Monday, May 21, 2018
Features and More

From coconut oil to freshly grated coconut meat, the versatile fruit is smash hit in recipes

I have a long history with the coconut, starting when I was a child on a Navy base in San Juan, Puerto Rico. � In our yard, we had a mile-high papaya tree, a wild and fruitful mango and several coconut palms, plus there were more in the neighborhood. We loved it when the big bombs fell to the ground; we were never adept at scaling the spindly, sloping trees to pluck the fruit as we'd seen the locals do. Armed with screwdrivers to get us started, my buddies and I would hack into the tough, fibrous husk to get to the fruit inside. Then we smashed the hard shells in the street, not caring one whit about the coconut water inside or that the shards could easily pierce our bare feet.

We'd sit on the curb, pick out the meat and chomp away. An island delight for sure, but nothing like the sweetened flakes we are accustomed to today.

Since then, I've sipped coconut water purchased from roadside stands in India, and more recently at the base of California Lighthouse in Aruba. In both places, a machete replaced our screwdrivers, and the top of the coconut, green husk and all, expertly hacked and colorful straw plunged inside. I paid $1. At my grocery store, I see coconut water marketed as miracle juice, at about $3 for 12 ounces.

In the last couple years, I've enjoyed many pina coladas on the decks of cruise ships and even made a few at home. When I eat Thai, I always order a curry laced with coconut. I've mastered the art of macaroons (I like mine dipped in chocolate) and toasting sweetened coconut flakes without burning them.

I always thought of myself as a peanut butter girl, but I am rethinking that label.

Recent travels are one reason I've been thinking about coconut more, but coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat, has also been in the news recently. Where once it was reviled, especially the variety used in theater popcorn, virgin coconut oil is now being touted as a "good" oil that can help improve brain function and relieve stress, among other benefits. Non-virgin — that is, refined — oil doesn't get the high health marks.

Erin Meagher, owner and founder of Kelapo Coconut Oil in Tampa, says plant-based fats are processed differently in the body. They are burned quicker and not stored, she says, and that's partially why coconut oil is getting another look. Vegans like it as a replacement for butter for some recipes because it's spreadable and a solid at 76 degrees. Meagher puts a tablespoon in her oatmeal every morning.

Kelapo's cold-press extra-virgin coconut oil is organic, the fruit coming from trees in Sri Lanka. Meagher started the company in 2009 and now sells the product all around the country, mostly in health food and specialty markets, and it is widely available at such stores in the Tampa Bay area. You won't find it in major grocery stores — yet. (Kelapo.com can help you find a store near you.)

I used coconut oil in the Fresh Coconut Muffin With Crunchy Streusel and Coconut Poke Cake recipes that accompany this story, both of which were delicious. The flavor of the oil is subtle, but Meagher and other users say that it makes their baked goods fluffier and pie crusts flakier. You could substitute vegetable oil, which is what the recipes originally called for.

I used freshly grated coconut in the muffins, and with just ½ cup sugar, the muffins aren't overly sweet — but they are abundantly coconut-y, thanks to the oil, coconut milk, shredded coconut and coconut extract. There's a bit more sugar in the coconut streusel that bakes to a crunchy, golden topper. For those who don't want to go to the trouble of grating a fresh coconut, try either unsweetened or sweetened flakes, each bringing something a bit different to the final product.

The Poke Cake recipe, which is simply a doctored cake mix, is a showstopper. A thick melange of coconut cream and sweetened condensed milk is poured over the just-out-of-the-oven cake, which quickly soaks in the flavor. I toasted the coconut for the top, taking the cake from snow white to brown-speckled, which looks more interesting. Plus, toasting provides more depth of flavor.

Besides the intense coconut taste, the beauty of this cake is that it can be made at least one day ahead. It gets better as it chills.

I hauled out my deep-fryer to make coconut shrimp and was thrilled with the results. So was the family. The wolverines snarfed up 2 pounds of shrimp in just minutes. I saved some for a freezer test and can report that it was a success. The directions are included with the recipe.

