A melancholy milestone

(This blog originally ran in the Daily Globe on Thursday, July 23, 2015.)

When I looked at the calendar and realized what date this blog would fall upon, my heart paused for a second.
July 23. My mother’s birthday.
And after another moment of contemplation, I realized it wasn’t just her birthday. It would be her 90th birthday. An occasion that, if DotMom was still alive, would likely have been celebrated with a cake and much fanfare, if not a party in the church basement.
Earlier this year, the calendar heralded a different milestone — the 10th anniversary of her death. It seems like just yesterday that we had one of our daily morning phone calls. As she was a late riser, I always called to check in on her about 11 a.m.
She wouldn’t like me sharing this, but she often wasn’t out of bed yet. Although she was a night owl for as far back as I could remember, that tendency to stay up late and sleep the morning away got more frequent in her later years. As rheumatoid arthritis took its toll upon her body, her joints would loosen up and the aches would lessen later in the day, prompting her to stay up later and later and later. Many of her Mixing & Musing columns for the Daily Globe were written in the wee hours of the morning, and that’s also when she liked to call and order items from the stacks of catalogs she received in the mail (chatting up the late-night marketers) and catch up on her email correspondence.
Last week, a friend from high school whose mother has also died posted a melancholy cartoon on Facebook that said, “Sadness is not being able to phone your mom.” I concur with that sentiment 100 percent. There are so many times I want to pick up the phone to tell her about my day, consult about a recipe or menu, tell her the latest piece of news or just hear her voice.
Today, perhaps I would have called her a bit earlier than 11 a.m., urging her to rise and shine and celebrate her milestone birthday. And I would have been compelled to make her a birthday cake, as she always insisted that the celebrant have a (preferably homemade) cake on his or her special day.
Since she loved lemon, this would have been my choice for her out of the Cakes section of her “Mixing & Musing Cookbook.”
Happy birthday, Mom. I hope you’re enjoying a slice of cake with the other angels in heaven.

Golden Lemon Angel Food

1 package one-step white angel food cake mix
1 1/3 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
6 drops yellow food coloring
For glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon soft butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
In large bowl, blend cake mix, water, juice, lemon peel and food coloring. Beat 2 minutes at medium speed, no longer. Pour batter into ungreased 10-inch angel food tube pan. Bake at 325 on lowest oven rack 45 to 55 minutes. Cool cake upside down (on funnel or bottle) at least 1 hour.
In small bowl, blend glaze ingredients. If thinner glaze is desired, stir in additional milk, a drop at a time. Spoon over top of cake, allowing some to drizzle down sides.

Battle of the Bugs

I am currently waging a war on my living room floor. My foe is tiny — teeny tiny, in fact — but what it lacks in size is made up in sheer number.
Our living room has been invaded by ants. This is a battle that ensues on an almost annual basis, usually after we’ve received some steady rain. In their search for dry ground, the tiny pests infiltrate through tiny cracks into our living space.
In previous years, it’s been easy to locate their point of entry — usually a small gap near the front door, likely caused by the house settling over the years. This year, however, regular perusals of that spot have not revealed a steady stream of ants coming and going there. I spent much of my lunch hour yesterday looking for other possible sites, but without pinpointing a locale.
So, at the moment, our living room carpet is littered with ant baits —small pieces of cardboard dotted with ant poison. Yes, I know that the covered ant baits would be much more practical —and in the past I have used them — but I didn’t have any on hand and didn’t have time to run to the store. In the meantime, Hubby Bryan and I will have to tread gingerly through the living room lest we end up with ant dope on the bottoms of our feet. I’m hopeful that by the end of today — after Bryan sprays around the perimeter of our house — the invaders will have been vanquished.
While this is generally a seasonal problem, I have noticed that there seem to be more anthills than usual surrounding our house. Having read online that cornmeal was a natural way of getting rid of ants, I have sprinkled that around the the sites but haven’t of yet noticed any reduction in their numbers. (Or maybe that’s why they’ve come inside — to get away from the cornmeal?) Supposedly the ants eat the cornmeal, but aren’t able to digest it, so it does them in. In the past, I’ve also tried other natural remedies, such as sprinkling cinnamon or other spices that the ants supposedly don’t like. And still the ants return.
Since the rain has been regular enough to instigate an ant invasion, I imagine it also continues to promote the growth of area rhubarb patches. I haven’t gotten any answers to my call for more rhubarb recipes, so I turned to the Betty Crocker “Big Book of Pies and Tarts” and found this seasonal selection to share with you today.

