Be cautious because not all margarines are dairy-free, but three that I use are Melt Vegan Butter, Smart Balance (the ones marked dairy free), and Earth Balance vegan butter. For melting and for frosting, my first choice is Melt. For baking, I like Earth Balance, especially in the stick form, much easier for baking than scooping out of a tub. Smart Balance seems to be the most affordable and therefore the one my friends buy when I’m coming over.
The ones that have milk by-products in them will usually say things like milkfat or whey. These work well in baking cookies or making mashed potatoes (which are really great with coconut milk by the way!). I try to avoid eating a lot of soy-heavy products (just personal preference) but they are making a lot of them soy-free nowadays. You can use these for making frosting with good results.
Coconut oil is great for baking, frying, eating :) (Yep, I have been caught eating a spoonful of coconut oil before. It is great in oatmeal!). Some coconut oil is refined to remove the scent and then would little or no taste, similar to canola oil, and some is unrefined and has a lovely light coconut flavor. I have made cookies with coconut oil, I have used it a LOT in baking cakes and muffins and have made some tasty frosting using coconut oil. One of the tricky parts about coconut oil is it’s relatively low melting point. It starts to turn liquid at around 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Since it hardens so quickly below that temperature, it’s often difficult to add it to chilled products like eggs and milk. I recommend letting your eggs come to room temperature, or slightly warming your milk in the microwave before mixing them together. Often if I mix my coconut oil with warmed milk and then add the chilled eggs to the mixture, I don’t have too much trouble with it re-solidifying and making chunks in the batter. Coconut oil can also be creamed like butter. It can make some nice chewy cookies and I’ve used it as filling for homemade peppermint patties. I generally buy Nutiva brand Organic Extra Virgin Coconut oil in the half-gallon sizes on Amazon for around $20 each.
Lard and/or Bacon Grease
I am a recent convert to cooking and baking with lard or bacon grease. Lard is high in vitamin D and as well as monounsaturated fats (among others) and is therefore OK in my book. I found a traditional Mexican cookie recipe around Christmas a couple years ago and I was skeptical when it called for lard, so I cut the quantity in half with shortening. No one could tell that my cookies were gluten AND dairy-free and so I decided then and there that this was the way to go. I haven’t gone so far as to incorporate lard into all of my cooking, but it is still a good option.
Shortening, although not the healthiest option in my opinion, is still great for baking. Many pie crust and cookie recipes call for shortening and it is widespread and easy to use. I sometimes use the Crisco butter-flavored shortening sticks for baking cookies to get that butter flavor.
Although it lacks the structure that the above oils and fats have for baking, olive oil definitely has its place in cooking in my house. I frequently use it for stir-frying and sauteing and baking vegetables.