Apples stuffed with dried fruit, ready to go into the oven

Baked apples are one of my ultimate comfort foods. They are sweet, nourishing, and warm me to the core. It's cold and rainy in New Jersey today, and I saw a few Rome apples calling my name at the grocery this morning. So, baked apples it is! I have two basic formulas, depending how much time I have. Today, I had a couple of extra minutes, so I made the slightly-more-effort version where I stuff the apples with some chopped dried fruit. It takes all of 5 minutes to prepare, but if you only have 4 minutes to spare, just leave out the dried fruit.

The worst part of preparing baked apples is coring them. I don't own an apple corer, mostly because I don't believe in gadgets, but I have a wonderful trick that makes quick work of the coring: a grapefruit knife!

Baked Apples with Dried Fruit
If you're short on time, just leave out the dried fruit. But I love the extra interest it adds, so I make an effort to leave it in. You can also vary the fruit depending on your tastes and what you happen to have.

4 large Rome apples 
4 dried apricots
4 dried dates or prunes
a handful of raisins, dried cranberries, or dried cherries
4 small pats of butter or margarine (optional)
some honey
some cinnamon
1/2 cup apple juice

Preheat the oven to 350*.

Slice a thin piece off the bottom of each apple so they stand nicely. Core the apples and put them in a 9x13 glass or aluminum pan.

If you're using dried fruit, chop each of the apricots, dates/prunes into about six pieces. Stuff each apple with about a quarter of the dried fruit. Put a tiny little pat of margarine on top of the fruit, in the center of the apple. Drizzle some honey and cinnamon over all.

Pour the apple juice around the apples (not in them) and bake for 1-2 hours, depending how soft you like them. Serve warm with ice cream if you like. Note that these refrigerate beautifully. You can serve them cold, either plain or with some yogurt and granola for a nutritious breakfast. You can also rewarm them for 15 minutes in the oven and no one will know you're serving leftovers!