Rhubarb Custard Tart
1 refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box
For topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup quick-cooking oats
¼ cup cold butter
For filling:
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 egg yolk
3 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb, thawed and drained
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place cookie sheet on middle oven rack while oven heats. Place pie crust in a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom or a 9-inch glass pie plate as directed on box for one-crust filled pie. Press in bottom and up sides of pan. Trim edge if necessary.
In small bowl, mix flour, brown sugar and oats. Cut in butter using a pastry blender or fork until mixture is crumbly; set aside
In large bowl, mix granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons flour. Stir in whipping cream, preserves and egg yolk until well blended. Stir in rhubarb. Pour into crust-lined pan. Sprinkle topping evenly over filling.
Place tart on heated cookie sheet. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until filling bubbles around edge and topping is deep golden brown. Cool on cooling rack 30 minutes before serving. Remove tart from side of pan. Cover and refrigerate any remaining tart.
Serve topped with whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

Pilfered rhubarb tastes just as tart

When rhubarb season rolls around each spring, it conjures up memories of my mother standing at the kitchen sink, washing up heaps of the green and fuchsia stalks, pilfered (with permission) from neighborhood patches.

DotMom always had to rely on the generosity of others because her own rhubarb patch in the corner of the backyard of our house on Galena Street was pretty pitiful. Evidently the location and soil were not ideal for the the pie plant, because it never flourished. Luckily, her friends were always more than willing to share their bounty.

Since I don’t have a rhubarb patch at all and am not much of a dessert baker, I feel similarly lucky to have a friend who is adept at making rhubarb desserts and is willing to share them. Myra Palmer is the dessert baker extraordinaire among our group of friends, and for a recent gathering she came toting this crisp variation that combines rhubarb with blueberries. Myra also shares a cake recipe that is another successful seasonal experimentation.

Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp

4 to 5 heaping cups rhubarb, washed and thinly sliced (½ inch)

4 cups whole blueberries, washed and drained (can use frozen)

¾ cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon vanilla extract


½ cup (1 stick) softened butter

½ cup (packed) brown sugar

½ cup flour

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 cups oatmeal

In a large bowl, toss the fruit with the sugar, flour, and vanilla. If using fresh blueberries toss gently.

In another bowl, mix with a fork the butter, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Mix in oats last.

Pour fruit mixture into a lightly greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle crumble topping over fruit.

Bake in the middle of the oven at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, or until fruit tests done. (Mostly you just want to be sure the rhubarb isn’t still hard!)

Serve warm with ice cream, or cool in pan and serve with whipped cream.

Easy Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

5 cups fresh rhubarb, cut in 1 inch pieces

1 (3 ounces) package strawberry Jell-O

¾ cup sugar

1 package miniature marshmallows

1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced

1 (18-ounce) package yellow cake mix

Place rhubarb and sliced strawberries in 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle on strawberry Jell-). Sprinkle sugar over contents on pan. Add a layer of marshmallows. Prepare cake mix according to directions. Pour cake batter over contents of pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool before cutting. Refrigerate.


What turns up in the bottom of a purse

I know there are women who have purses to go with every outfit and change them out accordingly.
I may even know a few of them.
I am not one of them.
Yes, I do own a big bin full of purses, but they are an accumulation from over quite a number of years. Hubby Bryan has given me several high-quality leather purses, and those are the ones that have seen the most use over time.
I occasionally purchase a less neutral option, such as the one that I am currently sporting — a turquoise (my favorite color) cross-body bag. It doesn’t hold as much as my toss-everything-in carryall, but it also doesn’t cause as much strain on my shoulder.
When I do choose to change out my purse, I generally leave some things behind in its predecessor, particularly when the new pocketbook is smaller. Invariably, either when I switch out the purse or later return to the original model, I find things in there about which I had completely forgotten. I’ve discovered earrings, probably stashed there when hastily removed for a haircut; I’ve found gift certificates and coupons well past their expiration dates; and of course, there’s always a bunch of coins — mostly pennies — floating around in the bottom of every purse I own. Sometimes there’s a dollar bill or two, too, floating among various sales receipts and other pieces of paper that I’ve printed off and stashed there for later reference.
The recipe I’m going to share with you today is from one such piece of paper. When we were in Florida in March visiting my sister and brother-in-law, Margaret and Don Hinchey, Margaret cooked up several delectable meals. Creamy Dijon Chicken was one of them, and as I am always on the hunt for material for this forum, I requested the recipe. As she had changed up the recipe a bit, Margaret made some quick scribbles on her photocopied version, handed it to me, and I stuck it in my purse.
And promptly forgot about it.
It turned up the other day when — you guessed it — I switched purses.
So here, at long last, is that yummy chicken recipe. It will likely be on the menu at our house in the coming days, now that I remember that I have it.

