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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

wait, it's fall already?

Where did the summer go? Things have been very busy in the chocolate kitchen, and there are lots of exciting things to come. I'd like to introduce you to the first exciting thing now - a new look for the website! There are still a few wrinkles to iron out, but I hope you'll find it easy to navigate and easy on the eyes. I'll be adding new pictures in the next few weeks, and you'll see that there are new flavors to be tried.

There's also a new blog format, and I'll be switching from posting on blogger to posting there. This shouldn't affect your email or feed subscription, I'll change the link over tomorrow, so you should continue to get email updates as usual. As always, if you have any questions, send me an email, I'm always happy to help.

Here's to an exciting fall!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Finally! New Stuff!

Just in time for Father's Day and this glorious late spring/early summer weather, I've got new treats for you.

First up, an assortment of favorites that should put you in excellent standing with your old man...Bourbon and Black Pepper Truffles, Sea Salt Caramels, Bacon Caramels, and Pecan Caramel Truffles. If you're familiar with LUCA Chocolate, you'll know three of those already, so let me focus on the new flavor...I've taken freshly toasted pecans and blended them with a just-right caramel, then mixed all of it with 60% chocolate and Homeland Creamery's finest cream. It's what a chocolate turtle would taste like if it stopped off in truffle-land.

Next, I've got a few old favorites and some fresh ideas for a sweet summer. It wouldn't be summer without Key Lime Creams, so they're back and ready for action. The strawberries are particularly delectable this year, so I've processed them as little as possible and put them in a dark chocolate shell to bring you a bright burst of that perfect summer fruit. If you're sipping juleps on the veranda, you're going to need a couple of blueberry cordials - a boozy blend of blueberries and creme de cassis in milk chocolate. And last, but certainly not least, my favorite summer fruit, the peach plays nicely with a little passion fruit in a white chocolate ganache.

I'm looking forward to a lovely summer, and with a few boxes of chocolates, I'm sure you will be too.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On the Radio! and new flavors

LUCA is all over the internet airwaves this week. In a big surprise to me, the folks over at the 404 on CNET reviewed my bacon box (listen here). Let me tell you, it was rather painful for me to listen to, the guys get a bit dramatic, and of course I had no idea this was coming, but in the end, I think everyone liked it.

Also, tune in at 6pm EST on this Thursday to hear me in the inaugural episode of "Chocolate Covered Bacon - The best in Independent Food Finds". Just visit and click the player to tune in. (I think? this is all very new to me!)

Finally tonight - Mother's day flavors are up on the site! Here's your sneak peek:

Lavender Honey Buttercreams - dreamy Provence lavender melts into honey buttercream in a milk-dark chocolate shell

Rose Pistachio Creams - rosehip buttercream with a center of pistachio fondant in a milk chocolate shell

Lemon Chamomile Truffle - fluffy white chocolate ganache infused with lemons and chamomile tea, enrobed in white chocolate

Fennel Toffee - rich, buttery toffee infused with anise liqueur, brushed with dark chocolate and studded with candied fennel seeds

Violet Nougats - delicate violets lightly flavor and beautify bright white nougat mingled with apricots, mangoes, almonds and pistachios, half dipped in dark chocolate

Rhubarb Caramels - spring rhubarb flavors classic caramel, dipped in dark chocolate and topped with a candied rhurbarb slice

You may recognize some of the flavors - especially if you're one of my fabulous chocolate of the month subscribers (not one? what are you waiting for? go here), but this box is all about flowers and springtime, and it's a very limited edition, so order early, it may disappear very soon.

I'm also offering the biggest box yet, 36 pieces for $48.95. Why? Because your momma is worth it! Be sure to leave a note in the ordering instructions if you'd like me to add in a special note, wrapping or puppy (puppy availability not guaranteed).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

New Places to get your LUCA fix

The chocolate kitchen has been a frenzy of activity lately, but I had to stop to tell you about three new places to find LUCA treats. Our first and farthest location is the soon to be open Little Luxuries of Mackinac Island, located quite obviously on Michigan's idyllic Mackinac Island.

A little closer to home is chocolate paper in Roanoke, Virginia. There, you'll be able to buy individual LUCA confections, thanks to owner Matt Burkett's amazing selection of chocolates in three big temperature controlled cases.

