Autumn is the best time for apples. They're fresh, firm and fragrant, and most varieties are readily available. Besides the crisp "eating" apples, there's an abundance of cooking apples, too--and that's where the microwave oven comes in.
Anyone who has compared a microwaved fresh apple with a conventionally baked one will agree that microwaving is the way to go. A microwaved apple is cooked in such a short time--three to five minutes compared to the traditional 40 or 50 minutes--that there's almost no loss of flavor or color. Scientists tell us that much of the fresh aroma and flavor of an apple are in substances that escape while cooking. Naturally, the shorter the cooking time, the greater the preservation of these desirable apple characteristics.
An Easy Snack
A microwaved apple is an easy after-school snack. Apples are high in fiber and potassium, low in sodium and moderate in calories.
It's easy for young and old alike to microwave an apple snack by first coring the apple, then placing it in a small microwave dish with cinnamon sugar and a small amount of water. Cover the apple with plastic wrap or a piece of wax paper and microwave on HIGH (100% power) for about three minutes or until just barely tender--cooking time will depend on the size of the apple.
Whatever its size, it is always important to puncture the skin of the apple by cutting, slitting or piercing it. A whole uncut apple might burst during microwaving due to the rapid buildup of internal steam.
For a different snack, add apple slices to a sandwich you plan to heat in the microwave. Warm apples are a wonderful flavor surprise in a sandwich, and because the microwaves penetrate the bread, the apples become slightly cooked, releasing their flavor, while the sandwich warms.
I like apple slices with a hot ham and spicy mustard sandwich, especially on rye bread. Apple slices and sharp Cheddar cheese are wonderful heated together in a croissant or on raisin bread. Caraway cheese is delightful with apple slices in a sandwich, too, on a slightly toasted English muffin. To heat each sandwich, wrap it loosely in a paper towel and microwave it on MEDIUM (50% power) for about 30 seconds.
For Quick Garnishes
With a microwave, you can easily make apple garnishes for meats, too. Try this old-fashioned Apple-Horseradish Relish for hot or cold roast pork: Peel, core and quarter 4 medium-size apples. Place in 1 1/2-quart casserole with 3 tablespoons water and microwave on HIGH 5 to 7 minutes, just until tender. In blender or food processor, process apples with water until smooth. There should be about 2 cups applesauce. Stir in three-quarters of 1 cup horseradish. Taste to adjust for seasonings. If too tart, add 1 spoonful of sugar. Makes 2 to 3 cups.
Another easy microwaved meat accompaniment is "Fried" Apples. In microwave dish, place about 1 sliced, cored apple per person (apples don't need to be peeled) with about 1 tablespoon butter per apple. Microwave on HIGH about 3 minutes per apple until tender. Stir in about 1 tablespoon honey per apple, plus dash of salt.
The Shakers, a religious group known for its simple but ingenious use of nature's bounty, like to boil apples as a dessert or meat accompaniment. With a microwave, the messy boiling pot can be discarded without changing the charm of this easy and attractive apple idea.
SHAKER "BOILED" APPLES
6 small to medium cooking apples
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
Wash apples but do not peel or core them. With table fork, lightly pierce skin around sides of each apple. Arrange apples in circle around edges of 8-inch square microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle with sugar and pour water around apples. Do not cover.
Microwave on HIGH about 5 minutes until apples and liquid are warm. Use slotted spoon to turn each apple over. Continue microwaving on HIGH about 4 to 7 minutes longer until apples are tender when pierced with fork.
With spoon, remove apples to casserole or serving dish. Continue microwaving syrup in dish on HIGH 8 to 11 minutes until slightly thickened. Carefully pour hot syrup over apples. Serve warm or cold. Makes 6 servings.
To many people, myself included, warm and homey apple desserts are comfort foods. The following two are nostalgic in flavor, but streamlined in technique and time because of the microwave.
With this dessert, the applesauce is not as thick as usual, to contrast with the crispy buttery croutons. If desired, make the croutons ahead of time. They keep fresh in a zippered plastic bag.
SPICED APPLESAUCE WITH WHEAT CROUTONS
6 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples (about 4 to 6 apples)
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
2 cups whole-wheat bread cubes
Vanilla ice cream, optional