Creamy Dijon Chicken

2 teaspoons olive oil
½ small onion, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets
½ cup fat-free sour cream (I usually substitute plain Greek yogurt)
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
Juice from 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add onion, mushrooms and garlic and saute until onion is translucent. Remove from skillet and set aside. Turn heat up to medium-high, add another 1 teaspoon oil and sear chicken on both sides. Reduce heat to medium-low.
In a bowl, combine sour cream, mustard, marmalade and lemon juice; season to taste.
Pour mixture over top of chicken, add the mushrooms, garlic and onion, cover pan with lid and cook until chicken is no longer pink and is thoroughly cooked through, 10-12 minutes.

Another reminder of life’s fragility

This is not the column I had planned to write today. But the news of a longtime friend’s death — I will simply call him J -— has consumed my brain and seems to be shoving all other thoughts out.
This is a guy I’ve known since grade school. J and I grew up in the same general neighborhood — Okabena Heights, just a few streets apart — and likely had many classes together through our growing-up years, although I don’t have any specific memories of which ones. We certainly weren’t close friends — I doubt that I ever had more than a passing conversation with him back then —  but ran around in the same general circle of people through junior high and high school.
My most vivid memories of J are from WHS choir, including the high school musical production and being the first large group to travel to Worthington’s sister city of Crailsheim, Germany.
Back then, he was the guy who had big dreams. J was the leader of the so-called “garage band” of our class and aspired to making something of himself in the music business. But for one reason or another, that didn’t happen, and after high school he dropped out of sight, never attending a class reunion and losing touch with most of his high school friends. His name would come up at reunions and get-togethers with my close high school girlfriends, but nobody seemed to know much about what happened to J.
Then, a couple of years ago now, I suppose, I came back into contact with another high school classmate — J’s best friend — who had managed to maintain a connection with our reclusive pal. And lo and behold, one night last year, both of them turned up on my doorstep.
For a couple of hours, we sat and reminisced at our basement bar. J didn’t look much different, although I was a bit taken aback by how cynical he’d become. In retrospect, he might have exhibited a bit of that in high school already.
But what surprised me most was how much he DIDN’T remember of our high school years. Even dragging out the yearbook didn’t jog a lot of memories for J. It seemed as if he’d cordoned off those days to an area of his brain that couldn’t be accessed. Maybe he’d relegated those memories to the past along with his unrealized dreams.
Just a short-time later, I was able to connect with both of the guys again, at the funeral of another friend’s parent. I was glad to see J make the effort to attend, and he talked as if he might try to come down to Worthington for King Turkey Day or just for a visit. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him on my doorstep again.
Now that will never happen. J was involved in a tragic motorcycle accident Monday  and suffered a traumatic brain injury from which there was no recovery.
I guess, if there’s a moral to this writing, it is that it can literally (an overused word that I dislike, but applicable here) be too late to re-establish a connection with someone. I am so glad that wasn’t the case for me, that I got to spend those couple of hours with J, talking about old times and trying to jog his memory about the people and places of our youth. J always was, and always will be, my friend.
I know it’s cliche, but circumstances like this are a reminder that life is short. Don’t put things off. Do it today. Reach out and make a connection. Tell someone they’ve made a difference in your life.
RIP, friend J. I am glad to have known you. My heart aches for your family and all who knew and loved you.

Go-to gadgets

It’s always nice to get some feedback, especially when it comes from a fellow food writer. My last blog — on ripening pineapple and my handy-dandy new pineapple corer-slicer, elicited an email from Cec Handevidt, who has written a food column for the Jackson Pilot since 1982. I don’t always get to see the Jackson paper, but when I do, I always look for Cec’s column, so it was a pleasure to hear from her, especially since she included a precaution about using fresh pineapple in gelatin — something I was aware of once but had forgotten.