Last but certainly not least is a new gift-art-wine shop in Farmville, Mylestone Gallery. They're not quite open, but they'll be open and sampling chocolate through Sunday at their downtown Farmville store in celebration of the Dogwood Festival.

Also, if you happen to be in downtown Asheboro tomorrow, I'll be participating in Art on Sunset - selling chocolates of course, but also showing off my dad's amazing metal work (pictures to be posted on their own special spot on the website).

The Easter flavors will be coming down on Sunday with new Mother's Day flavors taking their place.

Monday, April 13, 2009

out of town

I'm out of the kitchen this week, so any orders will ship out at the beginning of next week. Thanks for all your orders over Easter, it's time for a much needed and far too brief break!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pistachio Update

I've received word from the producer of my pistachios, Paramount Farms and they've assured me that their nuts are safe. I've included an excerpt from their reply -
Paramount Farms is not part of this recall, and we
believe our products are safe. We have stringent quality control
procedures in place, and our products consistently exceed USDA

We are committed to producing only the highest quality products and the
health and well-being of consumers who enjoy our pistachios is our
foremost concern. Consistent with this commitment and in light of the
current situation, we are testing all products in our inventory and are
committed to testing all pistachio shipments going forward as a further
precautionary measure.

So, since all the nuts in my buttercream came from Paramount farms, I'm putting them back on the menu. Remember, if you want your order to arrive in time for Easter, I need it no later than 3pm today (for Priority) and no later than noon tomorrow (for Express).

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No! Not pistachios, too!

Really Salmonella? First peanut butter and now pistachios? This is just beyond the pale. Go back to raw chicken and leave my nuts alone!

But seriously everybody - no pistachio candy till I figure out what's been affected. In the spring collection, I'll replace the pistachio creams with sea salt caramels (unless you want something else - if you do, just tell me in the comments). In the Bunny Bark, the milk chocolate bunny will be rolling out with figs only (again, if you'd like another fruit or nut, tell me and I'll make it happen).

I'm sorry for the inconvenience, this is beginning to get tedious!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Springtime is here!

I often get requests for chocolate bunnies, but aside from the cuteness and the thrill of biting off ears, I didn't know how to make them cool enough for LUCA. But, the creativity must be flowing because this year, I give you...Bunny Bark!

Studded with dried fruit, nuts, and toffee, these bun-buns give you something to nibble on besides chocolate. Try dark chocolate with apricots and almonds or milk chocolate with figs and pistachios. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, get a mixed bar - half milk, half dark with pumpkin seed toffee.

Also new for spring, Rhubarb Honey Caramels, Lemon Buttercreams, Pistachio Creams and Agave-Pecan Nougat. The Agave-Pecan Nougat blends toasted, ground pecans with an extra kick of agave nectar, 1800 Reposado tequila (just a touch), and the barest mention of smoked sea salt. The Pistachio Cream has the rich, buttery flavor of freshly roasted pistachios with sweet, homemade fondant. The Rhubarb Honey Caramel is springtime in a caramel - tart pink rhubarb is slowly cooked with honey and finished with butter and cream. And the Lemon Buttercream is pure, lemon meringue pie heaven. I took just-squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest and decadent creamery butter and put it all in a dark chocolate shell.

You know what to do! Order early and often for the answer to your springtime cravings!

Friday, March 6, 2009

What happened to February?

It was a whirlwind, and to all of you who bought LUCA for your Valentine, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! It was a great season for local chocolate and small producers, and I hope you liked what you tried and I'll be seeing more of all of you.

This post will be quite a mishmash, I'm still trying to get my thoughts in order. First off, did you see my chocolate covered bacon in the News and Observer? Here's the bit about me...

Leslie Cooper, 26, is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute who decided to return to Franklinville, a small town east of Asheboro, to start Luca Chocolate. She makes the chocolate-covered bacon, as well as truffles and a chocolate-dipped sea salt caramel.

Her handyman father built her commercial kitchen on the second floor of his workshop on the family's 18-acre farm. They scrounged restaurant auctions and Craigslist for a freezer, a double sink and a microwave. An aunt donated a double oven from a house she is renovating. Cooper's mother is the company's unofficial "chief marketing officer" because she is constantly chatting up her daughter's business.

"This is my baby," Cooper says, "but my whole family supports me."

Nice, yeah?

Second, I hope that you'll stop by Courtyard Coffee when you're in Siler City. It's a darling little shop in downtown Siler City (which is experiencing it's own artistic renaissance), and they've got a great courtyard that's going to be awesome for taking in the cool spring and early summer evenings.

