A good cup of morning joe can jump-start your day with its jolt of caffeine.
And because of its high levels of disease-fighting antioxidants and other nutrients, coffee is being praised as a kind of health food — provided you stick to no more than two or three cups a day and don't indulge in too many lattes.
According to the American Dietetics Association, several studies show that coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cirrhosis, gallstones and colon cancer.
But coffee isn't just for drinking. It's a favorite ingredient of many chefs who like to use it to jazz up some of their creations.
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Jeremy Ashby, executive chef at Azur Restaurant in Beaumont Centre, said he's a "self-proclaimed coffee aficionado."
"I sometimes sneak it into the finish of red-wine reduction sauces that have pinches of turmeric and chocolate, a type of Aztec jus that I love on grilled duck, goat or guinea hen," he said.
"I also twist up the ever-so-popular shrimp and grits with a tomato-scented red-eye gravy using leftover coffee from the pot," he said.
"For dessert, the espresso custard that we pair with our dark-chocolate torte sends it from extreme to downright over the dome in the decadent category."
Coffee has a distinctive flavor that can easily be turned up or down in any recipe. Steeping whole beans offers a mild introduction of coffee flavor into custards and pastry creams, and ground coffee gives a wallop of heady spice, according to the culinary Web site Chef2Chef.net.
You should use coffee as you would use any strong spice. Similar to cinnamon or cumin, coffee flavors are best carried through tepid oils and moisture. Adding a small amount of coffee to chocolate-based recipes or incorporating coffee into recipes with chilies intensifies the chocolate or chili essence because those flavor profiles are inherent in all ingredients, according to Chef2Chef writer Dawn Viola.
Betty Rosbottom, author of the book Coffee, said she prefers instant powdered coffee or powdered espresso "for a big caffeine punch in desserts. Coffee liqueurs provide a hint of alcohol along with café flavor." Instant and brewed coffee give baked goods and cold desserts, such as mousses and custards, "sublime tastes," she said.
Here are some tips from Epicurious.com for adding a coffee flavor to dishes:
■ Brewed coffee may be used in any recipe that requires a liquid, or instant-coffee granules may be sprinkled on the top to infuse coffee flavor.
■ Whenever a recipe calls for the addition of strong coffee, brew the required amount using an extra scoop of ground coffee. If using instant-coffee granules for the recipe, add an additional heaping teaspoon of instant coffee for each cup.
■ Whenever there is coffee left in the pot, pour it into an ice-cube tray and freeze it into cubes for future use. The frozen coffee cubes may be stored in a zipper-style freezer bag until needed. The coffee ice cubes can flavor the stock of any soup or stew recipe, and can be added to the liquid of many sauces.
■ Chocolate dessert recipes can be infused with coffee flavor by substituting all or part of the liquid in the recipe with cups of coffee. One cup of coffee added to a favorite chocolate cake recipe will intensify and deepen the chocolate flavor.
■ Instant-coffee granules (regular or flavored) can be sprinkled on top of muffins, breads or cookies before baking, and the coffee flavor will be infused during baking.
■ Homemade barbecue sauce will take on a rich color and a new depth of flavor when infused with a cup of strong coffee. Brush coffee- infused barbecue sauce on beef or chicken while grilling.
■ Pan sauces for fried beef, pork chops or chicken can easily be infused with coffee by de-glazing a pan with a cup of coffee after frying meat.
■ Homemade dessert sauces, such as chocolate or caramel sauce, will be deeper and richer without added calories when infused with coffee.