“Did you know pineapple contains an enzyme, called bromelain, which aids digestion by breaking down the protein structure in food?,” writes Cec. “ While that is a good thing, it will also break down the protein in gelatin (Jell-O) and keep it from setting up.  If you want pineapple in your Jell-O, used the canned kind. (I suppose you could cook it with a simple syrup, too, but that sounds like WAY too much work)”

I also got an email from Carolyn Benson, who shared about her favorite kitchen gadget:

“I read your article about gadgets, and immediately thought of my ‘push-pull-pal’ that my sister made for me, out of a paint-stir stick. It had rounded ends, with one having a rounded notch, and about 2 inches down on one side, a notch that fits an oven rack just right. You pull the rack out with the notch on the side, and push it back in by the notch on the end.  I cannot imagine ever using my oven without it. Of course, sis has it decorated with flowers on the paddle, and it is sanded smooth. It is right by my stove, and I am always using it, and could not go without my ‘push-pull-pal.’”

Love that ingenuity. I may have to put Hubby Bryan to work on fashioning such a device for our kitchen.

I’ve also done some thinking about other can’t-live-without gadgets in my own kitchen. I admit that there are number of items that mostly languish in the drawer, mostly because I don’t think about using them. But then there are also my go-tos, such as the just-right-sized silicone spatula that gets put to use on a daily basis. I also couldn’t do without what my mother always called “a blending fork,” although I’ve never used it for blending. This oversized fork was a staple in DotMom’s kitchen,and I had trouble finding a replacement when my well-used model suffered a broken tine. But I did locate a new one, and get it out whenever I’m browning ground meat — it easily breaks apart the meat and helps it to cook evenly.

I often also grab my favorite small whisk — a gift from dear friend Annette Rath, who runs a kitchen store called the Cooking Depot in Cuero, Texas. This whisk has a small ball on its end — I think it may have been called an ice tea whisk or something like that — that is ideal for blending small-batch concoctions, such as salad dressings, or just a couple of scrambled eggs. It gets a lot more use in our kitchen than does its larger relatives.

With salad season on the horizon (if it ever warms up again!), I expect that little whisk will get even more of a workout at our house. During the warm weather months, we try to do one salad night a week, focusing on the abundance of fresh vegetables and greens. In searching through my mom’s “Mixing & Musing Cookbook,” I recently came across this longtime favorite spinach salad recipe, which I think will make an early appearance at our supper table.

Spinach and Lettuce Salad

½ large head lettuce

½ pound fresh spinach

½ pound bacon

3 hard-cooked eggs

1 red onion

½ cup mayonnaise (NOT salad dressing)

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup red wine vinegar

Wash and dry lettuce and tear in bite-size pieces. Wash spinach, remove stems and tear into smaller pieces.

Cut bacon into small pieces (freeze briefly for easier cutting), fry and drain well on paper toweling. Slice hard-cooked eggs. Slice onion thinly and separate into rings.

In large bowl, toss together all the above ingredients, reserving some of the bacon, eggs and onion for garnish.

For dressing, combine mayo, sugar and vinegar. Toss dressing with salad just before serving, topping with reserved items. Serves 6.

Inspector Gadget

I have a favorite new kitchen gadget.

There’s really not room for it in our gadget drawer, but it works so slick that I don’t care.

It’s a pineapple corer-peeler-slicer. You just insert the tool, give it a few turns and pull out the sliced pineapple, leaving behind the core and the prickly shell.

And it actually works. I tried it earlier this week.

I knew such a thing existed, but was skeptical about its effectiveness until I saw one demonstrated on the Food Network program, “The Kitchen.” If you haven’t watched “The Kitchen,” it’s a weekend morning forum that features five chef co-hosts: Sunny Anderson, Katie Lee, Jeff Mauro, Katie Lee, Marcela Valladolid and Geoffrey Zakarian. They demonstrate recipes, offer cooking tips, mix cocktails and put kitchen gadgets to the test in a “Tool Takedown” segment. Most often, the kitchen gadgets are found to be less effective than standard preparation methods, but once in a while, they come across a winner. Such was the case with the pineapple tool. It handily beat an ordinary knife for carving up and slicing a pineapple.

I didn’t find the exact model that they used on the show, but in a local store I found a plastic version and decided to give it a try. It worked just as nicely as the metal one, extracting the flesh of the pineapple without much effort or mess.

Since I have a feeling that, thanks to this gadget, we will be eating more fresh pineapple at our house, I decided to look up some information about pineapple.

First of all, did you know that a pineapple is actually a composite of many flowers whose individual fruitlets fuse together around a central core? Each fruitlet is identified by an “eye” on the pineapple’s surface.

Pineapple is high in vitamin C — just 1 cup providing more than 100 percent of the suggested daily allowance — as well as manganese (a trace element important in energy production) and copper. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits and may lower risk of age-related macular degeneration (vision loss).