Spring flavors are coming soon, as are a few special Easter themed offerings. I've got visions of spring flowers and buzzing bees and it's just a matter of turning that vision into a buttercream or a caramel or a truffle or something covered in chocolate. Sometimes I feel like all the good ideas are going to dissolve right back into my brain, because they all want out at the same time. Let's cross our fingers and hope that they'll all come out in an orderly fashion.

Finally, I couldn't make a post without mentioning this lovely new product that's come to my attention -McNulty's 7 Fruit Chutney. The owner of this cottage industry contacted me because we share space on Foodzie, and she sent me a sample. Oh man. If I could find a way to make this work with chocolate, I would. It's got this sweet, savory, spicy flavor that takes your chicken sandwich to this whole new level. If you like Indian food, you'll love it, and if you're unsure about Indian flavors, you'll probably still love it. It's like the chutney your grandmother would have made if she emigrated to a small NC town from Delhi. I love it (did you get that yet?) and I'm guarding the rest of my jar jealously.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

V-Day flavors are here!

This is a quick one, because I've got chocolate orders piling up. Expect photos in a day or two (hopefully).

The valentines flavors are as follows:

Passion Fruit Truffle: passion fruit is one of those flavors that you might not have tried, but you won't soon forget it. Tart, with a citrus tang, I've blended it with a vanilla white chocolate ganache with just a hint of nutmeg

Rosehip Buttercream: the fruit of the rose, rosehip puree is blended with smooth fondant and rich creamery butter, a unique take on chocolate and roses!

Tart Cherry Cordial - the ultimate chocolate covered cherry, sweet mountain cherries, preserved in amaretto and rum, in a tart cherry coulis

They won't last long (probably until the end of February), and then we're on to spring! My houseplants are so excited at the thought of spring, they can barely keep their roots in their pots.

Photos to come...


clockwise from the top, that's tart cherry coulis, passionfruit ganache (see the little vanilla specks?), and rosehip buttercream. The middle bit's chocolate, but I'm guessing you already knew that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

ah, the perils of the peanut

Why did it have to be peanut butter? Of all the condiments that could be contaminated, why did it have to be the silky, sweet-savory companion of strawberry jelly and white bread? Why couldn't it have been Miracle Whip or pickled herring?

If you shop for my products at the Weaver Street Market, one of your choices is the peanut butter truffle - a particularly delicious confection (if I do say so myself). Since we consumers have been warned against peanut butter containing products, it's natural to suspect my darling little peanut butter truffles might leave you with more than just a pleasant memory and a whisper of chocolate on the back of your tongue.

In the interest of making informed choices, I want to let you all know that I use Full Circle Foods Organic creamy peanut butter, purchased in consumer sized jars from the grocery store. I've contacted them, and they've told me: " We are NOT involved in the pb recall!". Also, I've eaten one or two peanut butter truffle scraps, and I'm fine. Well, "no salmonella" fine, all other forms of fine are subject to individual assessment.

So stop worrying, and eat more truffles.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Foodzie, your newest source for LUCA and more.

Late last year, a charming new site called Foodzie launched, and I was one of their first vendors. Foodzie is the product of three friends, Rob, Emily and Nik, whom I met a little over a year ago. I knew right away that they were onto something great - bringing together talented food producers from all over the country and giving them a chance to share their passion with a much larger audience.

So much has happened for Emily, Rob and Nik - what began as an idea shared with me at a cocktail party (though I'm positive there was a lot of work on their part before that, but it was the first time I found out about it), quickly grew to a burgeoning tech startup, thanks to a successful bid to join Techstars, a business incubator in Colorado (I sent Sea Salt Caramels to that audition!). Now they're garnering all sorts of excellent press, and taking me along for the ride.

First, a post from Slashfood .

Next, a nod from the NY Times .

I can't wait to see what good things come next, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it! So if you want to find me and other delicious treats and support local producers and an awesome entrepreneurial team with ties to NC, head on over to foodzie.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chocolate Bacon in the High Point Enterprise

Last Tuesday, Jimmy Tomlin of the High Point Enterprise paid me a visit. We talked about the joys of making candy for a living, and the strangeness of dipping cured meats in chocolate. I have to say, though, if I'm going to keep doing interviews, I'm going to have to either request that the photographer work before or after the interview concludes, or work on my multitasking. It's not easy to model chocolate covered bacon, holding a piece hovering in midair while also trying answer questions about your business and not sound like an idiot. I just hope I didn't sound too ditzy.

