Cuckoo For CoCoNut (Oil that is)

The last two months have brought about great changes in my kitchen. We have recently discovered that many of my 7-year-old’s chronic pain issues are due to numerous, severe allergies- both food and environmental. I was already committed to having a “non-processed” pantry and she was already gluten-free so I thought I had the home-cooking lifestyle down pat. But the discovery of allergies to all grains, many fruits and vegetables, and to other basics including olive oil and raw local honey, really set my mind whirling. So much of what I thought was healthy was in fact hurting her. Though I was truly grateful to finally get some answers for my girl I felt depressed, overwhelmed, and totally ill equipped for the task at hand. But, being a somewhat plucky, hard-to-keep-down kind of gal, I quickly got over my pity party and did the best thing I could do. I started to research and started to get into the kitchen and experiment.

THE RESEARCH

One of the things that was important for me to find right away was a casein-free, non-animal fat that would be friendly to her system and that would have the structure to work well in baked goods, in cooked meals, and on occasion for deep frying. I also wanted something that would be healthy and not create inflammation in her gut which so desperately needs to heal. I was surprised when my research continued to point me towards coconut oil. There’s a lot of hype about coconut oil right now, and I am a somewhat skeptical person (and we won’t even talk about the skepticism emanating from my scientist husband). So here is some of what I deem the most reliable information. Please research for yourself to find what works for you.

NOT your mama’s popcorn oil:

At first, I was very leery of the idea of coconut oil. After all I am certainly old enough (though I will avoid going into too much detail on that fact) to remember the movie theatre popcorn scare of the early ’90′s. Weren’t we told that this highly saturated fat was worse than butter and lard, and had in fact been clogging the arteries of movie-goers for generations? Come to find out, not all coconut oil is created equal. Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutritional science at Cornell University, shed some scientific light on the study that created the popcorn panic. In a March 2011 interview with the New York Times Brenna said, “Most of the studies involving coconut oil were done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which researchers used because they needed to raise the cholesterol levels of their rabbits in order to collect certain data”. Brenna went on to say “Virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, is a different thing in terms of health risk and maybe it isn’t so bad for you after all.” This started to set my mind at ease. It wasn’t a health risk but- did that make it good for us? (Twinkies aren’t a declared “health risk” either but I’m not feeding those to my kids).

The Good, The Bad, and The Balancing Act

So isn’t it true that coconut oil raises LDL (the bad guy) cholesterol levels? The short answer is Yes. But, Marisa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association reminds us that one number doesn’t determine heart disease risk. Doctors generally worry about patients when the bad guy numbers far outweigh the good. The key is keeping the “LDL” (bad) levels in rational balance to the “HDL” (good) cholesterol levels. This is where coconut oil steps in. Moore says “The main saturated fat in virgin coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Lauric acid increases levels of both good HDL, and bad LDL in the blood, and helps to keep the overall ratio of the two in check.” Huffington post offers a more detailed explanation here.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/coconut-oil-benefits_b_821453.html

Organic, Raw, Hydrogenated, Expeller Pressed…Can’t we all just call it OIL?

No, we really can’t just call it oil because each of these words describe a totally different product. Reputable organizations including the Mayo Clinic have issued warnings to avoid any coconut oils labeled “hydrogenated” due to its cholesterol raising trans-fat levels. Organic describes the growing methods for the coconut itself. And terms like raw, expeller pressed, and refined have to do with the processing methods of the oil. I could sit here all night explaining it to you-OR- I could just find a good blog that has done the work for me and give you the link (it’s getting late- here, you go) http://kellythekitchenkop.com/2009/02/raw-virgin-unrefined-organic-expeller-pressed-coconut-oil-which-is-best.html

Treatment from the Tropics

So now that we know what to call it, what does it do for us? Here are just a few of the many healthy benefits people have experienced because of an increase in lauric acid from the regular use of coconut oil.
• Improved Heart Health
• Boosted Thyroid
• Increased Metabolism
• Strengthened Immune System
• Smoother, Younger-Looking Skin both from ingestion and topical application
• Thicker, Shinier Hair both from ingestion and topical application
• Reduced Inflammation in the gut, muscles, and joints

For Your Furry Friends: (Thanks to fellow BB Blogger Tina W. for contributing this info)

Yes- according to many pet owners, the benefits of coconut oil can be passed on to the canine in your life. Dogs can enjoy the same health benefits listed above and enjoy these other perks:
• Use as topical relief for crusty noses and pads
• Add to food to help with skin issues and make coats shiny
• Use as a doggy toothpaste
Include in this yummy recipe for homemade dog treats!

THE EXPERIMENT

After my research was done the fun part began. I was pretty sure coconut oil was going to work for my daughter, but how would it taste? And would it be versatile enough to use in lots of different recipes?