Prior to my test of this tool, a pineapple had been sitting — upside down — on our counter for about a week. This tactic was to counteract the pineapple’s tendency to be sweetest at the bottom and less sweet and juicy at the top toward the leaves. I propped the fruit up against the wall.

I learned this trick via a helpful hint posted by a colleague at the Fargo Forum, Heidi Tetzman Roepke, who suggests that the greener the fruit, the longer it should stay flipped on its top.

“You may notice the green, less ripe parts on the pineapple will turn golden brown — another good sign,” she writes. “If your pineapple was already golden brown when you bought it, let it sit upside-down for at least 24 hours.”

I can’t say I noticed a change in the color progression of my test pineapple, but it seemed to be quite juicy and sweet all the way through.

So now I have a nice bowl full of fresh pineapple in my refrigerator. I have a few ideas for utilizing it — grilled pineapple once it warms up, for instance — but am open to other suggestions.

And I’d also love to hear from you readers about your favorite gadgets. Is there a kitchen tool that you just can’t live without? Feel free to share by emailing me at brickers@dglobe.com.

The rest of the menu

Happy Thanksgiving!

No, I haven’t lost my mind, and I didn’t forget to change my calendar for five months. I do know that it’s Easter week.

But I’m just preparing you for a recipe that tastes like Thanksgiving. It’s the side dish that was served alongside the Chicken and Peppers entree (check out my blog of March 18) during our visit with former Worthingtonians Grace and Fred Ehlers at their winter home in Bonita Springs, Fla. Even though it was 80 degrees on that warm Florida evening in early March, this sweet potato casserole hit the spot, adding a holiday air to our gathering. Grace shared that it has become a family favorite.

For dessert, Grace dished up a bread pudding made in the slow cooker, ending the meal on another homey and delicious note.

Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon Pecan Crunch

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in cubes, placed in 9×13 pan

Mix following ingredients together, then spread over sweet potatoes:

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 teaspoons vanilla

½  teaspoon cinnamon

½  teaspoon ginger

½  teaspoon salt

1 cup dried cranberries

2 tablespoons butter

For crunch topping:

½ cup flour

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

¼ cup butter

1 cup chopped pecans

Place sweet potatoes in a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Mix together brown sugar, orange juice, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and salt, then spread over sweet potatoes. Sprinkle the dried cranberries over top and dot with butter. Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

Stir sweet potato mixture. Combine topping ingredients, except for pecans. Sprinkle topping over the top of the potatoes, then add pecans. Return to oven and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes uncovered.

Serves 10-12.

Slow Cooker Bread Pudding

1 cup brown sugar (divided)

16-ounce loaf raisin and cinnamon swirl bread, torn in pieces

4 eggs

1 quart milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Caramel sauce


Spray interior of slow cooker with cooking spray. Spread ¾  cup  brown sugar in bottom of slow cooker.  Add torn bread– do not stir together with bread.

Beat eggs until smooth in large mixing bowl, beat in butter, and vanilla and remaining ¼ cup brown sugar. Pour mixture over bread.

Cover and cook on HIGH 3 hours or until pudding is set and not soupy –do not stir.

Let pudding stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with caramel sauce.  Serves 10-12.



Florida withdrawal

I think my body is rebelling.

It got used to the 85-plus degree weather and sunshine of Florida, and when I returned it to the northern clime (even though the weather here has been unseasonably warm), it went into panic mode. Within hours of arriving at our Worthington home, I was plagued by fever and uncontrollable chills — the result of a sinus infection.

Eighteen days ago, Hubby Bryan and I set out on our longest road-trip yet. Our destination was Fort Myers, Fla., where my sister Margaret and brother-in-law Don are currently living while Don does a short-term ministry stint at a church there. Instead of flying, we decided to take two weeks and drive there.

During that time, we put just short of 4,000 miles on our vehicle. It wasn’t an easy drive, and there were a few perils along the way, but it was a good way to see some new parts of the country and spend some quality time together. No regrets — I think we would do it all over again, after a few weeks recovery time.

Our gracious hosts had scouted out “must-see” locations and kept us hopping for the duration of our Florida stay. I will share more about those experiences in an upcoming Saturday Faces & Places page.

One of the highlights — and prime reasons for the trip — was attending a Minnesota Twins spring training game. Having been told that Worthingtonians Jerry and Beve Vajgrt work at the Fort Myers games, I was keeping an eye out for familiar faces as we pulled into the parking lot at Hammond stadium. Sure enough, there was Beve, collecting parking fees. I spotted her when our vehicle was about 10 cars back and started waving. We never did see Jerry, although Beve assured us he was around somewhere.

