Karen Schuppert

Karen Schuppert

With daylight saving time still a month away, I find myself taking a little extra time in the morning to rally. Most people I know rely on a dose of caffeine to jump-start their day, but coffee has often gotten bad rap with its purported health risks.

What a difference a few years can make. Not long ago, we heard about the dangers of coffee — how it could raise your blood pressure, make your heart race, impair sleep, and maybe even cause cancer.

Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is taking coffee off the possible carcinogen list. And there’s increasing evidence that coffee might actually be good for you. So good that doctors might begin recommending it.

Over the last several decades, coffee has been among the most heavily studied dietary components. And the news is mostly good. According to a Harvard study, moderate coffee consumption (three to four cups per day!) has been linked with longer lifespan. Other studies have found that coffee drinkers may have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, uterine and liver cancer, cirrhosis and gout.

In a June 2016 report, the WHO officially lifted coffee from the list of potentially carcinogenic foods. It went on to designate coffee as potentially protective against cancer of the liver, which could be of particular interest to those living in wine country. Another study published in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention showed that participants who drank one to two cups per day experienced a 26 percent decrease in risk of colorectal cancer.

Considering all of this good news about coffee consumption, you might feel tempted to increase your intake or to start drinking it if you don’t already.

If you are already a coffee drinker, it should be reassuring that after decades of research, no strong link can be found between coffee intake and cancer and, to the contrary, a number of health benefits seem to accompany coffee consumption. But, I’m not sure the evidence is powerful enough to recommend an increase in your daily habit.

One reason is that we don’t know that coffee consumption actually caused the health benefits observed in these studies. Some other, unmeasured factor could be responsible. Another reason is that the overall effect was small. And, it’s worth noting that some people (like me) are quite sensitive to the side effects of coffee. I prefer to get my “kick” from a green smoothie. So, like most items in your diet, moderate your coffee intake.

Ways to cook with coffee

Barbecue sauces: The rich, sweet and spicy ingredients used in homemade barbecue sauces – brown sugar, tomato, honey, mustard – all pair great with coffee.

Combine with chocolate: That subtle bitterness, slight acidity and natural richness of both help these flavors marry well with savory meats and spicy dishes.

Braising: Once your meat is seared and browned, start building a braising liquid by pouring coffee into the juicy bits left in the bottom of the pan (deglazing). Add a pat of butter for a rich finish.

Chutneys: Chutneys are typically fruit-based with herbs and spices and used in a variety of Indian curry dishes. Coffee pairs well with fruits like citrus or figs, and combined with exotic spices like ginger and cardamom, can produce a sweet and savory blend for meats and veggies.

Vinaigrettes: Coffee with balsamic vinegar is a fantastic match. Serve with sautéed greens, roasted root vegetables or a simple green salad.

In addition to cooking, I like to use coffee in my desserts. I make a killer mocha panna cotta using coconut milk, as well as these cookie bars which are also good to freeze.

Coffee Chocolate Chip Blondies

Made with coconut sugar and whole wheat flour, they’re healthier than most, too. The recipe yields 12 large or up to 24 small blondies, depending on how you slice them.

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1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour or Pamela’s gluten-free flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter or extra virgin coconut oil

1 cup packed coconut sugar, or 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I’ve used the Smoked Olive Whiskey Brown, which is HEAVEN)

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons strong coffee, room temperature

1 egg

1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract (yes, tablespoons)

3/4 cup chopped pecans

3/4 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

With the oven rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, coconut sugar and salt. Cook, stirring often, until the butter is completely melted, and the mixture is hot but not simmering. Remove from the heat and stir in the coffee until well combined (if the mixture refuses to come together, let it cool for a minute or two and try again). Let the mixture cool to room temperature, about 15 to 20 minutes.

In the meantime, pour the pecans onto a small rimmed baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until they’re nice and fragrant, stirring halfway. Set aside to cool.

Once the butter and sugar mixture has cooled to room temperature, add the egg and vanilla and whisk until combined. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the flour mixture and stir just until combined. Add the pecans and chocolate chips and stir gently to combine.

Using a spatula, spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan (this is a little tricky with the parchment paper, but you can do it, I promise). Bake for 18 to 24 minutes, until the blondies are set on the edges and the top is golden brown and just beginning to form cracks. A wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the blondies should come out with just a couple of crumbs.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Grab opposite corners of the parchment paper and gently lift the blondies from the pan onto a flat surface. Cut them into squares and serve.

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Local chef and nutritionist Karen Schuppert is teaching another healthy and easy cooking class in February. For more information, contact her at Karen@karenschuppert.com