On a cold afternoon in February I went to visit a coffee roaster, by invitation. He lives with his family in the forest at the edge of a subdivision and makes his coffee there, in a small slatted building he calls the sugar shack. His name is Mike Russo and, with his wife, Sarah Russo, he’s proprietor of Firebean Coffee Roasters. In that capacity, he’s the maker of my favourite coffee, Firebean Inferno.

Don’t get me wrong, in my house we patronize all the local coffee roasters and we have a roast from each of them in our cupboards right now, from Bean North Coffee Roaster Co., to Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters, to Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters. We drink them all with pleasure, but I am a fan of the dark brews and there is something about deep, dark, Firebean Inferno that speaks to my soul.

Russo’s operation is a simple one developed through trial and error and with help from his friends and a “metal guy” in town. His roaster is a modified pizza oven. His source of heat is kindling. His drum is powered by a small motor under the oven. His cooling racks are a couple of sheet pans on kitchen shelving outside the shack, underneath the spruce trees. He winnows the chaff from the roasted beans by pouring them from a bucket held high. The chaff flies up to meet the snowflakes coming down.

Russo roasts in small batches two or three times a week for five hours at a time and it’s busy. There’s no time for wasted motion. He moves quickly from roaster to woodpile to cooling station.
“This is the fun part, being outside, being in the forest,” he says as the drum in his roaster rotates. “I want the metal on the bean, I don’t want air.” He says conduction heat leaves more life in the bean.
It takes 25 minutes to roast a batch of Inferno. After 15 minutes, you can hear the crackling of the beans above the crackling of the kindling fire and watch chaff spit out from the drum. At 20 minutes, the blue smoke rolls up and gets thicker as the clock ticks on. At 25 minutes, Russo opens the drum and lets the beans pour into a metal bucket he’s arranged on the fire. Then you get out of the way as he runs with the bucket to the cooling station and pours out the still crackling beans. Ravens croak overhead, passing a stick between beaks. The Inferno is done.

I came home from this visit smelling like coffee. All fired up, I began to cook. In these recipes you may use any roast you like—the effect will be different with each one–but be sure to use a fine grind. The coarser stuff can be unpleasantly gritty.

Coffee Rub for Moose, Bison or Beef Steak

Coffee Rub for Moose, Bison or Beef Steak

Many recipes for coffee rubs call for several ingredients—cumin, coriander, ginger, tons of hot smoked paprika—but I prefer a simpler blend, so you can taste both the coffee and the meat. Coffee and game complement each other beautifully.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp finely ground dark-roast coffee
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika

Instructions

    1. Whisk ingredients together in a small bowl. Press a generous amount of rub firmly into each steak or steaks on all sides. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.
    2. Saute steaks in sizzling olive oil and butter in a cast iron frying pan over medium-high heat.
      *Rough guide: For rare moose steak, cook a 1-inch thick steak for a scant
    3. minutes on each side, and allow to rest for five minutes before slicing.
      Makes 1/4 cup rub, enough for about 2 lbs steak.
Wing-it Tiramisu

Wing-it Tiramisu

Yield: 8

Tiramisu, the classic Italian dessert of lady fingers dipped in coffee and Marsala, a fortified wine, then smothered in Mascarpone cheese or zabaglione and whipping cream, is the most forgiving of dishes. The liquor store was out of Marsala and the food store was out of Mascarpone, so I winged it with what I had on hand: Pineau des Charentes (a fortified wine from western France), graham wafers, and cream cheese and ricotta instead of Mascarpone. Purists may scoff, but this tiramisu won five stars chez moi.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup 35% cream
  • 8 oz Mascarpone cheese (or 4 oz cream cheese combined with 4 oz ricotta and 2 tbsp 35% cream)
  • 1 tbsp of fortified wine (Marsala, sherry, or Pineau des Charentes) or liqueur (try Amaretto, Kahlua, or Drambuie)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup cold strong coffee
  • 1 tbsp fortified wine or liqueur
  • 27 graham crackers (about one sleeve)
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp finely ground coffee

Instructions

    1. In a medium bowl, whip 35% cream until stiff peaks form. Place cream cheese, ricotta, 2 Tbsp 35% cream and sugar in a food processor. Process until smooth and transfer to a bowl (If you are using mascarpone, whisk cheese and sugar together).
    2. Fold a few spoonfuls of whipped cream into the cheese to loosen it up a bit, followed by the remainder of the whipped cream and 1 tbsp alcohol of your choice. Reserve.
    3. Have ready an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Combine cold coffee and 1 tbsp alcohol in a small bowl. One by one, dip graham crackers into the coffee for about 2 seconds and arrange in three rows of three in the baking dish.
    4. Spread one-third of the whipping cream/cheese mixture over top of the graham crackers. Repeat until you have three layers of crackers covered with whipping cream/cheese. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 24.
    5. When ready to serve, combine ground coffee and cocoa in a small bowl and sieve evenly over top of the tiramisu. Cut into squares, plate and serve.