Hopefully everyone survived Thanksgiving … more than survived it — enjoyed it! I made about ten times too much food for our gathering in Santa Fe, but at least everyone can live on leftovers for a while. And despite some general trepidation about the quinoa stuffing (see previous post) a whole lot of it got eaten. Now I’m back in Portland, staring two weeks of final exams and papers in the face. There isn’t going to be a lot of time to cook, but I’m determined not to fall into the junk food trap!
This year I’ve decided to make my New Year’s food shift before the holidays rather than after. Since I’ve been back in school, studying Chinese medicine, I have been exercising much less than usual, and the pounds have slowly been creeping on. Doesn’t feel good. Years of my own experimentation, as well as my patients’ experiences, have taught me that different ways of eating work for different people, and I don’t advocate any particular dogma other than: WE ALL NEED TO EAT MORE VEGETABLES AND WHOLE FOODS — AND LESS WHITE SUGAR, FLOUR AND PROCESSED FOODS!! There you have it! For me, dropping grains and white sugar is what helps those extra pounds melt away and my energy levels skyrocket.
But how to satisfy the sweet tooth? Especially during stressful times, when it’s awfully easy to turn to the Snickers bar … or whatever your equivalent is. As fruits go, I have always loved apples. As a kid, growing up in Maine, my best friend, Amy Johnson’s family had an orchard, and I used to spend every autumn Saturday there, picking apples, separating them into perfect (for the roadside stand) and less-perfect (for cider made by hand with an antique press). Amy and I would often eat nothing but apples for the entire day. I still remember the peculiar, watery feeling I would have by evening, when we would ravenously attack dinner.
My father was always on the lookout for the abandoned apple trees that scatter the roadsides in New England, relics from long-gone farms. He would turn the tiny, tart fruits into applesauce — barely sweetened, tangy and delicious. We also always had boxes of the Johnsons’ apples, some of which were heirlooms I’ve never seen anywhere else but their farm, in cold storage for the winter. My mother used to bake apples as an easy weeknight dessert, and I’m making a batch today so I have something when sugar cravings hit this week. It will happen, and the only way I have a chance of winning is by having something healthy and naturally sweet already prepared.
This recipe can also make a lovely, simple holiday dessert, dressed up with a little cream, vanilla yogurt, or a scoop of ice cream. It is a great recipe to make with kids — they will love filling the apples!
MOM’S EASY BAKED APPLES:
- 4 apples (Mackintosh, Granny Smith, Cortland — any pie apple will work well)
- 2 cups raw, unsalted almonds, walnuts or pecans
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup crystallized ginger
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil plus a bit more to grease the pan
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
With a paring knife or an apple corer, carefully remove the core from the center of each apple. (I have never before owned an apple corer, but I just found one yesterday at the local dollar store, where I was buying kitchen towels … and I have to say … it sure does make the whole operation easier!) Then slice off a piece of each apple’s top so that you have a “platform” on which to pile up the filling.
By far the fastest way to make the filling is in a food processor if you have one. But chopping and mixing it all by hand is probably much better for your soul — not to mention giving you a little exercise. If you do use a food processor, though, make sure to dice the crystallized ginger with a knife before throwing it in. Otherwise, you may end up with everything else getting ground up well, while the big lumps of tough ginger remain.
Anyway, just put everything in together, and whiz until it’s all mixed. Or chop nuts and ginger by hand, and mix in the rest of the ingredients. You will have a lumpier, more textured filling, but this is actually rather nice. This is the way my Mom did it.
Next, fill your apples. The best thing for this job is the kind of tiny souvenir silver teaspoon that some people collect. If you don’t have one, I suggest using your fingers. Just push the filling down into the middle of the apple and mound it up on the top.
Put apples in a deep baking dish, and cover the top loosely with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake until apples are soft. Take the foil off for the last five minutes or so to brown the tops. Baking times will vary by type of apple and your particular oven. The batch I just made took about a half hour. I used four different kinds of apples, and the Granny Smith was done way before the others.
Enjoy! And remember … an apple a day keeps the doctor away, which is exactly what we’re trying to do here!