordable meal that would carry me through the day. I remember it was only available at the Von’s supermarkets here in Southern California. It pretty much vanished by 1991 from our shelves, though the product apparently limped along a few years longer.

After years of missing it, I finally wrote Phyllis to ask her the recipe, and she sent it to me lickety-split. And now I will share it with you.

This is typed out exactly as Phyllis had it, including the capitol letters here and there.


Using oil, brown 1 Lb. Ground Beef in a skillet. Add these ingredients in the order listed:

1 Med. Size Onion – chopped
10 Cloves Garlic – chopped fine
1 Green Bell Pepper – chopped
Lawry’s Season Salt
Garlic Salt
Onion Salt
Chili Powder
1 Lg. Can chopped tomatoes
Just before serving, add 2 cans S&W Kidney Beans (including liquid)

My take on the recipe:

Keep in mind, I used to buy her canned chili all the time, and I have a pretty good idea of how everything is supposed to turn out. That being said, it has been 20 years, so the exact quality will never be properly duplicated.

If you do it as you read it and don’t know your way around the kitchen, this recipe will make absolutely no sense to you. You will get hit with a HUGE slug of garlic that is both overwhelming and displeasing to taste. Things may be too salty or under-seasoned, and the texture will never be right. And you don’t know how long to cook it, or what temperature to use. So, I have thought it out a bit for you, and I think you will do just fine by following my method. This is hardly a complicated recipe.

Cook on medium high heat in a skillet or dutch oven. Total cooking time is around 45-60 minutes, including 30 minutes of simmering. A lot of things depend on your stove and your technique.

I suggest you first saute the garlic and onions together in extra virgin olive oil (which Phyllis used in her cooking) until they soften — this will mellow the garlic flavor substantially — and then add the peppers and cook them down until they are limp. Make sure all these ingredients are chopped fine, but not minced, as you want to be able to see them in the finished product. Remove these ingredients from the pan and keep in a bowl. Brown the beef in the same skillet, but do not drain. Then add the onion, garlic and peppers back to the skillet.

In the canned product, the ground meat was in very tiny pieces. If you want the exact texture, just break the meat up more as you brown it.

Seasoning is merely a matter of taste here, but do keep in mind that the Lawry’s should be the dominant seasoning, since you already have garlic and onion in this dish. So, heavier on the Lawry’s, lighter on the garlic and onion salt. Also, the canned bean juice that comes at the end does have salt in it, so it might not be a bad idea to add the salts after you add the bean juice, or else you might end up with something you can’t really eat.

Chili powder is an important element here, which adds depth and richness to the dish. Without it, you will have spaghetti sauce with beans in it. Again, this is all to taste, but do add at least two tablespoons of the stuff. Add more if you want it richer and spicier. Phyllis most likely used the most common brands on the market, like Gebhardt’s or McCormick. Tabasco is a must here, too, even in small amounts, otherwise you’ll end up with something “senior citizen spiced.” Again, use your best judgement here. The canned product was definitely not hot, but it also wasn’t a flat product that tasted only of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt! So, please don’t be skittish on the chili powder and Tabasco.

The chopped tomatoes will give you a fine dish, but it’s not like it was in the canned product. To replicate what you remember, use diced tomatoes (or crushed, if you don’t like the tomato texture). The overall quality of the dish should be of a stew with kidney beans floating in it, and the tomatoes shouldn’t be much larger than the kidney beans. I use a 28-ounce can of tomatoes — which is a large can, as Phyllis mentioned — and that’s just right for my money. And, speaking of kidney beans, you don’t have to use S&W, but that’s what she did. Two 16-ounce cans of any brand of kidney beans will do the trick.

Phyllis doesn’t indicate how long to cook. I would say at least 30 minutes, and longer on simmer if you like it to develop a little further. This is intended to be a “quick chili,” like the kind the girls used to favor in the old cookbooks. I would definitely encourage you to add the bean juice before simmering. This is what makes up the “gravy” for the chili, and this will help everything soften and relax. Once everything has been put into the skillet or dutch oven, you will notice that you have a lot of liquid, thanks to two cans of bean juice, plus tomatoes. Now, you can cook it down until it thickens, which may take some time, or you can thicken it with flour mixed with water. Chili purists would use masa harina to thicken, but Phyllis was an old fashioned cook and would have definitely gone for the plain flour. Just add a few spoonfuls of flour to about half a cup of water in a cup, stir until dissolved, then put in the skillet with the other ingredients.

