Celebrating My Favorite Fall Ingredient: Coconut Oil
Some of you know that I live in San Diego, which I love. You may also know (if you read my post on pumpkin puree) that I feel a little left out of the fall rituals that I cherished during my years living back East — pulling out the cardigans, folding up and putting away all my "summer clothes," switching to roasted dinners, eating winter squash (I just had perfect watermelon, and it's November!). But I had a glimmer of a cold front arriving the other day. I hopped out of the shower, grabbed my jar of coconut oil, and it was solid. You see, coconut oil melts at 76 degrees F, so it has been probably 10 months since I've seen solid coconut oil in my home. I can officially join the rest of the country celebrating autumn. Solid coconut oil is my personal version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte — it lets me know it’s OK to start my holiday shopping.
Coconut oil is perhaps the most purchased and used oil in my house, because I use it in the kitchen and as a beauty product; I have one jar in the pantry and one in my bathroom. This versatile oil is solid at comfortable room temperature, but its low melting point means it is usually on the brink of melting. This is actually a huge plus, because it can act like solid fats (butter, shortening) in a cool room, but just adding a few more degrees of heat will enable you to treat it like almost any other oil (with an amazing subtle taste). So if you want to cook with it as a solid (try replacing some of the shortening or butter in crust), then you would likely want to chill it a little in the refrigerator (or just keep your kitchen cold). If you want to cook with coconut oil as a flavorful substitute for other oils (try sauteing carrots in coconut oil with some shallots and chipotle powder), then you can just spoon out the oil and let it melt in a pan — or pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. To use coconut oil as a beauty product, I just scoop out a little and place it in my palm, where it melts from my skin's heat within seconds.
There are probably a million possible uses for coconut oil, but if you are new to it, I want to get you started with just a few of my favorite ways to use it for eating and for beauty. I'd love to hear if you try any of them and how you use coconut oil too.
- Spread it on toasted bread and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
- When you're making apple crumble, use coconut oil instead of butter in your oat/flour/brown sugar topping mixture.
- Spread it around the griddle with a basting brush to make even, golden-brown pancakes (no hot-oil spots).
- Add a spoonful of coconut oil to my pumpkin-banana smoothie; the fat boost will keep you full all morning long.
- Toss cubed butternut squash with 2 tablespoons coconut oil, add some chopped rosemary and a dash of cinnamon, brown sugar and black pepper, then roast at 375 degrees F until tender (about 40 minutes).
- Pop your popcorn in coconut oil for the faintest hint of flavor (I do it just how my mom did it when I was a kid: in a soup pot, over a gas flame, shaking like crazy).
- Make chocolate coconut shell ice cream or a frozen banana topping: Microwave 1 cup chocolate chips with 1 or 2 tablespoons coconut oil and stir until smooth. Either dip a frozen banana into the coating or pour it onto a bowl of ice cream. The chocolate will harden into a shell when it hits the cold surface.
- Mix 1 cup almond butter with 1/4 cup melted coconut oil and add a few tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa. Stir well and chill. (Add some maple syrup if you want it sweeter.) Use it on figs or as a delicious chocolatey spread for toast.
- Coconut oil makes a fantastic all-over body oil, but I also use it as a cuticle oil or lip balm.
- At night, I gently rub some on my eyes as an eye-makeup remover that leaves my skin moisturized for the night.
- Before bed, I slather some coconut oil on my dry, crusty feet (ew!), slip on some socks and wake up with healed heels.
- A tiny dab of coconut oil makes a great (cheap!) hair serum when I am going for the super-straight look.
- It's also a super-pleasant-smelling diaper cream.