This is OIL?:

When I brought home my first jar of coconut oil it was like holding my first baby. I knew it was a good thing, but it wasn’t quite what I expected, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to care for it. When first purchased, the oil is solid (this is how you know it wasn’t hydrogenated). It will soften and melt at temperatures around 75 degrees. Before the first use, I put my jar into a bowl of warm water and let it sit until it was completely liquefied. My house is warm enough that it never went back to its solid state. If you are keeping it in a cooler area it might harden up again. If this happens just put it back into that warm water and let it soften up again. Good quality coconut oil has a very long shelf life. You will know it is still good by its smell and color. It should smell fresh and look clear as a liquid and white as a solid. If it smells rancid or looks brown and very cloudy, it is time to replace your supply.

Flops and Favorites:

As I began working with the oil I learned that quality, virgin coconut oil has a nutty sweetness with a hint of vanilla. In most recipes it is not overpowering but adds an unexpected twist that most people have seemed to enjoy. It is milder and sweeter than butter but does not leave the heavy feeling that I often associate with animal fats. It’s flavor and processing give it more versatility than olive oil. It can withstand high temperatures without burning, and does not get a bitter flavor when mixed with dark greens- in fact it is a beautiful accompaniment.

I will admit that some of the recipes in which I used coconut oil were not a success. When used in savory dishes such as Italian, tomato-based pasta sauces or Southwestern meals the sweetness of the coconut stood out and, well, let’s just say hubby walked away from the dinner table looking for more- but not more of what I had originally served. (I kind of knew those would not be a hit but had to try- in the name of culinary science) I have not yet had success using coconut oil in place of solid butter in baked goods but I know that others have, so I have not yet given up on that attempt.

I have found that I love coconut oil in main dishes that are designed to have a hint of sweetness such as my Sweet Pepper Stir Fry and a family favorite Coconut Curried Vegetables. I have used it in several grain-free baked good recipes including Banana Walnut Bread, and have been pleased with the results. I have also started using it to replace melted butter in some of my favorite desserts. Gluten-free donuts cooked in coconut oil were a successful (albeit costly) treat, and I would imagine that breaded chicken or coconut crusted shrimp cooked in the oil would be equally delicious.

There are several other recipes I want to attempt. I am particularly intrigued by the homemade chocolate ice cream topping from Thomas Keller. Supposedly it works just like my guilty pleasure “Magic Shell” (I know, it’s sick but I love that stuff). Although I haven’t tried it yet, it sounds so fabulous I decided to include the recipe published in the New York Times.

This is such a healthful, versatile ingredient that it has become one of my new favorites. I have had a lot of fun seeing which recipes will handle a “coconut makeover”. I hope that you will try some of my concoctions and experiment with your own; then come back and share your favorite ways of incorporating coconut oil into your meals. Happy Cooking!

Sweet Pepper Stir Fry

Ingredients

  • Coconut Oil
  • 2 Chicken thighs Sliced or 1 cup Frozen Edamame (or both!)
  • 2-3 large Red Peppers sliced
  • 2-3 large Green Peppers sliced
  • Snow Peas
  • Carrots thinly sliced
  • Celery sliced
  • Water Chestnuts- thinly sliced
  • Ginger- finely diced
  • about 1/4 cup Vegetable or chicken stock
  • about 3/4 cup Coconut milk (We use Trader Joes- canned)
  • Thai Basil
  • Green Onions
  • Cashews

Instructions

  1. In a bowl mix together the stock and the coconut milk- set aside.
  2. In a wok or large skillet heat about 2 Tbl Coconut oil
  3. On a high heat stir-fry the chicken until fully cooked remove and set aside.
  4. Add more coconut oil if needed. Stir-fry the peppers, peas, carrots, celery, and water chestnuts until slightly browned but not fully soft.
  5. Add in the chicken (or edamame) and the ginger and mix. Pour in the broth/milk mixture. This should get very hot and start to reduce right away. Let it cook until the sauce is thick and just coating the veggies.
  6. Serve the veggie mix over rice or noodles and top with chopped basil, green onions, and cashews as desired.


Coconut No-Bake Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 c cup coconut milk (I use canned from Trader Joes)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3-3 1/2 cups Gluten Free Rolled Oats
  • Optional Mix-ins: Mini Marshmallows, raisons, nuts, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, dried fruit

Instructions

  1. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper
  2. Stir sugar and cocoa together until well blended
  3. Measure the oats into a separate bowl and stir in any "mix-ins" that you want
  4. In a large pot combine oil, milk, and sugar mix.
  5. Stir constantly and bring to a good boil over med. high heat
  6. Once it is boiling remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Stir in the oat mixture until well coated. If it seems runny add more oats a little at a time until you get the right consistency. (no liquid should spread from the cookie when they are dropped onto the parchment)
  7. Drop by Tablespoons onto the parchment. Let the cookies sit until they are firm (you may need to refrigerate)

Coconut Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients

  • 8-10 Cups of Air Popped Popcorn
  • 1/2 Cup of Coconut Oil
  • 1 Cup of light Brown Sugar (or comparable substitute)
  • 1/ 2 Cup of White Karo Syrup (Or honey)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • Sea Salt (optional)

Instructions

  1. Stir oil, sugar, and syrup together until it starts to bubble.
  2. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and salt if desired.
  3. Pour over popcorn and stir to thoroughly coat.
  4. Form into balls or just eat as is.
  5. This gives a very light coating to the popcorn, and has a nice taste that is not overwhelming.

