Coconut is a versatile fruit with a velvety texture and unique flavor. Coconuts yield a delicious meat but also provide coconut water, milk, and oil. When I was a young child, my grandmother made coconut cakes for family dinners that were truly amazing. She would take a fresh coconut, cut it in half, and chisel out the white meat to make her layered coconut cakes. She knew the coconut was fresh when she shook it and could hear the liquid sloshing around and the eyes were slightly soft to the touch. Coconut is definitely one of my favorite ingredients for sweet desserts but also for savory dishes, too. When you taste coconut, you are instantly transported to the tropics, a vacation for your mouth inspired by the native tree of a distant island.

Tropical Island Chicken

• 8 boneless and skinless chicken breasts

• 1 ½ cups instant, quick-cooking rice, uncooked

• ½ cup shredded coconut

• 1 (20 oz.) can pineapple chunks, reserve the juice

• 5 TBSP. orange marmalade

• ¾ cup water

• 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

• 4 TBSP. butter, melted

• 4 ½ TBSP. soy sauce

• 1 ½ tsp. ground ginger

Cut the chicken into 1 ½ inch pieces. Place half of the cubed chicken in the bottom of a slightly greased large baking dish. Layer the rice on top of the chicken, then place the remaining chicken on top. Sprinkle the coconut over the chicken. Layer the pineapple chunks over the coconut. Spoon the marmalade into the areas between the pineapple chunks. In a bowl, stir together the reserved pineapple juice, water, and lemon juice; pour over the layers. Drizzle the melted butter, soy sauce, and ground ginger over the top. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until chicken and rice are done. Remove cover during the last 5 minutes to let the top brown slightly.

Coconut Crunch

• ½ cup butter, melted

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 1/3 cups shredded coconut

• ¼ cup light brown sugar, packed

• 1 cup slivered almonds, finely chopped

• 1 (3.4 oz.) package instant coconut cream pudding

• 1 (3.4 oz.) package instant vanilla pudding

• 2 2/3 cups milk

• 2 cups whipped topping

Garnish: fresh strawberries

In a bowl, combine the melted butter, flour, coconut, brown sugar, and almonds; press lightly into a greased 9x13 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes to form coarse crumbs. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Divide the crumb mixture in half, and press half of the crumb mixture back into the same baking pan. In a large bowl, beat the pudding mixes with the milk. Fold in the whipped topping. Spoon the mixture over the crust; sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Garnish with strawberries.

Hawaiian Monkey Bread

• ¾ cup light brown sugar, packed

• ½ cup shredded coconut

• 1 (3.4 oz.) cook & serve coconut cream pudding mix

• 20 dinner rolls, frozen dough (like Rhode’s, or if you use the smaller Sister Schubert’s rolls in the pan, just add a few more)

• ¼ cup butter, melted

• 1 TBSP. ground cinnamon

• 4 TBSP. sugar

• 1 (20 oz.) can pineapple tidbits, drained

• ½ cup macadamia nuts, chopped

• ½ cup butter, cubed

In a small, combine the cinnamon and 4 TBSP. of sugar together. Quarter the rolls and dip in the ¼ cup melted butter and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch Bundt pan, lay half of the rolls in the bottom. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, coconut, and pudding mix. Sprinkle half of this sugar mixture over the top of the rolls. Then, layer half of the pineapple, half of the nuts, and half of the butter cubes over the top. Repeat the layers one more time. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the rolls (Rhodes brand) to rise in a warm spot, about 1-2 hours. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-38 minutes; place foil loosely over the top of the pan for the last 15 minutes of baking. Remove and allow to sit for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a plate with the pan still on top for another 10-15 minutes.

— Amy Fischer lives in Fort Payne, Alabama, and is a Southern food enthusiast who loves to spend time in the kitchen creating tasty recipes. You can contact her at facebook.com/MySouthernTable.

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