I've pasted it below, you can also visit the website, which includes a photo, but you'll have to register. It's a lovely article, but I do have a couple of footnotes. The print version states that you can purchase choco-bacon at the Randolph Arts Guild and all the Weaver Street Market locations. It's not available at Weaver Street, but it is available in limited quantities at the Arts Guild and of course, always online. And also, I did once dream of becoming a pastry chef. Now I am one. I'm just also a chocolatier...

Chocolate ... & Bacon?

By Jimmy Tomlin
Jan 09, 2009

Leslie Cooper admits that chocolate-covered bacon is one of the most popular items she makes in her Randolph County kitchen.
RANDOLPH COUNTY - Sometimes the fun in eating chocolate is discovering which tasty filling has been buried underneath the chocolate coating.

Is it caramel?

Is it a cherry?

How about coconut?


For Randolph County chocolatier Leslie Cooper, hickory-smoked bacon - cooked to a crisp, just the way we like it here in the South - is the filling that's been, well, bringing home the bacon for the past several months.

"It's been really popular," the 26-year-old Franklinville woman says. "(Chocolate-covered bacon) is the majority of what I made this Christmas."

Cooper, whose creativity in the kitchen once led her to make jalapeno cordials for a wedding, apparently has never met a filling she didn't like - or wasn't at least willing to try. So last March, when a blogger told readers of his desire to try some chocolate-covered bacon - fulfilling his lifelong dream of merging two of his favorite foods - Cooper was happy to oblige.

"I've never made it," she told him, "but I'd be glad to do it for you."

Cooper, who owns Luca Chocolate, retreated to her laboratory - er, um, her kitchen - and began to experiment, and before long she had a batch of chocolate-covered bacon ready for shipping. She also threw in a few bacon caramels, as well as another creation she'd been working on - bourbon and black pepper truffles.

"He loved it and wrote about it on his blog - he even did a little video that he put on YouTube - and people just started calling from all over, saying "I have to have that bacon,'" Cooper recalls. "One guy ordered two pounds for his father for Father's Day, sight unseen. He'd never even tasted it - he just said, "Send it now.'"

The orders came from all over the country - California, Arizona, Washington, New York, Connecticut - "anywhere and everywhere," Cooper says - and suddenly Luca Chocolate was a bit of an Internet sensation.

"What I'm learning is that there's this whole cult of bacon people out there who just love anything bacon - they've just gotta have it," she says, sounding a bit perplexed. "I mean, I like bacon - I like a BLT - but I guess it's not quite as much my thing as it is other people's."

Needless to say, chocolate-covered bacon has a uniquely distinctive taste.

"It's salty, it's sweet, it's smoky and a little meaty, but not too much," Cooper explains. "I think the contrast makes the flavors taste better. It's kind of like sweet and sour - the sourness is intensified by the sweet, and the sweetness is intensified by the sour. It's kind of like that with the chocolate and the bacon."

The cooking process is fairly straightforward. Cooper cooks the bacon in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes - until it's really crispy - then allows it to cool. Once the bacon has cooled, she dips the 3- to 4-inch strips in a bowl of tempered chocolate and lays them out to allow the chocolate to firm up. She sprinkles sea salt on top of the chocolate for one final zing of extra flavor.

Customers can buy a "bacon box," which includes the chocolate-covered bacon (with their choice of milk chocolate or dark chocolate) and bacon caramels, as well as bourbon and black pepper truffles.

Cooper once dreamed of becoming a pastry chef - she attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City - before launching Luca Chocolate a couple of years ago (Luca is the name of her horse). The business started slowly, "but it's grown steadily in these two years," she says. "It's exponentially better than it was at this time last year."

And for that - in part, at least - she can thank her lucky bacon.

"I never intended to make chocolate-covered bacon," Cooper says, "but it's easily one of the most popular things I make."

© 2009 by The High Point Enterprise. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Presidential Cravings

If you follow the NY Times, you'll have already read this, but if not, it's an interesting story. Apparently, our president-elect has a taste for sea salt caramels. He's been getting his fix from a lovely company in the Pacific Northwest...perhaps he needs an East Coast supplier? I wonder how one mails chocolates to the leader of the country?