Kitschy kitchen: This party starts with food coloring and a sense of fun




1-gallon can fruit cocktail (or equivalent — 128 ounces — in smaller cans)

Red food coloring

16-ounce tub prepared whipped topping

14-ounce bag shredded coconut

10-ounce bag mini colored marshmallows

4 (3.5-ounce) boxes banana pudding, prepared according to package directions

Vanilla wafers, for garnish

Sliced ripe bananas, for garnish

Red maraschino cherries (well-drained), for garnish

Drain the fruit cocktail and spread the fruit on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Place the fruit in the refrigerator, uncovered, for at least 24 hours to drain completely.

In a large bowl, stir a few drops of the food coloring into the whipped topping to tint it pink. Gently fold in the drained fruit with the coconut and marshmallows. Cover and refrigerate until needed. (Makes a generous 4 quarts ambrosia, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe; it will keep up to 3 days.)

To prepare the Bambrosinana, alternate layers of the ambrosia and banana pudding in a large bowl or trifle dish, garnishing the layers as inspired with vanilla wafers, sliced bananas and maraschino cherries. Decorate the top as desired. This can be made up to a few hours in advance (to keep the banana slices from browning, brush with a little lemon water). Makes 24 servings.

Source: Adapted from Charles Phoenix.

Per serving (without garnishes): 288 calories, 3 g protein, 49 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 10 g fat (8 g saturated), 8 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium.


Seven-Layer Soda Pop Rocks Cake

We tested the cake using Betty Crocker Super Moist White Cake Mix and 9-inch cake pans.

4 (16.25-ounce) boxes white cake mix (enough for 8 cake layers)

5 cups 7-Up or similar soda, divided, to substitute for the water in the cake mix

1 1/3 cups vegetable oil, divided, or as needed to prepare boxed cake mix

12 egg whites, divided, or as needed to prepare boxed cake mix

Assorted food coloring

About 20 cups (10 pounds) prepared white frosting

24 packets assorted Pop Rocks

Candy wax soda bottles, for decorating

Skewers, for decorating

Soda straws, for decorating

Working in batches if necessary, prepare the boxed cake mix according to package directions, substituting soda for the amount of water given and incorporating the vegetable oil and egg whites as instructed (cake mix ingredients may vary slightly by brand).

Divide the batter among prepared 8- or 9-inch cake pans (you will end up with one extra layer of cake not needed for this recipe). Add food coloring to enhance each of the seven layers separately with bright color: turquoise, pink, yellow, orange, purple, aqua, lime. Bake according to package directions.

When the layers are cool, begin assembling the final cake. Place the first layer on a cake stand or platter and top with a layer of frosting. Sprinkle over a packet of Pop Rocks. Top with a second layer of cake, and repeat until the cake is seven layers. As the layers are built, the cake will become top-heavy and may start to slide and/or fall; to help stabilize it, run skewers or cake dowels (available at cake and cooking supply stores) through the layers.

Frost the outside of the layers and sprinkle over the remaining Pop Rocks to decorate. (The Pop Rocks will become sticky shortly after the package is opened and if handled. To decorate the sides, it might be easiest to empty each package onto a sheet of paper, then curl the paper and blow the Pop Rocks onto the side of the cake.)

To assemble the decorations, place the wax soda bottles on skewers and cover each skewer with a soda straw. Arrange the bottle-topped skewers on top of the cake. Makes 30 servings.

Source: Adapted from Charles Phoenix.

Per serving: 910 calories, 3 g protein, 166 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 25 g fat (6 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 747 mg sodium.

Main dish

Inchezonya (Enchiladas and Lasagna Married at Last)

This recipe requires a 3 1/2-quart (roughly 12-by-10-inch) roasting pan or baking dish.

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

9 lasagna noodles (about half a 1-pound box)

10-ounce can red enchilada sauce

10-ounce can green enchilada sauce

25-ounce jar marinara sauce

3 cups grated mozzarella cheese

3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

12 (6-inch) corn tortillas

6 green onions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brown the ground beef and cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. In a large bowl, stir together red and green enchilada sauces with the marinara sauce. In a separate bowl, combine the mozzarella and Cheddar cheeses.

Cover the bottom of a large aluminum roasting pan with about 1 cup sauce. Dip 6 of the corn tortillas in the sauce and form a single layer at the base of the pan.

Spread 1/3 of the cheese mix over the tortillas, and spoon 1/2 of the browned beef over the cheese. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, half of the remaining cheese, the remaining ground beef and lasagna noodles (save one noodle to garnish the top). Spoon over the rest of the sauce.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes to warm all the fillings and marry the flavors. Increase the heat to 375 degrees, remove the foil, add the last of the cheese and continue to bake until the cheese is melted and golden-brown in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.

