Baby James turned four weeks old yesterday. Things are going pretty well within the confines of caring for an infant who, like most babies, needs to eat every two hours, poops and spits up a lot, and sleeps only if you're holding him - put him down and he wakes up, it's his most consistent trick so far - and a three-year-old who is accustomed to having the full attention of two or more adults at all times and is not quite ready to give that lifestyle up in favor of a more self-sufficient one (can't say I blame him, really.)
Luckily, there are two of us (hats off to all the single parents out there - I do not know how you do it...) and we have a lot of help from family and friends which makes a huge difference.
Needless to say, my ability to cook is a tad limited at the moment, though, thankfully, I know that all this -- the sleeplessness, the never having more than one hand free, the tantrums, the constant nursing, the near-constant diaper changes and the daily loads of impossibly small, spit up and poop-covered garments and soiled burp cloths -- is temporary! This hard-won perspective does make the second child just a wee bit easier than the first when the future seemed to stretch out before me like a bleak, sleepless, crying-filled nightmare... I actually find myself enjoying the baby a lot of the time (when he's not crying.)
But my big brother and my two adorable nieces are in town for a little visit this week so I handed the baby off to his dad during our older son's nap in order to pull together a simple but tasty dinner of grilled cheeseburgers with avocado and tomato, the world's best oven fries, a green salad with dried cranberries and toasted pepitas, and even (gasp!) DESSERT.
I decided to make baked apples for three reasons: 1) They are yummy and comforting and warm, 2) It is apple season and the Hudson Valley is bursting with delicious, crisp, sweet-tart fruit, and, 3) Perhaps most importantly, they are amazingly easy to make.
I think baked apples are good pretty much any way but I included crystallized ginger to spice things up a bit (my husband loves ginger) along with some toasted pecans we had leftover from another meal.
The rest was easy - brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, butter, and some fresh apple cider that we got at a wonderful cider press party we'd gone to a few days earlier.
I mixed up the filling in a bowl.
Cored the apples, stopping an inch above the bottom to avoid going all the way through.
Then stuffed them, topped them with butter, arranged them in a baking dish so that none would tip over while baking, and poured some of the cider into the bottom. Topped it with foil and put it into the oven for a while.
My advice: Eat with ice cream. to let the wonderful syrupy, spiced cider mix with the melting vanilla - it makes a great companion to the soft, sweet, slightly tart flesh of the apple and the sugary, nutty, gingery filling. A delightful fall treat and so easy that even a sleep-deprived woman with a four-week-old baby and a three-year-old can make it to boot.
Baked Apples With Candied Ginger & Toasted Pecans
* 4 large, fresh baking apples (Rome, Golden Delicious, or Jonagold)
* 1/4 cup brown sugar
* 1 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/8 tsp ground cloves
* 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
* 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
* 2 Tbsps finely chopped crystallized ginger
* 1 Tbsp butter
* A pinch of salt
* 3/4 cup apple cider (or water if you don't have cider)
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash your apples then remove their cores to about 1/2 inch above the bottom of the apple. I used an apple corer in combination with a small, sharp paring knife- it was kind of messy/clumsy but worked. You should have a hole roughly an inch wide that does not go all the way through the apple.
2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pecans. Place the apples in a small baking pan - you want one small enough to keep all the apples upright but not so small that they're crowded - they'll bake better if they're not touching. Stuff each apple with the filling mixture and top with a small pat of butter.
3. Add the cider (or water) to the baking dish and bake the apples for 30-40 minutes, taking them out several times to baste them with the cider in the bottom of the dish, until they are tender, but not mushy. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
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