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Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

Bar Cocoa 031 Edited Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

I ate dessert for dinner this week. And it was divine.

Bar Cocoa in the Ritz-Carlton hosted a group of Charlotte bloggers, and I had the good fortune to attend. It was a lovely experience, and it started with macarons. Bridges and bridges of macarons.

Blueberry-lavender is newest member to the Bar Cocoa macaron family, and I can vouch for its deliciousness. I tried nearly a half-dozen flavors – coconut, dulce de leche, honey, pistachio, and the aforementioned blueberry-lavender – and am hard-pressed to pick a favorite.

Most people choose the best seller Red Velvet. For me, it was a close call between the coconut and blueberry-lavender, but in my world, coconut always wins.

Bar Cocoa 033 Edited Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

After the macarons there was honey-pecan and peach-mango gelato. I would not kick either flavor out of my freezer, but the peach-mango was unbelievable. It made me happy to have taste buds.

Gelato was followed by eclairs: classic, s’mores, strawberry-pistachio, raspberry-rose, and caramel.

Picking a favorite eclair is, I imagine, like picking your favorite child. It simply can not be done. Sure, there are things you appreciate about one more so than another, but at the end of the day, you love them all.

Bar Cocoa 035 Edited Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

Bar Cocoa 041 Edited Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

Next up was the signature Ritz-Carlton Cake. You can only visit Bar Cocoa at the Ritz in Charlotte, but you can order the signature cake at any Ritz.

You guys, I am not a big fan of chocolate cake. The crumb is always too heavy or the flavor is too intense for my tastes. But this cake. This cake is the one.

It was my favorite thing on the menu. I want to say it was light and layered with flavor and an all-around delight. The Ritz says, “This deeply flavorful specialty cake…features a rich, dark chocolate flavor with bursts of orange throughout, creating a delicious balance of sweet chocolate and sharp citrus.”

Yeah. It was that.

Bar Cocoa 051 Edited Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

Then to wash it all down, the milkshakes came out. Cookies and cream, banana-caramel, and double chocolate made with chocolate-hazelnut gelato. Cookies and cream anything is hard to beat, but the chocolate-hazelnut combination came pretty darn close.

This assortment of amazing desserts was shared with us by a group of incredibly friendly and professional Ritz-Carlton employees. Pastry sous chef Jeanette Payne graciously educated us about our desserts as we scarfed them down like a pack of wolves. Well, as I did at least. (Seriously, here we are nearing the aftermath).

So that’s the desserts, but that’s not all. Bar Cocoa features special events, like a free gelato bar where a gelato scoop like those seen above are served atop a petite waffle cone. I think this happens on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons in the summer, but I could be wrong on that. These details were provided when I was eating like I’d never seen a dessert before in my life, so I might have missed some things.

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Another event is the Chocolate & Champagne Dinner. If anyone out there would like to get my attention, inviting me to this five-course all-dessert dinner ought to do it.

In all seriousness though, the Cocoa Lab Cooking Classes are a must-attend for anyone in Charlotte who is remotely interested in learning how to make desserts. The classes are held from 9 a.m. – noon on Saturdays and limited to eight people per class. The $75 per person price includes hands-on education from a pastry chef, complimentary parking, a recipe collection, keepsake apron, and of course the desserts made during the class.

I really can not say enough good things about this experience. In addition to the desserts featured here, cheesecakes, chocolate mousse, cupcakes, and other sweets including  Norman Love chocolates are available at Bar Cocoa. Find them at 201 East Trade Street at the corner of Trade & College in Charlotte. And please invite me with you.

Bar Cocoa 046 Edited Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

Bar Cocoa generously provided my desserts and drinks. My only obligation was to show up and enjoy myself. I wrote about my experience here because it was worth sharing. Any errors or omissions are unintentional and my own. All photos you see here were taken with my iPhone. Click here to see me in action.

Slow-Cooker Chicken with Lime, Honey and Soy

April 6 049 Edited Slow Cooker Chicken with Lime, Honey and Soy

When I read a recipe from a slow cooker cookbook,  I expect to use only my slow cooker. Imagine my surprise when the original version of this recipe called for frying the chicken, sauteing  an onion, and boiling a sauce all before slow cooking. Help me.

