I love coffee, but not just any coffee. For me, the burned beans sold by Starbucks don’t qualify as great coffee. Not that I don’t appreciate their marketing genius. After all, convincing millions of consumers to habitually pay $4 for a cup of coffee is no mean feat.
I’m talking about carefully cultivated, hand-picked, slow-roasted, fragrant beans that, when brewed or French-pressed, need not be adulterated with hazelnut or mocha syrup, let alone cream and sugar.
Although it’s easy to find gourmet coffee just about anywhere these days, it hasn’t always been the case. While attending a family reunion in southern Virginia many years ago, my coffee choices were the Maxwell House in my cousin’s kitchen or the caramel-colored backwash at the local diner. Since neither option was bearable, I decided instead to kick the caffeine habit, even knowing there would be a 72-hour headache brewing. No one ever said the life of a foodie was easy.
To this day, I remain free from the bonds of C8H10N4O2. But that hasn’t stopped me from savoring java. In fact, I now cook with it. I’ve found that coffee has similar properties to salt, in that it heightens many other flavors. Used sparingly—as salt should be—there is something special about those little brown beans that you just can’t put your finger on. Unlike salt, however, a heavier dose won’t necessarily spoil the effect; it just removes the mystery: “Wow! Who knew coffee-flavored brownies could be this good?”
I’ve been experimenting with using coffee in recipes—including cocktails—for about 20 years. As is often the case with experimentation, not all of my efforts have achieved overwhelming success. But I’ve winnowed them down to several winners that never fail to hit my guests’ G spot. That’s “G” for gastronomic, of course.
So whether you’re a novice in the kitchen or an Iron Chef wannabe, try the following recipes, and you’ll be sure to please your guests’ tastebuds. Aside from the great taste of these recipes, they can all be quickly and easily prepared. If a lack of time keeps you from entertaining at home, start out small by just trying out the ribs recipe. Then assign the side dishes to your guests, or buy them from the prepared foods section of your favorite market. Now, stop making excuses and start making up a guest list!
JB’s Coffee-laced Baby Back Ribs
2 whole ribs, trimmed of excess fat, if desired
Approx.  up dry rub (recipe below)
Heavy duty aluminum foil
Serves 6 to 8
Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours in the oven and 10 to 15 minutes on the grill
You’ll get the best results if you remember to apply the dry rub the day before you cook and serve the ribs. But don’t worry too much if you don’t have the extra day. I’ve forgotten plenty of times, and they’re still delicious.
Unroll a length of foil that’s about 4” longer than the ribs, shiny side down. Center one rib rack on the foil and rub generously with the dry rub mixture (recipe follows). Flip the rack over, and apply dry rub to the other side. Gather the edges of foil and crimp tightly, then roll up the ends. Repeat with the second rack of ribs. If it’s the day before, refrigerate the ribs overnight.
A half hour before you’re ready to cook the ribs, allow them to sit at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Place foil-wrapped ribs on rimmed baking sheets and bake for 2 ½ to 3 hours (depending on whether your oven is true to temperature).
While the ribs are baking, you’ve got about three hours to relax. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, whip up a batch of mocha truffles (recipe follows); once you’ve tried these made-in-minutes confections, you’ll wonder why you ever paid $20 or more a pound for chocolates that are half as good.
When you unwrap the ribs, a lot of liquid will have accumulated in the foil. I always pour these juices into a saucepan and boil it down until a little more than half the liquid has evaporated. Then I add it to my Doctored BBQ Sauce (see recipe below).
finely ground dark roast coffee (or 2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder)
1 to 2 Tbsp.
salt (depending on your taste preference)
freshly ground black pepper
chili powder (chipotle or ancho is best)
paprika (smoked is best)
2 tsps. cayenne pepper (depending on your tolerance for heat)
Mix the ingredients well and store in an airtight container. It’ll keep for months.
JB’s Doctored BBQ Sauce
1 bottle of quality BBQ sauce
1/4 câ€Šup strong brewed coffee or espresso (or 2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
Boiled down juices from the cooked ribs
2 to 3 Tbsp. dark rum
Optional: 2 to 3 Tbsp. Molasses
Place all of the ingredients into a sauce pan and simmer until flavors are blended. Set aside. Note: to remove alcohol c
ontent, bring the rum to a full boil before adding the other ingredients.
You can eat the ribs straight from the oven, but I find that finishing them on the grill with the BBQ sauce brings them to a whole new level of finger-licking goodness.
n on the cooking grate. Brush sauce on the other side and cover. Allow the ribs to get a nice char, about 5 to 10 minutes on each side. Serve with extra BBQ sauce.
Preheat your grill to medium (if using charcoal, you’ve achieved medium heat when you can hold your hand six inches above the coals for five or six seconds). Slather one side of the ribs with the BBQ sauce and place the sauced side dow
Coffee or cocktail?
How about both?
If you like to sip a cocktail while you’re working the grill, you might want to give this martini a try. With equal parts vodka and coffee (plus some Kahlúa), it’s lighter and more refreshing than a traditional martini.
2 parts quality vodka
2 parts coffee
1/2 to 1 part Kahlúa
Pour ingredients over ice and shake or stir. If you like a little more sweetness, go for one part Kahlúa. If you like a drier drink, cut the Kahlúa in half. You also might want to experiment with colorful and aromatic garnishes. The martini pictured here has a few small slices of jalapeño pepper for a little heat and fresh basil for color. You can omit either or both and still have a delicious cocktail.
Coffee and Chocolate
Of all the flavors that coffee enhances, I think chocolate is the best. I love mocha anything but I especially love these quick and easy mocha truffles. Preparing the mixture takes less than 10 minutes and rolling the confections after the mixture is chilled and firm takes another 15 minutes at most. These never fail to impress and delight.
Mocha truffles in minutes
8 oz. quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 to 2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder (depending on intensity of flavor desired)
2 Tbsp. butter, room temperature, in 4 pieces
Ground toasted almonds or cocoa powder to coat the truffles
Place chopped chocolate in the bowl of a food processor. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can use the stove top. Once you’ve removed the hot cream from the heat source, add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted. Follow the rest of the directions.)
Bring cream to boil in small saucepan and remove from heat. Add the espresso powder and stir. With the food processor running, add the cream through the feed tube until the chocolate is melted. Add the butter, 1 piece at a time, until the mixture is well blended. Place the truffle mixture in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm. The wider the bowl, the faster it will set.
Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Using a rounded teaspoon or melon baller, scoop out truffles and roll quickly in your hands to form a ball. Roll the truffles, one at a time, in the cocoa powder and place on the cookie sheet. If the batter softens while you’re working, return it to the refrigerator until firm. Chill the truffles on the sheet until firm, about two hours. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.