Wanna Fork with that Coffee?

Andrew Jackson's cook had gone on a whiskey bender, giving him red eyes.

Many of us enjoy a morning cup of coffee, but for some, it's a necessity. Without coffee, my response time for anything is five minutes. And, because I drive the taxiways to get to my office at the airport, being alert is a requirement to avoid hitting a cow. Yep, my office is just feet from the livestock auction yard and chances are 50/50 that either a Cessna or a heifer is lurking somewhere around the corner during those dark, early mornings. It's the same old grind (no pun intended) every day, and I wouldn't change if for the world. Still, I would like to stir things up just a bit, so how about you join me, and I'll explain why you're gonna need a fork with that coffee!

For many years now, southerners have been using coffee just the same as any other strong spice like cinnamon or cumin. It's been used in rubs, marinades, soups, stews, tomato-based sauces, chocolate-based recipes and chilies to intensify the flavors even more. Coffee is also highly acidic and acts as a meat tenderizer when mixed with other marinade ingredients, while the dry rubs add flavor and seal in juices by forming a light crust.

But, coffee is bad for us, isn't it? Nope. Researchers and scientists say that two to three cups per day is actually good for us. Oh, I know. One day the pros tell us something's bad and the next day they say it's good. In their defense, those scientists and researchers claim that they're not flip-flopping on the issue at all; it's a matter of everything in moderation.

Coffee Recipes

So, what is healthy about coffee? Well, according to Tomas DePaulis, Ph.D. of the Vanderbilt University Institute of Coffee Studies, over twenty years and 19,000 studies show the following results: Coffee is far more beneficial than it is harmful. Drinking two or three cups per day leads to twenty-five percent lower risk of colon cancer, an eighty percent drop in the risk of liver cirrhosis, and nearly fifty percent less risk of gallstones. And, believe it or not, the caffeine in coffee, plus its antioxidants, chlorogenic acid, and compounds called quinines that increase the body's response to insulin, actually reduces the risk for diabetes. There's also strong evidence that regular coffee consumption reduces the risk for Parkinson's disease due to the caffeine. And, one more thing: there's a compound in coffee called trigonelline that they think might be the reason coffee has both anti-adhesive and antibacterial properties that help prevent tooth cavities.

Now that you know all of the health aspects, let's move on to an early Southerner's use of coffee in food, and why you're gonna need that fork.

Have you ever heard of Red Eye Gravy? It's a very basic gravy made with country ham drippings and strong-brewed coffee. And, of course it comes with it's own stories as to how it got its name. First, there's the southern version, which goes like this: Andrew Jackson, who was the seventh President of the United States and a general at the time, called over his cook to tell him what to prepare. The cook had been on a whiskey bender, and his eyes were pure red, which inspired General Jackson to have the cook make up some country ham with gravy as red as the cooks eyes, which lead to the name "Red Eye Gravy". The second theory is that when mixing coffee and grease together, the water-based coffee will sink to the bottom and the oil-based grease will float on the top, looking like a red eye. Last, is that eating gravy made with coffee will keep you awake all night, creating tired, red eyes.

Whether you're a southerner or not, you probably have your own version to pass along, and we would love to hear it. But, right now, let's get down to some really incredible recipes. Here's a Chocolate Coffee Cupcake that's not only rich tasting, but easy and inexpensive to cook up right in your own favorite coffee cup in just three-minutes! Then I have a fantastic Coffee Cayenne Meat Rub that gives ordinary burgers such an amazingly unique, smoky flavor that you may never go back to your old ways again. Last is the recipe for Red Eye Gravy, which is more of an au jus, and will illustrate some of the flavor of the old south.

It's all about coffee today, so grab a fork and dig in!

This cupcake can be eaten (with a fork) straight from the cup or mug, but if you intend to remove it, make sure that the container is either cylindrical or has a smaller bottom than top for easy removal.

  • 1 12- to 15-ounce cup or mug
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground coffee
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (don't use self-rising)
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons regular or mini chocolate chips

Combine all dry ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Stir milk, oil, vanilla and chocolate chips into the mixture.

Prepare the inside of your cup or mug by lightly oiling or spraying with non-stick baking spray. Pour the batter into the container and place in the microwave for 3 minutes at 1000 watts. The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but will quickly settle when done. After cooling slightly, you can serve the cake within the container, or slide it onto a plate.

Serve as is or top with your favorite icing, whipped cream, powdered sugar, etc. Makes 1 to 2 cupcakes..

Prep time: 7 minutes; Cooking time: 3 minutes; Total time: 10 minutes

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons finely ground coffee
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes enough for 4 burgers. This rub is also great on other red meats and chicken.

  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 4 teaspoons Coffee Cayenne Meat Rub
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 4 slices Cheddar or Swiss cheese
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 4 onion slices
  • 4 tomato slices
  • Mayonnaise

Form the ground chuck into four meat patties of equal size. Place 1 teaspoon rub mixture on the topside of each meat patty and refrigerate for one hour before grilling.

Cook bacon until crisp and break each slice in half. Heat grill to medium-high heat. Place burgers, rub side down, on the grill rack and cook for about 4 minutes. Flip the burgers and continue cooking for another 4 minutes, placing the cheese on top during the last minute. Remove from the grill and place on the bottom halves of the buns.

Now, put two halves of bacon on each burger and top with onion and tomatoes. Spread mayonnaise on the top bun and place on the burger.

Makes 4 burgers..

A true country ham is salt cured and often must be soaked in several changes of water before preparing. If the recipe is too salty, you can remedy this by adding a teaspoon of sugar. If the ham is too dry to produce pan juices after frying, add about 3 tablespoons vegetable oil before adding the coffee.

  • 1 1-pound country ham slice, about 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (optional)

Heat ham slice in a small skillet or sauté pan over low or medium-low heat for 3 or 4 minutes per side, turning to evenly cook. Cooking over low heat will allow you to render the ham juice needed to make the gravy. Once cooked, remove the ham and set aside.

Add the coffee to the skillet and turn the heat up just a bit and stir constantly, scraping up the browned bits from the pan. Continue stirring for about 2 minutes. This gravy has no thickening ingredients, so it's very thin. Ham and gravy are best served with eggs and biscuits.

Makes 1 to 2 servings.