Sunday, May 22, 2011

More uses for Coffee

Most of us are avid coffee drinkers. After all, it's estimated that over 2.25 billion cups of the stuff are consumed around the world each day. Seven million metric tons of coffee was produced in 2010 alone! The largest producers of coffee beans are Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia and Indonesia, but the largest consumers of coffee are Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden (what's up with those Scandinavians?!). The United States is 27th on that list.

Either way, the world drinks a lot of it. With its jolt of caffeine, it rouses us from our slumber to help us face the day, or nudges us awake during the mid-day when a nap would be welcome but isn't feasible. What a bummer, too. I love to nap!

One thing I learned while researching coffee was that darker roasts are actually sweeter than lighter roasts, which I found almost counterintuitive. Darker roasts are generally bolder because they have less fiber content and a more sugary flavor. Lighter roasts have a more complex and therefore perceived stronger flavor from aromatic oils and acids otherwise destroyed by longer roasting times. Mmmmhh, interesting.

Anyway, the brown stuff is consumed in a variety of forms common to most of us that have visited a Starbucks - latte, moccachino, cappuccino, espresso, cafe au lait......but there are other uses for coffee that you may not have considered. Its bitter astringency is a great addition to dishes that are bold, earthy, sweet, or nutty. Everyone's heard of Tiramisu, that delicious Italian dessert of sweet cream cheese and ladyfinger cookies soaked in coffee. It's a fantastic concoction that has a sweet and yet exotic overtone that makes it so appealing.

When cooking with coffee, think bold and assertive combinations. Coffee lends itself to pairing with other flavors that enhance its boldness. Nuts, for example, such as almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and pecans; fruits such as bananas, coconut, dates and figs; spirits such as brandy and cognac; warming spices such cinnamon and cloves; as well as caramel, chocolate, cocoa, cream and milk, ice cream (vanilla), and maple syrup.

Experiment when cooking. Add a shot of leftover coffee when a recipe calls for a little bit of liquid and the addition of coffee might work instead of milk or water. Sometimes I add some of my leftover coffee from the morning to cookie or quick bread recipes, or to pancake batter. I love the combination of coffee and chocolate, so it's no surprise that my favorite chocolate brownie recipe uses coffee as an ingredient. It's subtle, yet its being there elevates the brownie to new heights. Try making them sometime.

Mocha Brownies

4 (1 oz.) squares semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 Tbsp. hot water
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and line a deep 8-inch square cake pan with waxed paper. Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat, then cool. In a bowl beat sugar and eggs until thick and pale yellow. Fold in chocolate and cooled coffee and mix thoroughly. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl. Lightly fold these into the chocolate mixture, then fold in nuts. Pour into prepared pan & bake 25-30 minutes until firm. Cool in pan (I know it's torture to wait this long!) for 30 minutes. Cut into 16 squares (or 9!) and serve.

Variations: replace walnuts with chopped pecans or hazelnuts.

What to do with used grounds:
If you have any plants in your yard, consider using your used coffee grounds to help them grow. Acid-loving plants are especially fond of them, such as azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias, and many berry plants such as blueberries. Starbucks has a program called "Grounds for your Garden" which is a great idea for using grounds they would otherwise throw away. Imagine the amount of grounds they would be adding to our landfills!

Other thoughts on coffee:
Many of us buy coffee on a regular basis. And if you are one of them, I urge you to consider the type of coffee you are buying. Most of the regular coffee available for sale in supermarkets is commercially produced without much thought given to the environment or our health. Regularly produced coffee is one of the products shown to be highest in pesticides. It really is important to buy organic coffee. Another label you might often see but are not familiar with is "shade grown". More on that below. I believe these are important considerations when buying coffee. Here's why.

"Originally, coffee farming was done in the shade of trees, which provided natural habitat for many animals and insects, roughly approximating the biodiversity of a natural forest. These traditional farmers used compost of coffee pulp and excluded chemicals and fertilizers. They also typically cultivated bananas and fruit trees as shade for the coffee trees, which provided additional income and food security.

However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other groups gave eighty million dollars to plantations in Latin America for advancements in technified agriculture.These plantations replaced their shade grown techniques with sun cultivation techniques to increase yields, which in turn destroyed forests and biodiversity.

Sun cultivation involves cutting down trees, and high inputs of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Environmental problems, such as deforestation, pesticide pollution, habitat destruction, soil and water degradation, are the effects of most modern coffee farms, and the biodiversity on the coffee farm and in the surrounding areas suffer.

As a result, there has been a return to both traditional and new methods of growing shade-tolerant varieties. Shade-grown coffee can often earn a premium as a more environmentally sustainable alternative to mainstream sun-grown coffee." Source: Wikipedia.

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