Still, I liked the idea of using Chinese Five Spice, honey, and lime, so I took what I wanted from the recipe to create a dry rub and a liquid marinade. Within minutes, my chicken was seasoned and simmering, and I was out the door to waste time in the best of ways. I.e. socializing with friends over adult beverages.

Then I came home to this.

April 6 059 Edited Slow Cooker Chicken with Lime, Honey and Soy

It may be worth noting that this recipe calls for chicken thighs as it is easier to overcook leaner cuts of chicken such as boneless, skinless breast in the slow cooker. Feel free to use the cuts of meat your prefer, just be aware you may need to monitor the cooking process more closely and/or reduce the cooking time.

I served my chicken over a mixture of basmati and forbidden rice, and then tucked the leftovers into an omelet. I imagine it would make for an equally good sandwich or maybe even work as a taco like this slow-cooker adobo chicken. Enjoy!

April 6 053 Edited Slow Cooker Chicken with Lime, Honey and Soy

Chicken with Lime, Honey and Soy
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 to 1½ pounds boneless chicken thighs (about 6)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon wasabi powder
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • ⅓ cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • Optional:
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • Rice, cooked according to package instructions
Instructions
  1. Mix the Chinese Five Spice, black pepper and wasabi powder together.
  2. Rub the spice mixture into the chicken thighs, then place the meat into a slow cooker.
  3. Whisk together the chicken stock, honey, lime juice, soy sauce, and minced garlic.
  4. Pour the liquid mixture over the chicken in the crock pot, turn heat to low, and cook for 4 to 6 hours until the chicken is tender.
  5. When done, remove the chicken from the slow cooker, place in a large bowl, and use two forks to pull the chicken apart into shreds.
  6. If desired, transfer the liquid left in the crock pot to a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce by half, about 10-12 minutes. Pour this mixture over the chicken before serving. (Or just reserve the liquid as is and pour over any leftovers to reduce dryness).
  7. Also if desired. serve over rice and top with green onion.
Notes
I used 1.34 pounds of boneless chicken thighs for this recipe. The original recipe called for 2½ pounds of bone-in chicken thighs.
You can add 1 teaspoon of coarse salt if desired. The soy sauce provides enough salt for my tastes.

Greek Lentil Soup

March 30 029 Edited Greek Lentil Soup

Welcome to the simplest soup recipe of all time.

I have been working my way through a page of soup recipes I tore from a magazine upwards of four years ago. I started with winter tomato soup and followed it with a carrot and sweet potato soup spiced with ginger. Savory Moroccan soup is right up there on my list.

Then there was this Greek lentil soup.

Little excited me about vegetables and lentils in broth, but I made it anyway. I can tell you I made it because I wanted to cook with something I do not typically use (the lentils). I can tell you I also wanted to use up a rogue carrot, leftover celery stalk, and a can of tomatoes I opened for some reason but then did not use in its entirety.

March 30 011 Edited Greek Lentil Soup

Both of those are true, but in all honesty, I made this soup simply because it was on the page, and I wanted to cross it off. I’m not sure what that says about my personality, but it’s probably not good.

The good news is my assumption that a soup made from leftover vegetables and lentils would taste dull was proved wrong. I was surprised by its rich, almost buttery, flavor.

Lentil soup is a far cry from cake, of course, but for a simple soup, it was deceivingly delicious. Top it with a dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt for a bit more deliciousness. Then enjoy.

March 30 026 Edited Greek Lentil Soup

Greek Lentil Soup
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • ¾ cup diced tomatoes, including juice
  • ½ cup dried red or brown lentils, rinsed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon dried basil
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, carrot and celery and saute until soft, about two to three minutes.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot (stock through basil) and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 to 20 minutes until the lentils are tender.
  5. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
Notes
I used red lentils for this soup. The soup may require thinning with ½ cup of water or additional broth, depending on your tastes.