Now, all you fans out there of Phyllis Diller’s chili, please tell me what you think of my take on it. I’m genuinely curious!

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Mr. Kurt Nielsen – Friendly Talk #11

In honor of my upcoming trip to Mobile, where the food is abundant and glorious, here’s one of the finest eating stops on the West Coast: the world famous Farmers Market on 3rd and Fairfax.

If you ever come down here for a visit, please be sure to stop by. Heck, give me a call and I’ll show you where to go!

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Disneyland Food Review: French Market Restaurant

I would have to say that New Orleans Square might very well be my favorite section in all of Disneyland. From the eerie grandeur of the Haunted Mansion to the minute details throughout that evoke the jewel of the Gulf Coast, there’s real life, drama and class in every corner. All the space is perfectly proportioned, too, without an ounce of fat. Everything makes sense. Here, it seems, no corners are ever cut. Magnificent!

Happily, all of the food establishments in New Orleans Square are just as quality-driven. I can’t list one place there that is even average, not even the food carts. What brings out this special magic? It’s hard to say. Maybe because people associate New Orleans with food excellence, the park felt morally obligated to step up their game. It does not make sense that a section only a few feet away (like Frontierland) can produce food of such a different quality, but I swear it’s true, folks.

I don’t think you can do better in the park, for price, value and overall appeal, than the French Market Restaurant. Located attractively by the train station, facing the Rivers of America, this is a wonderful establishment that is considered casual dining, moves like quick service, and gives you the feeling that you are truly somewhere special. The Blue Bayou has all the reputation (and prices to match!), but I honestly feel this is the gastronomic heart of New Orleans Square.

In the open-air dining area, you can watch people casually strolling by as you listen to live jazz and sip a (non-alcoholic) Mint Julep. No matter how harried things can be, this festive environment has a way of soothing the mind, even in the dead heat of summer. All of the elements that make the park so great meld here in this one spot: the trees, the architecture, the smatterings of kitsch, the whimsy, the charm. You could ask for no better backdrop for a meal, I can assure you!

The food is just great. Given the constraints of food service in this capacity, they do some really amazing things. The jambalaya is not your typical Cajun style (this is Disneyland, after all, so they don’t really over-spice), but I really love it. They spoon a large ladle of tomatoey rice with vegetables, make a deep well and top it with a generous portion of shrimp and chicken. Flanked by cheddar cornbread and perfectly cooked tender-crisp vegetables, it’s a marvel. I had this very meal outside in the pouring rain, underneath a small cloth cover, and had one of the most pleasant eating experiences in my life.

Every time I have come here, either with a group or by myself, I have been nothing but satisfied. Some of the food isn’t always tip-top — it can happen, and it’s understandable. On one visit my Roast Beef Royale’ had somewhat gummy potatoes, and the beef seemed a bit over-tender (if that even seems possible), but it was all still highly edible. The consistency of the French Market still tops that of the other restaurants in the park by a wide mile.

They also have lovely desserts. I had a mini cheesecake with raspberries and a Jack Skellington head perched atop — it was something you would expect to see at only the fanciest of cafes, and was available here for a modest fee. Again, just magic.

Overall Grade: A
If you really want to put a big exclamation point of your Disneyland experience, I would strongly suggest you eat here. It is everything the park should be, and if I didn’t already vow to eat at every restaurant in the park, it would be the only place I’d ever dine.

Cuisine: American, Cajun-Creole, Healthy Selections
Service Type: Casual Dining
Price Range: $$ ($10-$20 per person) *
Meals Served: Lunch, Dinner, Snack
Location: New Orleans Square

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Ridin’ the Sanka Train

I was at Disneyland the other day, consuming several large cups of the coffee with endless refills, bouncing gleefully over my recent discovery. Once I found out about this treat (available only at the Market House on Main Street U.S.A.), I figured it was time to grind it into the ground and drink all I could. On a regular visit, I can easily consume six of the 16-ounce cups over the course of a day. They say it’s not great for your nerves, causes acid stomach and will discolor your teeth, but I never cared.

