Cowgirl Chef: Why I’m cooking with coconut oil

Posted Wednesday, May. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Peanut butter cookies with coconut oil Makes about 4 dozen This is an adaptation of my grandmother’s recipe. I’m not sure what she’d think about me using coconut oil, but if she tasted them, I don’t think she’d know the difference. They’re as crispy and light as ones made with butter — or her preferred Crisco. 1 cup coconut oil (I use refined, but either will work) 1 cup white sugar 1 cup brown sugar 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup peanut butter (I like Skippy) 2 1/2 cups flour 1 1/2 teaspoons soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper. 2. Cream the coconut oil with the sugars. 3. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. 4. Next, add the peanut butter and mix well. 5. Whisk the flour with soda, baking powder and salt and add to the mixture. Mix only until combined. 6. Spoon tablespoonfuls of dough onto your cookie sheets, then make round balls out of each one and make a crisscross with a fork, smashing the dough down slightly. Slide into the oven and bake for about 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. Be sure to rotate the pan halfway through for even baking. Nutritional analysis per cookie: 126 calories, 8 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 9 milligrams cholesterol, 98 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 52 percent of calories from fat.
Broccoli, tomato and thyme tart Makes one 10-inch tart, 8 servings You’ll notice that this tart is heavy on the veggies, less so on the eggy mixture, which is how I like it. This way, even with the rich half-and-half, it’s far lighter than the cream-rich, super-eggy quiche Lorraine. 1 head of broccoli, florets removed 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted Sea salt and pepper 1 prebaked cornmeal tart crust, recipe follows 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters A few sprigs of fresh thyme 1 cup shredded cheddar, mozzarella or a mixture of the two 3 eggs 1 cup half-and-half 1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 2. Toss the broccoli florets onto the cookie sheet, drizzle with the melted coconut oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper, and toss. Cook for 20 minutes or until the florets begin to brown. You may do this ahead of time and keep the cooked broccoli in the fridge until the next step. 3. When ready to bake the tart, scatter the broccoli florets on the bottom of the tart shell, then place the cherry tomatoes all around them. Next, add the fresh thyme and the shredded cheese. 4. Mix the eggs with the half-and-half, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, and pour over the veggies. You may need to smash them down gently with your fingers. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the tart is set. Nutritional analysis per serving: 376 calories, 21 grams fat, 37 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 105 milligrams cholesterol, 369 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.
Kale with feta and Kalamata olives Makes 4 servings 2 tablespoons coconut oil 1 clove garlic, minced 1 bunch of kale, chopped 12 Kalamata olives, chopped 2 to 3 tablespoons crumbled feta 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted Zest of 1 lemon Sea salt and pepper to taste 1. Put the coconut oil and garlic in a large skillet and turn the heat to medium. Add the kale and let it cook just until it wilts. Remove from heat, then add the rest of the ingredients. Serve warm. Nutritional analysis per serving: 144 calories, 14 grams fat, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 4 milligrams cholesterol, 355 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 81 percent of calories from fat.
Cornmeal tart crust Makes one 10-inch tart crust 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal or polenta (or blue cornmeal, for Santa Fe style) 1 teaspoon sea salt 1/4 cup coconut oil 1 tablespoon honey 1/4 cup ice water (add this a little at a time; you may not need all of it) 1. Line the bottom of a 10-inch tart pan with parchment or wax paper, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal and sea salt. Add the coconut oil and honey, and mix it up. Pour in the water bit by bit, adding just until the dough comes together in a ball. 3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle large enough to fit a tart pan. Trim the edges and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or pop in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes. 4. Blind-bake the crust. We’re just half-baking this, so let it go for about 20 minutes. If the crust edges start to become too brown, just tear off a few pieces of foil, pinch it around the edges, and continue to bake. Remove from the oven and let cool.

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I was at the grocery store checkout the other day, and when the clerk saw that I had coconut oil in my cart, she told me she loved it so much that she’s now buying 2-pound jars every week.

“Two pounds?” I asked, trying to imagine how one would use a nearly Crisco-size can of coconut oil in seven days. “What are you doing with it?”

“Everything,” she said. “I’m cooking with it and I’m using it as a moisturizer for my body. I used to work in a hospital and I was getting sick. I quit and started using coconut oil everyday. I’m not sick anymore. It’s the coconut oil.”

I am not making this up. I was buying coconut oil because I’d tried it recently and liked how easy it was to cook with, and had heard that it was good for you.

But does coconut oil live up to the hype? Can it help reduce all of our physical ailments, from heart disease to wrinkles?

This is the same stuff, remember, that ruined eating movie popcorn for us all … or is it?

Turns out, that coconut oil was partially hydrogenated (evil, bad), but what I’m talking about is virgin or refined coconut oil, high in saturated fat, and now available just about everywhere.

So what’s the skinny on coconut oil? Turns out its high levels of saturated fat may not be such a bad thing, because all saturated fats are not created equal. The saturated fats in coconut oil are known as medium chain saturated fats, which the body converts into fuel and don’t raise levels of HDL, the bad cholesterol. On top of that, these fats contain lauric acid, known for its antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties, which is why ayurvedic docs in India have long used coconut oil to kill bacteria and viruses.

Proponents of coconut oil say that it can boost energy, aid digestion, help with weight loss, and is an antioxidant, too.

That’s all fine, but how does it taste, and how does it cook?

I’m loving it. Because coconut oil has a high flash point, I’m using it instead of olive oil for sauteing and roasting veggies (as in the kale and broccoli tart recipes below). I’m also swapping it out for butter in cookies and for making crusts, and getting the same crispy results.

Know that there’s virgin or unrefined coconut oil, which is simply the oil pressed out of the meat of the coconut without anything added. That is great when you want that fragrant coconut taste, but since I’m not a coconut fan, I’ve been using the refined coconut oil instead — mild and creamy and slightly sweet.

It is also just the right thing, I’ve learned, to soothe sunburned, dry skin … an inevitable ailment when you’re living in Santa Fe, N.M. I may need to start buying 2-pound jars.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25).; @cowgirlchef.

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