Coffee in your dinner plate

Joe, brew, cuppa, morning jolt, leaded, unleaded or just java. No matter what you call it, coffee is a staple in most homes, regardless of where you live.

That morning cup of Joe exudes a perfume that gently wakes you while you cradle the warm mug in your hand. It’s actually kind of comforting. What was the commercial? “The best part of waking up....”

Getting together with a friend? You go for coffee and a long chat. Talking troubles with your friend. What do they offer? Coffee. Sitting in a hospital waiting room, we go for coffee.

Studies have shown that caffeine in moderation can improve the memory and boost metabolism. Moderation means less than six cups in 24 hours. More than this, you risk disturbing your sleep or getting a bit shaky.

Even if you go decaffeinated, coffee beans are full of antioxidants, and we all know the many health benefits of antioxidants. The antioxidants from coffee tend to absorb into the system more quickly than fruits and vegetable sources and stay in the body longer. Leftover coffee from a French press or espresso machine tend to offer even more antioxidants than coffee from drip style makers.

Instead of pouring out that leftover coffee from your pot, save it in the fridge. You can make iced coffee later, but let’s get more creative.

I am not suggesting we do what my great-grandmother did. She never threw anything away. Every day when the family was done with what was in the electric peculator, Grandma Rosie would collect the remains in a glass milk bottle and keep it in the fridge. Keep in mind this coffee stayed in the peculator for hours every day. In the late afternoons she would pour some of this coffee into an aluminum pot, bring it to a rolling boil on the stove and then drink it black. To this day, I believe this helped her live to the ripe old age of 97 and in good health her entire life. This intense elixir must have killed every possible germ.

The fun thing about leftover coffee is that the dark and complicated beverage gives a deep flavor to an infinite number of dishes, both sweet and savory.

Strong coffee or espresso intensifies the flavor of chocolate desserts and partners wonderfully with the flavors of almond and cherry. What you may not know is how it rounds out the flavors of pork, veal and chicken.

Coffee in cooking is typically affiliated with foods in the sweet category, like tiramisu. It really offers much more versatility. Think savory instead of sweet. Instead of waiting for an espresso after dinner, try a little coffee on your dinner plate or in your soup bowl.

Take your famous chili recipe to the next level by adding a cup of leftover coffee to the mix. The chemistry of the coffee works well with the spices associated with chili. Beans or no beans, doesn’t matter, it’s really good.

A cup of coffee added to a stew recipe pops all the flavors, especially if you also add a cup of beer. Again, food chemistry.

Root vegetables, like beets and carrots, pair well with coffee. Root veggies tend to sweeten as they bake, and coffee helps to increase the natural sweetness. Simply roast in coffee for a vivid side dish. It’s even possible to slow roast carrots on a bed of coffee beans for an infusion style dish.

Coffees loves chocolate; add some to your mole recipe.

Adding coffee to soups can be interesting. Avoid tomato based soups and creamed soups. It’s best added to vegetable soups and beef stock based soups.

Just a little coffee in your barbecue marinade adds flavor to the meats and can help in tenderizing.

In Sardinia, coffee is often used in main dishes. More so here than in other parts of Italy.

Play with infusing your desserts using a little coffee. For these you may want to consider using espresso powder, rather than ground coffee. The powder dissolves completely, so you don’t risk any grittiness. Remember that espresso is more intense than brewed coffee, so adjust accordingly. A sparse amount creates an undertone to your recipe, while a few tablespoons gives you more of a burst.

If you’re a mocha fan, add just a little coffee to your brownie recipe. In chocolate frosting, omit some of the water called for in the recipe and substitute with coffee. How about a chocolate espresso creme brulee?

If you have leftover coffee and can’t use immediately, pour the coffee into ice cubes trays. Once frozen, pop out the cubes and store in a zip lock bag for future use. One cube is approximately 1/4 cup liquid. You can even freeze it with a little sugar and save these cubes to make granita in the summer.

Il caffè è pronto.

Café Marinato Costola di Vitello di Sardegna

(coffee marinated veal ribs of Sardinia)

Serves 4

1 3/4 lbs. veal short ribs—bone in

2 tablespoons coffee beans

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 teaspoon fresh marjoram

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

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1 clove garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Coffee Sauce

2 oz. espresso coffee

3/4 teaspoon sugar

2 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

10 oz. veal stock

Place coffee beans, herbs, spices and garlic in a pestle and mortar together to create a paste. Rub paste evenly over ribs, cover and marinate in refrigerator 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 225 F.

Brush excess marinade off ribs and put into deep baking dish. Coat evenly with olive oil. Cover and bake slowly for 6 hours or until tender and well browned.

During last 30 minutes of cooking, prepare the sauce.

Add sugar to a small pan and allow to caramelize over medium heat. This only take a minute or two. Stir in vinegar and continue cooking until mixture is reduced. Stir in espresso, followed by veal stock. Mix well. Reduce heat and cook on low for 5 minutes for slight reduction. Remove from heat and keep warm till ready to serve.

Drain any remaining oil from ribs and serve over creamy whipped potatoes. Drizzle coffee sauce evenly over each serving of ribs.

Mangia Bene

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit or for more information.