Everything sort of changed this last weekend. I don’t know if it was the madness of Midway Mania (the ride I just stepped off of) or the 3 cups of coffee that I had within a small window of time that caused it, but my hands started to shake. I tried to hold my hands still. I could not. My friends all surveyed the situation, with great glee, and came to the same conclusion: I had overdosed on coffee.

I realized that if I ever hope to maintain steady hands and not come off like a knock-off version of Kate Hepburn, trembling like a feather in a breeze, I had best put on the breaks. So, for a time, I will stick with Sanka and ride that train around the park until I feel it’s time to step off.

I’ve long kept non-caffeinated products in my larder. I have several jars of Postum hoarded, of course, but I will only partake on special occasions since it’s no longer in production and as precious as gold. Pero is quite good, though not the same as Postum and does not feel like a coffee substitute — it is it is its own thing. The only legitimate solution is to swim in Sanka, my faithful instant friend.

A part of the Maxwell House family, Sanka is America’s first brand of instant coffee, dating back to the early 1900s. The younger ones won’t recall this, but for many years Sanka (and Postum for those of the Mormon persuasion) were regularly served at major restaurants. You didn’t ask for a cup of decaf: you asked for a pot of Sanka. Its impact is still felt — though most establishments no longer serve Sanka, the orange color of the product’s label is the main reason why they use orange to identify decaffeinated coffee in restaurants to this very day.

I won’t say it tastes as good as regular coffee, because it doesn’t. The slogan “Sanka… Everything You Love About Coffee” is somewhat misleading. Like other substitutes, it has its own character and drawbacks. I’d say it’s slightly bitter, and doesn’t even smell like regular coffee. But if you like the taste of instant coffee (and I do once in a while), you learn to live with it.

Naturally, my love for Sanka goes deeper than just my want to calm my jangled nerves. Sanka was a sponsor of The Andy Griffith Show. Back in the day, many of the key products were worked into little commercial skits featuring the characters. If you were not paying full attention, you would swear these spots were part of the actual episodes. Andy and company really sold the Sanka well — to this day, the spots make you want to run out and buy the stuff. And when you sip it, you feel like you’re in the sheriff’s office, gnawing on one of Aunt Bee’s fried chicken drumsticks and discussing American history with ol’ Barn.

Don’t believe me? Take a gander yourself and see if you’re not swept away…

I think it’s now time for me to fetch some boiling water and make myself a cup. Would you care to join me?

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Mr. Kurt Nielsen – Friendly Talk #9

Friends, please do visit this place. Everything is done with extra care, and the quality is sky high. You’ll fall in love with their stuff, just as I and many of my friends have. There’s sweets and sandwiches and everything inbetween. Good eats!

7290 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

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Disneyland Food Review: Pluto’s Dog House

In my quest to eat at every restaurant and food service cart in the park, I’m bound to stumble upon some lemons. Mickey’s Toon Town does not evoke images of grand dining, and the realities are very much the same.

As you might surmise from the name, this establishment specializes in hot dogs, from the foot long to children’s size. The food is predictable and moderately priced. Pluto’s Dog House caters mostly to parents and children who want something safe as they chill with Roger Rabbit or Clarabell Cow. (Likewise, the neighboring Daisy’s Diner, serves mostly pizza, another ageless favorite.)

The hot dogs were what we expected. No surprises.

I opted for the kids meal, since it had a container of macaroni and cheese, and I blanched at the idea of eating another generic hot dog. This was nicely presented in a box with apple slices and a color-changing straw for my small soda pop. I was pretty pleased with the mac & cheese until I tasted some of the product that touched the side of the container. I don’t know what heating method they use, but the styrofoam flavor is rather pronounced and revolting — it actually seeped in to my food. You no longer think mac & cheese after a while: you wonder if consuming this meal is going to kill you or not.

Overall grade: C-
I wouldn’t count this as a total wash, but it’s not all that great, either. There are lots of whimsical places for you to sit, and if you’re looking for some cheap regular food, it’s an alright option. Personally, I have no desire to ever come back.

Cuisine: American
Service Type: Quick Service
Price Range: $ ($10 per person or less)
Meals Served: Lunch, Dinner, Snack

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Disneyland Food Review: Village Haus Restaurant (hosted by Minute Maid)

For years this was a firm favorite of ours. I never remembered the Village Haus being more than burgers and fries, but all the food was good, easy on the pocketbook, and the restaurant offered playful surroundings that were a feast for our collective eyeballs. We stopped coming here for some reason — why, I cannot say. But with such cheerful memories of the past, and the greatly improved fare throughout the park, I thought this old friend needed to be loved by us once more.

