Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Eating Omily: A Balanced Autumn Breakfast is a Baked Apple in Each Hand

Happy Fall Equinox! Are you ready to dive right into Autumn, or are you like many many people out there who thrive in the high, hot sunshine of Summer, and shrivel up into a little icy ball when the whispers of Winter start?

While I can't properly empathize because I love Winter, you definitely aren't alone! There are lots of ways to slowly prepare your body for the weather ahead. I find eating locally and seasonally goes a long way toward helping me appreciate each season as it comes. I'm not a fan of weather over 80 degrees, but I know we need it if I'm going to enjoy flavorful tomatoes, and juicy peaches.

While there's not a whole lot growing in the dead of a New York City Winter, this dormancy period is essential for our fruit trees, and it also kills off last year's population of pest bugs. That may not sound as sexy as a sweet, juicy peach, but I just spent a few days in Texas, where they don't get a whole lot of hard frost, and having to keep my shoes on at all times and my eyes open for scorpions, tarantulas, giant beetles, and fire ants wasn't much fun. Winter really does have its advantages, aside from the beauty of drifting snowflakes, and the fun of sledding.
I actually really like tarantulas, but would you be willing to trade Winter for these guys?
But we don't have to worry about Winter yet! We have a whole season of crisp breezes, colorful leaves, and of course, pumpkin spice everything to enjoy first! Here's a home chef secret: pumpkin is really hard to work with. It tends to be really watery, and a bit bland. You're better off with an acorn, butternut, or delicate squash (or just about any other variety of winter squash). Kabocha squash looks like a squat, greenish-blue pumpkin, and tastes like a richer, fleshier version of one. It's a beast to chop up though, so get your hands on a really good knife, or a really strong sous chef before you haul one home.
What's an easier way to bring the flavor of Fall into your kitchen? Baked apples! Trust me, you can't go wrong with these. Cheap, easy, and a crowd-pleaser.

Preheat your oven to 350 or 375, depending on how hot your oven tends to run. If you're not sure, think back to previous experiences: do you have to pull your cookies from the pan before the time the recipe suggests, or leave them after? A hot oven will brown things before they cook thoroughly; a cool oven will dry things out or turn them to mush without browning them.

Slice your apples in half from top to bottom. If you're feeling inspired, take the extra moment to cut each stem in half, too, so each half looks like a perfect apple cross section. Using a knife, or grape fruit spoons work well if you happen to have those, carve the core out of the apple. You should be left with a roundish whole in the center of each apple half. Put a little butter, up to a teaspoon, into each apple, then top it with brown sugar, or better yet, cookie crumbs. Those Italian almond cookies, or the biscoff, those extra yummy cookies you sometimes get on airplanes early in the morning, are extra awesome. I like to crush up the cookies in my mortar and pestal, and then whisk in extra spices: all spice, freshly grated nutmeg, cardamum...if there isn't cinnamon in the cookies you're using, or you're just using brown sugar, you should definitely add that, too. Cloves are another yummy choice.
Ok, if you've made it this far, you have two options:

The easy route: put a dab of butter, up to a teaspoon, on top of each pile of brown sugar or cookies crumbs. Pour half a cup of water into the baking dish, and put these babies in the oven for about half an hour. The steam from the water will help to get the apples tender all the way through, and by leaving them uncovered, they should have a chance to start browning, too.

The Over-Achiever Route: add the half cup of water, but don't top the apples with butter yet. Cover the baking pan with foil. Leave a bit uncovered, so some steam can escape. Bake for fifteen minutes. Remove the foil, brush the tops of apples and crumbs with butter, and keep baking until the water has evaporated, and the apples have browned, about another fifteen minutes.
(photo of baked apples)
These do find as leftovers (and yes, they make a great breakfast the next morning), but are, like most things, best fresh and warm from the oven. You can hold them in your hand and take bites, like a healthy Autumnal cupcake, or if they turn out really tender, cut them up with a knife and fork.
I love the pink color seeping into the flesh!
Just about anywhere in the U.S. you can get your hands on local apples this time of year, so no excuses! Welcome Autumn with this warm and fragrant celebration of the season. So do you think you'll make a batch of baked apples this Fall? Tell me how they turn out for you, and if you discover any new variations!
There were lots of nifty critters in Texas! Here I am with some bona fide, branded long horns! And yes, my deltoid is cut like a diamond, thank you. ;-)

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