Featured Ingredient: Coconut oil
Coconut oil is obtained from the “copra,” or dried meat of the coconut. The copra is separated from the hull, then dried and pressed to extract the oil.
When various health organizations began their war on saturated fat, coconut oil was quickly deemed a health pariah. It’s true that this tropical oil is loaded with saturated fat, about 12 grams per tablespoon, but most of this is in the form of lauric acid – a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT). Because of a unique structure, MCTs are more likely to be burned for energy in our bodies as opposed to being stored as body fat. Case in point: A 2008 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study that administered four to five teaspoons of MCT oil or olive oil daily to subjects for 4 months found that those consuming MCT oil lost more body weight and fat mass than those exposed to the olive variety.
Lauric acid also has anti-bacterial properties and, unlike animal-origin saturated fat that is predominantly in the form of palmitic acid, it may reduce harmful LDL cholesterol, while increasing beneficial HDL levels. Adding coconut oil to your diet may also help stabilize blood sugar levels. So it is this dietitian’s opinion that the health organizations that dissed coconut oil had it way wrong. It should be noted that when saturated fat was made out to be as desirable as a root canal, food manufactures subbed out their saturated fat and replaced it with hydrogenated vegetable oils, a.k.a trans fat. And we know how that went. While coconut oil has a lot of merits, just don’t get caught up in the World Wide Web hoopla that it is the ultimate panacea.
Because it’s highly saturated, coconut oil has a very high smoke point making it ideal for high-heat cooking like stir-frying. For baked goods, you can experiment with using 3/4 cup of coconut oil in place of every cup of butter or vegetable shortening a recipe calls for or as a straight swap for other oils. But make sure you liquefy it first (on the stovetop over low heat) before incorporating into batters. I’m going to make a more concerted effort to use this tropical delight in more of my baked items.
Not surprisingly, coconut oil (especially “virgin” varieties) does have a coconut taste and smell. Refined “non-virgin” coconut oil has more of a neutral taste for those who do not care for the coconut flavor in recipes and baking. So for cooking, you may want to purchase a more mellow flavored brand, which happens to often be cheaper and leave the ones with a stronger coconut flavor (sometimes called coconut butter) for stuff like smoothies or as a spread for toast which is totally awesome.
I’ve been meaning to try out a Yorkshire pudding recipe for this blog for some time now. This comes courtesy of mom – thanks mom! Yorkshire pudding was always a staple of our holiday repasts. I don’t understand all the science behind making a successful pudding, but apparently its best to add the batter to hot oil and a hot pan. I think it makes the outside more crispy? Instead of shortening or beef drippings, I tried out the recipe with coconut oil. These are not as light and did not rise as musch as traditional Yorkshire pudding which I attribute to the use of whole wheat pastry flour. So if you want a more airy product, by all means use all-purpose flour. The original recipe called for 30 minutes cooking time, but my puddings were a bit overcooked so I’ve suggested 25 minutes. Perhaps with the all-purpose flour it would indeed be 30 minutes. A key is to not open the oven door to peak in or they will fall.
As for the mushroom gravy, which I adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, it’s very tasty but it did not thicken up as much as I liked - what's up with that Martha? So in the instructions, I say 3 cups of broth instead of the 4 I used. This should help out a lot. I used beer to add a little hoppy bitterness, but you could also use white wine.
For my American readers, this is a little late for Thanksgiving but keep this recipe in mind for the next batch of holidays in a few weeks.
12 x ½ tsp coconut oil
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose white)
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, room temperature
½ cup milk, room temperature
1 Tbsp chopped chives (optional)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Divide coconut oil among 12 muffin cups. Place muffin cups in oven and heat for 5 minutes. In a bowl, combine flour and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and milk. Stir egg mixture and chives into flour. Don’t overmix. Divide batter among 12 hot muffin cups (about 2 spoonfuls per cup). Bake for 25 minutes without opening the oven. They are done when no longer doughy.
Mushroom Beer Gravy
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
2 shallots, diced
½ cup pilsner, lager or wheat beer (or white wine)
3 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1-2 tsp cornstarch (if needed)
Remove stems from mushrooms and place in a saucepan along with stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallots and cook until mushrooms have turned soft, about 8 minutes. Add beer and boil until reduced by about half, roughly 4 to 5 minutes. Remove mushroom caps from stock and pour stock into another container.
In the saucepan, heat remaining oil and flour over medium heat for 2 minutes. Whisk in stock and then add mushrooms and thyme. Simmer, whisking regularly, until thickened. If the gravy does not thicken, stir in cornstarch and simmer some more. Serve over Yorkshire pudding. Extras can be frozen for latter use.