THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The apple of my eye

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALFor the past several years, along with my usual brown bagged lunch of various cooked vegetables and my hybrid herbal and black tea, I’ve also packed an apple for my daily midday meal. Early in my career, my lunch consisted of a sandwich and some type of vegetable. The side dish eventually morphed into cooked vegetables when the Mrs. felt that overindulgence during our annual vacations led to unwanted waist expansion, and she felt that we should simply consume vegetables for lunch to balance the excesses over the past week or two. This eventually led to daily vegetable consumption, even if we weren’t returning from a vacation, which meant changing up the usual vegetable side course. Apples are available all year round, so they eventually replaced those carrot and celery sticks or steamed broccoli.

photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Does a Daily Apple Keep the Doctor Away?
A medium sized specimen of the variants of Malus pumila provide about 50 calories, two and a half grams of dietary fiber, mainly the soluble type of fiber that lowers cholesterol, along with riboflavin, pyridoxine, Vitamin C and K and manganese, phosphorus and potassium, so by itself it won’t keep the doctor away, but along with other healthy lifestyle habits, it will definitely contribute to overall wellness.
And along with that pleasing crunch combining both sweet and tart qualities, it also cooks down to superb side dishes and desserts, satisfying both the savory and sweet spectrum of the culinary world.

As Is
Over the years, I’ve whittled down the types of apples I carry in my lunch bag. The most common is that evenly speckled sweet, fragrant and crisp cross of a Golden Delicious and Kidd’s Orange Red created down under in New Zealand back in the 1930s. The Gala usually is the perfect snacking size, and when purchased at peak, it’s rare to find a mushy or mealy specimen. Because it was first created in New Zealand, you can still find ideal specimens long after Washington’s apple season has passed as New Zealand’s seasons are the opposite of those experienced stateside so they’re available at peak for most of the year.

That is, until I sampled the Envy apple, a cross between a mutation of the Gala apple, the Royal Gala and the Braeburn. And once again, it was created down under in New Zealand, so it’s available almost year-round. With slightly more acidity than the Gala, but a rounder flavor profile and just as crisp, the only issue was the size, as the initial specimens available at our local supermarkets were about as huge large Fuji apples. But recently, I’ve seen prepacked bags of Envy miniatures for that perfect snacking size.

Of course, if I could, I would still select any apple freshly picked from Uncle Richard’s apple tree on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, north of Seattle, over any apple from the supermarket. You see, Uncle Richard has just one apple tree, but he’s grafted almost a dozen different apples on that one tree so one section may contain Jonathan apples while another section sprouts Jonagold and another Fuji, and so forth. And the one thing you never have to worry about with a freshly picked apple is a mealy or mushy texture.

Making cider. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

When Uncle Richard had a bumper crop of apples and you have consumed as many as humanely possible and still have several Zip Top bags of sliced frozen apples, what do you do? Make fresh apple cider of course, via a recycled washing machine motor and crude slicing device. Those sliced apples are then squeezed through a manual press to extract every last bit of fresh apple juice. Of course, the next time we visit Uncle Richard, I’ll have my own recipe for brewing some real hard apple cider!

With a Little Heat
The phrase “as American as apple pie” now carries a bit of irony, given that China is now the biggest producer of apples in the world, growing almost half of the world’s supply. But once you’ve had your fill of fresh apples, the next step is to cook the leftovers and apple pie is usually the first dish created with the overabundance of the season. And while I do enjoy a nice warm slice of apple pie, the following dessert immediately became my favorite apple dessert after I first sampled this mixture of fresh apples and an almost cheesecake-like batter, but with no guilt, as the original rendition called for fat free cream cheese. While this is no longer is available, the reduced fat version is almost as guilt free.

Cinnamon Apple Cake. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Cinnamon Apple Cake
1 and 1/2 c sugar
6 oz reduced fat cream cheese
1/2 c butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1 and 1/2 c flour
1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
3 c peeled, cored, chopped apples (2 large or 3 medium)

Mix the first four ingredients until smooth. Add one egg at a time until thoroughly incorporated. In another bowl mix flour, baking powder and salt. In a third bowl mix 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Add 2 tbsp of cinnamon mixture to apples until well coated. Mix the dry ingredients into the first bowl until smooth. Add the apple mixture. Pour it into an 8-inch pre-greased (Pam) springform pan. Top with rest of cinnamon mixture (you may not use all of it). Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 75 minutes or until the cake starts to pull away from sides of the pan. Cool on rack. Cut into 12 wedges with serrated knife. Can be enjoyed warm, room temperature or even cold.

Or if you’re still in the mood for apple pie, how about this freeform apple crostata? The pate brisee dough recipe is from the domestic diva herself, Martha Stewart, and is as simple as pie dough gets. The hole in the middle of the crostata allows moisture to escape during baking but also functions as a perfect holder for a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Apple Crostata
Crust:
2 and 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. With the machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process for more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

Filling
About 3 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/4 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
Cornstarch mixed with water

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a medium saucepan then add all of the ingredients except the cornstarch. Once the apples have started to soften, stir in the cornstarch until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and cool.

After the dough has rested for at least 1 hour, divide it in half and roll out until it’s about ¼ inch thick. Spoon about one-half of the apple mixture in the middle of the dough then fold the edges over the apples leaving a golf ball sized hole in the middle. Sprinkle with course sugar then bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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