Coconut Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 Cups Plain Cake Flour (if you need this gluten free use your preferred mix- I like Annalise Robert's brown rice flour mix. For a Paleo option mix 1 cup sorghum flour and 1/4 cup coconut flour)
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate chopped fine
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) semi sweet choc. chips
  • 3/4 cup Coconut Oil
  • 2 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1 T Vanilla Extract

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 325 and line a 13x9 baking pan with foil- spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and set aside
  3. Melt chocolate with the coconut oil over a double boiler.
  4. When completely melted remove from heat and gradually whisk in sugar.
  5. Add eggs one at a time whisking after each until thoroughly combined.
  6. Whisk in vanilla.
  7. Add flour mix in three additions folding with rubber spatula.
  8. Fold in an extra handful of chocolate chips if desired.
  9. Bake 30-35 min. Cool 2 hours then cut and enjoy!

Grain Free Banana Walnut Bread

Ingredients

  • 2 Large Extrememly Ripe Bananas
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 3 T Coconut Oil
  • Juice of half a Lemon
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 6 oz ground almonds
  • 2 oz chopped walnuts

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325. Line a 9 inch square pan with foil and grease the foil.
  2. Using a food processor mix together bananas, eggs, oil, juice, and salt. When well blended add in the baking soda and blend a bit more. Pour in the almonds and blend to incorporate. Use a rubber spatula to spread the batter into the pan. Drop the walnuts onto the surface and bake for 30-40 mins. Let thoroughly cool before slicing.

Chocolate Shell Ice Cream Topping from Thomas Keller (New York Post)

Ingredients

  • 7 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Melt the chocolate in a small metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir in the coconut oil and heat until dissolved, about 1 minute. Keep the liquid lukewarm until ready to pour over the ice cream. Chocolate will harden into a shell within a few seconds when spooned over ice cream

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11 Responses to “Cuckoo For CoCoNut (Oil that is)”

  1. Denise Robertson says:

    The no bake chocolate coconut cookies were amazing thanks for posting this easy recipe. It is not hard to make gluten free for those that need it. Thanks again. This blog is on my favorites bar….

  2. Hannah says:

    I am so happy bountiful baskets started carrying coconut oil and at such a great price too! I want the recipe to your coconut curried vegetables, it sounds wonderful! I love using it as an all over body moisturizer and eye makeup remover and also in place of oil in granola. Such a yummy versatile oil.

  3. Michelle says:

    Can you tell me how I can order this in between the weeks BB does not offer THIS specific CO? We use it for everything and the 1/2 gallon only lasts 2 weeks min in our house! I need to be able to keep our family supplied and we have grown quite fond of this particular “brand”. The label does not offer any hint as to where we could purchase this.

  4. Jane says:

    My girls also have multiple food allergies and coconut oil is such a blessing! Thanks for your recipes here too. Also, a favorite resource of mine for food allergy recipes is Living Without Magazine, and they have a website too. :) Also cookbooks by Cybele Pascal are great for allergy free cooking.

  5. JoAnn Williams says:

    Thanks Jen- I hope you enjoy the recipes as much as we do. Jennifer Fite- thanks for the info. I’m always up for more ideas and support. Good luck to you and your son.

  6. Jennifer Fite says:

    I have a 7 year old son with severe allergies also and a picky eater on top of that. If you haven’t already checked it out, try the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. They have wonderful information and some great recipes too!

  7. Jen says:

    I loved the post! Thanks for the info and I’m so glad you included recipes. I’m definitely trying most of these!

  8. JoAnn Williams says:

    Oh Sara- that sounds awesome! I am definitely trying the fudge. Thanks for giving that suggestion!

  9. Sara says:

    Since I’ve started trying to eat more Paleo (and feed my family that way, too), our favorite dessert has become “paleo freezer fudge”. So easy.

    1 cup coconut oil
    1 cup cocoa powder
    ~2tbsp honey
    Add whatever nuts, dried fruit, etc, you want (we like coconut, almonds and dried cranberries)

    Mix first three ingredients in a blender (or even just with a fork in a bowl!). Once smooth, add fruit/nuts and mix again. Pour either into a parchment lined cookie sheet/pan or into muffin cups. Place in freezer for 1 hr (or you can place in the fridge for 2-3 hours). So decadent and delicious!!

  10. We are hoping to continue to offer it! Remember for the best selection the website turns on Monday at noon and you can make your contribution then!

  11. Sheryl Chimenti says:

    Please keep ordering the coconut oil… I have tried for three weeks now to get it. This week I had it ordered but when I checked out it was gone…so it deleted it from my order…please get more if possible

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