First off, the place is rather chaotic inside. I mean, getting through the front door is a battle! Every single table outside was occupied, and there were dozens of people milling around, all looking for a place to plant their group. Inside is no better. We had all assumed this was due to the primo locale and the fine quality within. But if the food was good enough, as we hoped it was, it would be worth any effort on our part to squeeze through the mouse-capped sea of humanity.

The line for the food and the entire process that followed was more of the same. It was just a big mess. Granted, it’s an extremely busy restaurant, and the turn-around here is enormous, but don’t you think they would have things under control after 25 years? It was almost like a brand new restaurant with fresh staff, fully unaware of customer service and crowd control. People seemed agitated and almost resentful of one another. The fact that we got a table was a miracle — we had to hover for some time for that achievement, and our food was cold by the time we finally got to it.

Three of my meal mates had the bacon cheeseburger with fries. I opted for the standard cheeseburger, with a lighter addition of a “salad.” When I saw my “salad,” which fit into something not much larger than a salsa cup from El Pollo Loco, I almost wanted to laugh. I suppose this was a healthier choice through attrition.

The burgers were all dry and tasteless, from the bun to the meat. We understand that meat has to be cooked well in order to be completely safe in most high volume institutions, but does the very life need to be taken from it, as well? The beef could have used some serious seasoning, and the buns should have been at least steamed back to a more pliable state. When you eat a burger and notice the predominant taste is lettuce, and your condiments shine through like the morning sun, you are not in very good territory. The “salad” was fine, but it was so dang small, I was eating it in slow, methodical bites just as one would eating in a swanky restaurant to maximize their enjoyment of an over-priced nouveau appetizer.

As we ate, the table vultures were swarming with reckless abandon. This just compounded our unhappiness. All we wanted to do was grab our things and get the heck out of there. Seriously, it was like being at a McDonald’s in a bad neighborhood, watching people two tables down get in a shouting match. So much for being the Happiest Place on Earth!

We all agreed after the experience to never come back here, that any nostalgic heart strings once pulled by the Village Haus had snapped. If Pinocchio has no strings to hold him down, you can bet he’s running out of that place just as fast as we are.

Overall grade: D+
I give it a higher grade than I otherwise would based only on the fantastic look of the place. You can ignore the idea of eating here completely, especially if you have a group. I say look at it while you walk to another establishment and enjoy the rest of your day.

Cuisine: American, Vegetarian, Healthy Selections
Service Type: Quick Service
Price Range: $ ($10 per person or less)
Meals Served: Lunch, Dinner, Snack
Location: Fantasyland

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Time for Drinks – Introduction

I like to drink — I won’t lie. Here, let this video explain a little bit more to ya…

As noted in the video, I’m offering you some of my favorite drinks. These are ones that I have enjoyed repeatedly over the years when I want to taste something good, or will serve to my friends with confidence, knowing they are going to enjoy themselves completely.

This is a sly variant on the Old-Fasioned, which I have to make at home since most bars out there don’t stock orange bitters, and couldn’t do a drop of Pernod to save their lives! I normally get a standard Old-Fashioned when I go out, and even then somebody manages to bitch the whole damn thing up. How can you not know how to make a classic?!

As an interesting aside, Borden Chase is buried just a few feet away from Stan Laurel at Forest Lawn Cemetary in the Hollywood hills. Maybe one day I’ll get enough courage up to drink one of these at his grave and thank him for all the joy he’s brought to my life through his pet concoction.

    you need:
    2 slugs of bourbon or Scotch (in real terms, around 2 ounces)
    2 strips of lemon peel
    1/2 teaspoon of superfine sugar, or the equivalent of bar syrup
    2 hearty dashes of orange bitters
    1 drop of Pernod (I keep mine in an old eye dropper)

    how to make:
    Put one strip of lemon peel and the sugar at the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass with a little bit of water — maybe a teaspoon. Moddle with a spoon until the sugar is dissolved and the lemon peel releases most of its wonderful qualities. Pour in the bourbon, then add the Pernod and orange bitters. Put in a few hunks of ice — enough to raise the drink near the top of the glass — and give it a stir. A lemon peel rubbed across the rim of the glass will finish the drink, and add a delightful nose.:

For the uninformed, a Gibson has a pickled onion, and the Martini has an olive, but they are otherwise the same drink. I am a Gibson drinker almost exclusively. The tiny white onions look like little snowballs perched in my glass, which make me think of cool refereshment and calm escape. I also happen to think the tang of the onion is far less intrusive then the olive, and far better compliments a good gin (yes, gin, not vodka).

