Friday, January 8, 2010

Baked Apples, done the easy way

If you'll recall from my first Foodie Friday post here at Midwest Parents, I am not a great cook. What I cook well must be simple and fast and please the masses. For this installment, I ask you to imagine, if for only a moment, the following scenario:
You find yourself living in post-Soviet-era Russia, yea, Siberia, in a small flat with barely-a-kitchen(ette). Your barely-12-month-old is along for the ride while you are teaching English a few days a week. In the kitchen(ette), where you cook almost all the meals for yourself and said baby, you have a non-stick frying pan, a sauce pan and a few utensils to cook with. It's winter and, it is a bit of an understatement to say, the fruits and vegetables available at market are scarce. Sure, you've brought along packets of Hi-C mix from the United States so that the baby can at least get a regular dose of vitamin C, that is, once you boil the water to remove any bacteria and you grind the coarse sugar you can afford at market into powder that will dissolve and you make the drink mix and let it cool down and then you give it to the baby. But a baby can't live on Hi-C alone. She needs more vitamins. But the only fruits that are easy to find are apples, bananas, and lemons.
I'm not making this up. The year was 1995, the baby is now almost 16 years old, and me? Me? I was crazy for ever taking on such a challenge. But nonetheless, I did it, and there I was in Siberia in the winter with a baby. There are only so many days in a row that the baby can eat bananas and apple slices before it gets a little old. So I started getting creative. (Necessity is the mother of invention, afterall.) One afternoon I came up with "baked" apples.

I put "baked" in quotation marks because these are not the kind of apples that are carefully cored and then peeled just around the edge and filled with sugar and cinnamon and baked in the oven. No, these "baked" apples are made in a frying pan in 5 minutes. Great for a crazy and adventuresome new mom in Siberia...and great for a more reserved mom 15 years later in the midwest.

You'll need:
1 honey crisp apple
1 tablespoon salted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
(+ sour cream or vanilla ice cream to complement the apples when served)

Let's start with the apples. Since we're in the midwest where our varieties are aplenty (unlike Siberia), indulge yourself in some Honey Crisps.

I just found out about honey crisp apples this fall. Turns out that they are hands down the best apples for baking that there are out there. They retain their texture well, their flavor is good and tart, and their color holds even after being heated.

One apple will be enough for 2-3 people. Slice it into quarters and take out the core. Then slice each quarter into thin slices, giving you 20 or so total slices to cook.

I had a cutting board in Siberia too. This one looks much like the one I had there. Um, eep.
No matter, it works well.

Now, get a non-stick skillet and heat it over medium heat. Add butter to skillet and melt it. Once it is melted, spread the butter throughout the surface of the skillet. Add the apples right away and spread evenly on the skillet surface. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, sprinkled generously over the apple slices. Then sprinkle 1 teaspoon cinnamon over the sugar-covered apple slices.

Let this cook over the heat for about 3-4 minutes. Since the apple slices are thin, they will cook quickly. Don't stir the apples at all until they get a chance to cook.

Some of the sugar will gradually slip off the apples and mix with the butter in the skillet. When you notice it start bubbling and creating a syrup, stir the entire apple mixture, trying to flip each slice over.

Cook the apples for only one minute longer. Remove from the skillet immediately and put into a covered dish to keep warm until serving.

Once you are ready to dole out the apples, garnish the fruit with a dollop of sour cream. The homemade sour cream in Siberia, smetana, was incredible, as creamy as it was biting. It was the perfect complement to any sweet fruit. Since we don't have smetana in the United States, if you want to try the apples as a smooth desert, try serving them with vanilla ice cream instead (yum!).

While in Siberia, the baby loved these apples, and so did her mom ;-) Now I have a new baby. My guess is that once she starts solid food, she will like them just as much as her older sister did. Also, not only is the taste of the apples kid-approved, the recipe is as easy as it gets. Just so I can convince you of how easy this recipe really is, when I prepared and cooked them for this post (as well as photographed them), the baby was wrapped around me in her baby sling. That's an instant winner for me.

I hope you enjoy!

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