It went so well, I am planning on making a batch to freeze for the in-laws coming this weekend. An impressive appetizer for their first night in town, especially dipped into a mango-rum sauce.

Of course, they might just want to see me smash a coconut on the sidewalk. An entertaining technique, if just a bit unorthodox.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.

   
Comments
Restaurant review: Baytenders Oyster Bar & Steamer is a low-key, friendly spot to gather

Restaurant review: Baytenders Oyster Bar & Steamer is a low-key, friendly spot to gather

ST. PETERSBURG Brian Storman has had a long and colorful career in the Tampa Bay area. In the 1980s he had the insanely popular Storman’s Palace in Feather Sound, which in 2008 became the grownup playground "ultralounge" called the Venue (25,0...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Taste test: new (and very sugary) cereals

Taste test: new (and very sugary) cereals

My addiction to sugar began as a child. I loved sugary breakfast cereals as a morning meal or an evening snack, the sweeter the better. We used to joke in my house that I even added table sugar to Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms. Thankfu...
Published: 05/21/18
Florida Orchestra closes 50th masterworks season with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

Florida Orchestra closes 50th masterworks season with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra wraps up its final masterworks concert of the season with a masterfully complex Johannes Brahms piano concerto and Ludwig van Beethoven’s warmly accessible Symphony No. 6, commonly known as the "Pastoral."Friday’s sold-o...
Published: 05/19/18
Walt’s Fish Market, a Sarasota institution, to celebrate its 100th anniversary

Walt’s Fish Market, a Sarasota institution, to celebrate its 100th anniversary

A Sarasota seafood fixture is celebrating its 100th anniversary.Walt’s Fish Market, Restaurant and Tiki Bar, 4144 S Tamiami Trail, will host a party at noon on Sunday complete with a mechanical shark, live music, live auctions, silent auctions, an al...
Published: 05/18/18
Prince Charles to walk Meghan Markle down aisle at royal wedding

Prince Charles to walk Meghan Markle down aisle at royal wedding

WINDSOR, England — Prince Charles will walk Meghan Markle down the aisle at the royal wedding — stepping in after the father of the bride fell ill just days before the ceremony. Kensington Palace said Friday that Markle’s future father-in-law, the he...
Published: 05/18/18
Unique bond helps carry Robinson, Alonso girls to state flag football titles

Unique bond helps carry Robinson, Alonso girls to state flag football titles

Editor’s note: Robinson High junior Macy McClintock, a member of the school’s championship flag football program, shares her thoughts about the Knights’ third consecutive state title and the bond it shares with Alonso High, which won its first state ...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Oldsmar ice cream shop opens right in time for summer

Oldsmar ice cream shop opens right in time for summer

Ice Cream Theory, a new ice cream shop in Oldsmar, offers cool and tasty treats to help beat the summer heat."We wanted it to be fun," said co-owner Jessica Weintraub. "We wanted it to be a place for kids to just hang out and enjoy some ice cream."Hu...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Terra Gaucha opens on Dale Mabry

Terra Gaucha opens on Dale Mabry

A new Brazilian style steakhouse is now open in South Tampa and upholds the traditional Southern Brazilian barbecue "churrascaria" dining experience- Gauchos (Southern Brazilian cowboys) roasting large pieces of skewered meats over an open flame.Terr...
Published: 05/17/18
McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

TAMPA— All current and former military service members in central Florida can stop by their local McDonald’s and grab a free burger today.In celebration of Military Appreciation Month, McDonald’s is giving away a "Taste of Thanks." All veterans and c...
Published: 05/17/18
Meghan Markle says father won’t attend royal wedding due to health

Meghan Markle says father won’t attend royal wedding due to health

WINDSOR, England — Meghan Markle announced Thursday her father will not be at her marriage to Prince Harry due to health problems. "Sadly, my father will not be attending our wedding," she said in a statement released by Kensington Palace. "I have al...
Published: 05/17/18