Frankly, we were surprised not to see more people we knew during our Florida stay, as the Fort Myers area is a popular venue for southwest Minnesota snowbirds.

In addition to a steady stream of sightseeing, we were invited to dinner at the winter home of former Worthington residents and longtime family friends Grace and Fred Ehlers. Grace and Fred moved to the Twin Cities a number of years ago in order to be closer to family, but maintain many Worthington connections. They spend the winter months in a Bonita Springs, Fla., complex that is populated by quite a few Worthingtonians.

While we caught up on the latest family news, Grace served a delicious meal, that, of course, had me asking for the recipes. Grace complied via email, which was waiting for me when I came back to work Monday. Here is the first of those recipes — the main course, a chicken dish that highlighted the fresh peppers that are available in the Florida produce markets. Watch for Grace’s other dishes in my next blog.

Chicken with Peppers

Four 6-ounce chicken breasts

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

½ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon oregano

2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)

2 cups thinly sliced red pepper

1 cup thinly sliced yellow pepper

½ cup thinly sliced green onions

1½ teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat skillet to medium high.

Combine salt, fennel, pepper and oregano. Brush chicken breasts with olive oil and rub spice mixture into the meat.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet.Add chicken and brown for 3 minutes; turn chicken and brown for 2 more minutes. When browned, arrange on a baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through.

Heat another 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet and add the peppers, green onions and rosemary. Add the broth and balsamic vinegar, stirring to get up the browned chicken bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat and simmer five minutes. Increase heat to medium, add salt and pepper to taste, and cook 3 minutes while stirring. Spoon pepper mixture over chicken and serve.

Garbanzo — a fun word to say

People who know me well — and those of you who have been paying attention in this blog — know that one of my food foibles is beans.

I love green beans and yellow wax beans, but other than that — blech! While I’ve learned to love many foods that I detested as a child, my bean phobia has lingered into adulthood.

It’s a texture thing. As much as possible, I avoid baked beans, chili beans, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans … you get the picture.

Garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) fall somewhere in the middle on my bean like-dislike scale. They have a bit more firmness to them than the others, but I don’t exactly go out of my way to consume them. I do, however, like to say garbanzo.

When I saw a TV chef demonstrate how she turns garbanzos into a crunchy snack, I knew I had to give it a try, particularly since I’ve heard a lot recently about the health benefits of garbanzos/chickpeas. They are rich in both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber; a good source of protein; an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese — important in energy production; have high iron content; can stabilize blood sugar levels; and are heart healthy.

Daphne Brogdon is a relative newcomer to the Food Network, hosting “Daphne Dishes,” which I’ve only watched a couple of times. For an episode called “Girls’ Night In,” she made Crispy Garbanzo Beans.

I have to admit that one of the things that piqued my interest in her recipe was a not-so-healthy addition. She coated the garbanzos in bacon fat before baking them. But a healthier oil, like olive oil, can also be used in its place.

But I was all for the bacon fat, so one weekend morning when we were having bacon for breakfast, I saved some of the bacon fat in the refrigerator, saving me the burden of having to cook and consume additional bacon just for this recipe.

Brogdon’s recipe also called for flavoring the beans with a sprig of fresh rosemary. Alas — no rosemary in my refrigerator, and my herb garden is buried under a snowbank. Instead, I went to the spice cupboard and pulled out a mixture of savory and hot spices. Next time, I think I will turn up the heat a bit more with some cayenne.

I will also pull them out of the oven a bit sooner. My batch was a bit more on the crunchy side rather than crispy — the texture of a corn nut.

Crispy-Crunchy Garbanzos

Two 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

4 strips bacon (or use your favorite healthy oi)

Salt to taste

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Spread out the garbanzos on a baking sheet and let them dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight. (If you forget to let them dry overnight, it’s OK; you’ll just need to cook them longer.)

Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat and cook until browned and crispy, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate; reserve the fat in the pan. Eat the bacon as snack while you cook.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Add the dried garbanzos to the pan with the rendered bacon fat. Season with a generous pinch of salt and add the rosemary. Cook over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes, then remove the rosemary sprig. Transfer the garbanzos to a baking sheet and bake until crispy, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. (If you did not dry the garbanzos overnight, bake them for 45 to 50 minutes.)

Let cool to room temp before serving.