I also shake my Gibsons with a hearty hand, rather then stirring them. I like everything to be properly chiled and diluted, and this is the foolproof way to get that quality. Once I was verbally accosted by a man who said that I was bruising the gin with my method. I say nuts to him! In the end, you’re the one who’s going to be drinking the dang stuff, and my friends all swear by Gibsons… SO THERE!

Do yourself a favor and pick up some Aristocrat Cocktail Onions from Australia. They are just great! You can get them in white, red or green — fancy, ain’t it? They are available here for a very reasonable price. I just adore them.

    you need:
    2 ounces of good gin (I like Boodles, which has an assertive juniper berry taste)
    a quick dash of French (dry) vermouth
    1 strip of lemon peel
    2 or 3 cocktail onions, speared with a toothpick

    how to make:
    Pour all liquids into a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice, and drop in the lemon peel. Shake with unusual vigor. Strain, using a coil strainer to get those lovely floating ice chips on top, into a chilled cocktail glass. Decorate with the lanced onions.

If you like to drink, but hate to bartend, either treat me really well or drive yourself over to Musso & Frank’s Grill on Hollywood Boulevard. Musso & Frank’s does everything right down to the letter, perfect and exacting every single time. I’m not saying they are better than me… but they’re close!

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Disneyland Food Review: Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante (hosted by La Victoria)

Now, folks, you know I like to eat, and I’m willing to give any place a second chance (unless the first experience is beyond reproach). So, after a not-so-glowing experience at Rancho del Zocalo a few years ago, I decided it was worth a second try.

Certainly, it’s a beautiful place — one of the most attractive eateries in the park. Smack in the heart of Frontierland, you also get amazing views of the Golden Horseshoe, the Rivers of America and Big Thunder Mountain. It looks like an old hacienda, beautifully crafted with wide walkways, a large and accommodating patio area. The restaurant is as welcoming as it is charming. At night, it becomes even more attractive, as the lights become subtle and dramatic, bouncing of the stone, stucco, trees and Mexican bric-a-brac in a sensational way. Beautiful!

Inside, you’ll find a great set-up, with everything placed where it is easy to see. You grab your utensils when you walk in, go to one of four food stations, and grab your drinks on the other end from a wide selection (both bottled and fountain style). They wisely keep everything streamlined. A lot of thought was put into this place, inside and out.

But there is trouble in this south-of-the-border paradise! Immediately, I noticed that all of the spoons they were offering were dirty. Not even two reminders to this major blunder rectified the situation. After ignoring my friend, Loren, for a good spell, the server also forgot what he ordered, as Loren went off to find clean spoons somewhere in this increasingly manic establishment. The server only had 3 dishes to prepare, and the place wasn’t even busy, so there was really no excuse.

We both settled on the Red Chile Enchiladas. I won’t deny the plate looked quite lovely, bursting with color and attractively arranged. But as we ate (rather warily, might I add, since it’s hard to trust a place that puts forth dirty utensils), most it the food was not matching the surroundings. The rice was dry and crunchy, for the most part, bringing back memories of the old grade school cafeteria. The beans were a bit soupy — I thought this was a stylistic choice, but if you want to be authentic, how about tossing in some lard while you are at it. The enchiladas were above average, but had clearly been sitting around too long — they were a bit dry, and took a bit of effort to navigate through. I will say, however, the salsa was quite good.

Overall grade: C
My advice to you is to get food elsewhere and eat in the lovely garden. I think this is one of the finest eating areas in the park. The food, on the other hand, is pretty pedestrian. Oddly enough, I had horrible Mexican food — some of the worst I’ve ever had in my life — over at California Adventure. Don’t you think we could get something a little more acceptable in this part of the country? I mean, I know it’s theme park food, but it really should be better.

Cuisine: American, Vegetarian, Healthy Selections, Mexican
Service Type: Casual Dining
Price Range: $$ ($10-$20 per person) *
Meals Served: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Location: Frontierland

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