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Cooking with Coffee-Interview with Francine Segan

I had the pleasure of catching Francine Segan’s presentation, Cooking with Coffee, at the Coffee and Tea Festival in New York City this past weekend. Ms. Segan is a noted food historian and author of four cookbooks, with regular appearances on CBS, the Discovery and History channels as well as the Food Network.

Ms. Segan’s title of food historian along with a few of her cookbook titles such as Opera Lover’s Cookbook, The Philosopher's Kitchen and Shakespeare’s Kitchen may conjure up images in your mind that include stodgy in the description, however, you would be wrong. Ms. Segan is quite the opposite, exuding the warmth, personality and energy of your really funny next door neighbor keeping you relaxed and entertained throughout her presentation. She says, “I'm pleased that a little of the joy I get from the experience comes thru.” Imparting knowledge along with the humor, Ms. Segan dispenses painless tidbits of information like the origin of coffee and the fact that it was originally used as a food and not a beverage, or that paprika is a spice made from grinding sweet red peppers.

Generally, when we think about cooking with coffee, we think of desserts with mocha frostings and the like, but as Ms. Segan let us know, coffee has the potential for so much more. With my love of coffee and creative cooking, she certainly piqued my interest so I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

Why cook with coffee?

“I cook with coffee because coffee, just like stock or wine, builds and creates a depth of flavor in foods. In addition coffee grounds used in rubs helps to caramelize the surface of the meat, which seals in juices creating a tastier and more tender cut of meat.”

What qualities in coffee inspire you?

“Coffee has wonderful complex flavors and aromas---Tones of bittersweet chocolate, roasted nut and ripe dark berry tastes as well as aftertastes of fine red wine. All these delightful flavors and aromas add richness to food and inspire me to cook with coffee. I am also inspired to use coffee because I hate waste. Instead of tossing any leftover freshly brewed coffee I refrigerate or freeze it to use in a recipe in the place of water, wine or stock.”

What is the most unusual recipe where you used coffee?

“Bolognese meat sauce. I especially like trying coffee in non-sweet, savory, dishes so I've used it in liquid form in: beef stew, chili, baked beans, tomato based veggie soup....In ground espresso form in: meatballs, Parmesan crisps (excellent!!)”

During the presentation, Ms. Segan knocked over the milk needed for one of the dishes. She let us know that she has had more than her share of ‘Murphy’s Law’ accompanying her during her many appearances. I asked her to tell us about a few of her most memorable mishaps.

“I am one of those people who can't talk and cook, so I'm a disaster waiting to happen when I do TV and live cooking demos. I'm Italian so I talk with my hands and constantly knock over ingredients (as you saw with the condensed milk yesterday). My biggest disaster on TV was setting fire to the wooden cutting board on a CN8 episode. Because it was live TV we didn't stop but just kept going. I transferred the pot onto the burning cutting board, sort of pretending that it was an extension of the burner. Luckily, the pot slowly put out the fire by the segments end.”

“My worst in person disaster was during a live demo at King's cooking school for a group of VIP guests. I added cake ingredients into a mix master, turned it on, and a cup or two of ingredients flew up and all over me. Talk about egg on your face!! I was covered. Luckily, my recipes are fool proof. I asked the audience to guess how much flour was on me and how many eggs and then just added the average of their guesses. The cake came out great! The audience even thought I had done it on purpose to show how fool proof the recipe was.”

We walked away from Ms. Segan’s presentation feeling like we had just visited an old friend, yet feeling more knowledgeable than when we came and so much more confident knowing that cooking creatively is something that we too can accomplish.

Here is Ms. Segan's recipe for a rub that can be used on meats like London Broil and chicken breasts, or use it to spice up your favorite chili recipe or barbeque sauce.

Francine's Chili Coffee Rub

3/4 cup finely ground espresso
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste


1. Combine all spices in a bowl.
2. Uses: Sprinkle into your favorite chili, baked bean or stew recipe.
Stir into ketchup, honey, or BBQ sauce. Drizzle a little olive oil onto
steaks, chops, fish, or chicken and then press on a good thick layer of the
rub. Grill, broil, or pan fry.

Check out Ms. Segan’s latest culinary creation, “The Opera Lover’s Cookbook” or schedule of appearances on her website at http://www.francinesegan.com.

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