While the Inchezonya is baking, prepare the title banner. Spray the remaining noodle with cooking spray and place on a greased and foil-lined baking sheet. Cut the green onions to spell out the name “Inchezonya” on the banner. Broil the noodle just until the onions start to wilt but before they brown. Set aside to cool, and cut the remaining green onions to form “confetti.”

When the Inchezonya is done, spread the green onion confetti over the melted cheese. Carefully place the title banner over the dish and serve with Americana pride! Makes 16 servings.

Source: Adapted from Charles Phoenix.

Per serving: 696 calories, 24 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 50 g fat (24 g saturated), 143 mg cholesterol, 1,621 mg sodium.

Los Angeles Times

“The colors need to be bright, like saturated neon,” Charles Phoenix says, describing his Seven-Layer Soda Pop Rocks Cake. “You can’t have too much food coloring. Think Day-Glo!”

Phoenix is visualizing the elements of an ideal party. His ideal. “A pool would be nice. … And there would be those motorized pool toys with remote controls for the gearheads, so they can fight in the water.” A little something for everyone.

“But I think they should be unicorns. Imagine remote-control unicorns fighting in a pool.”

Phoenix, a devotee of mid-century American culture, is all about exploring and celebrating our kitschy past and present through books ( Southern California in the '50s: Sun, Fun and Fantasy), tours, historic slide shows and unique culinary creations.

The Southern California native calls himself a child of Disneyland. “I’m very theme-oriented.”

Don’t have unicorns for your party? No problem. Focus on the spread.

Take the Astro Weenie Party Tree. Picture a craft store foam cone wrapped in foil and covered with an assortment of cocktail onions, broccoli bites, cheese cubes and miniature pickles, everything impaled on colorful toothpicks.

“The only limit is your imagination,” Phoenix says. “You’re really crafting here; it’s not cooking. Admire, present and then … dig in!”

Phoenix credits his inspiration to historic slides. He began shopping at thrift stores at the age of 14, looking for vintage clothes. One day he happened upon a shoe box of old slides.

“That changed everything,” he says. “It was like looking through a window of time.”

Phoenix’s slide collection easily numbers in the hundreds of thousands. He began noticing the food pictured in the slides, creations like the party tree. And he noticed a lot of ambrosia.

“This is not fine food. This is fun food!” he says of his Bambrosinana, a layered fusion of ambrosia and banana pudding. Whimsical as it may appear, Phoenix is particular about the components. Cocktail fruit is drained at least 24 hours before it’s folded into the ambrosia, to give the dish a little chew. “Otherwise, it’s all soft and boring.”

Food coloring is added to give the right pink hue to the ambrosia and to bump up the yellow, if needed, in the banana pudding. As the layers come together, vanilla wafers, sliced banana and maraschino cherries are added for garnish. Phoenix calls it “creamy dreamy dessert deliciousness!”

Fusion plays a big role in Phoenix’s kitchen creations. Perhaps his most famous dish is the Cherpumple, the dessert equivalent of a turducken, consisting of three pies (cherry, pumpkin and apple) baked into a three-layer cake. (The recipe and a how-to video are at

He created the Cherpumple after one Thanksgiving when “I looked in the trash can and it was filled with paper plates” from all the different desserts. “I thought, this is not so green.”

He decided to merge favorite dishes in one, so guests could have a taste of everything together, minimizing waste.

Phoenix’s Inchezonya is a fusion of enchiladas and lasagna – tortillas and lasagna noodles are layered with ground beef, cheese and a combination of marinara and enchilada sauces. The dish is finished with a lasagna noodle placed diagonally over the dish “like a sash on a beauty queen,” the name of the dish written in green onion. “Serve with Americana pride,” he says.

Phoenix is more than happy using store brands. “I try to make it very accessible.” Which makes some dishes, like the massive Soda Pop Rocks cake, a little less intimidating to tackle. And if the finished product isn’t perfect, so what? “I’m not expecting perfection. I’m expecting heart and soul.”

Store-bought cake mix is made with 7-Up in place of the water, with plenty of food coloring added for effect. The cake is frosted in white and decorated with Pop Rocks and old-fashioned wax soda bottle candies. Slice into the cake and it looks like a Technicolor rainbow.

And if you bend your ear, you can hear the Pop Rocks noisily crackling away. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a party of Day-Glo, unicorns and rainbows.

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