BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Hip To Be Shared

Puffed snacks represent the pinnacle of junk food innovation and technology. No matter how hard you try, there’s simply no way to replicate that characteristically light, airy, yet impossibly crisp texture at home; trust me, I’ve gone through the ringer in my own kitchen, to no avail. Coated in powdered cheese of varying fluorescence hues, the salty morsels have been staining fingers since the 1930s but never gained much traction among the nutritionally conscious. That should come as no surprise, since questionable oils and highly processed dairy ingredients have long been the “best” that these salty treats could offer.

Hippeas is a new company set to change all that, turning away from the traditional corn base and towards one composed of everyone’s favorite legume: the chickpea.

Much more substantial than your typical puffed snack, each kernel boasts a sturdy, satisfying crunch, backed by impressive protein and fiber values. Unlike the Styrofoam whips of yore, one serving really will do… Although the tempting flavors might convince you keep munching.

Six unique seasonings offer a different taste for every craving. Cheese is the gold standard, the essential foundation of the puffed snack hierarchy, so the Vegan White Cheddar has very high expectations to live up to. While the overall effect doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t entirely deliver either. Evoking the flavor profile of creamy mac and cheese, it will certainly scratch that savory itch, but an incongruous sweetness detracts from the experience. Simply put, they’re highly enjoyable, but would never fool an omnivore.

Where Hippeas shine is in their more creative offerings that make no allusions to imitation. Delicious within their own right as a completely unique snack, the Far Out Fajita was the stand-out winner by my account. Cumin and coriander ring clearest out of the seasoning melange, imparting a Tex-Mex vibe. Further munching evoked the flavors of crunchy falafel, which made me think they would pair brilliantly with a bold tahini dip.

Pepper Power presents a strong showing for the most basic option. Thoroughly flecked with ground black pepper, each bite provides a nice balance of spice and salt, creating a subtle warmth that doesn’t overwhelm. By contrast, Sriracha Sunshine takes a bolder approach, but falls far short of its scoville target. The initial taste is of vinegar, with a timid heat following quietly, slow to build up steam. Excess sweetness brings down the spice considerably for these morsels, but in the case of Happenin’ Hickory, that same quality creates a pleasing balance. Accented with tomato, onion, and garlic, the overall effect delivers the impression of barbecue sauce more than pure hickory smoke, but is highly munchable nonetheless.

For those with a sweet tooth, Hippeas has something for you, too! The taste of Maple Haze rings true for pancake syrup with subtle buttery undertones. Take a bag with you to the theater next time; I think they’d make delightful alternative to caramel corn.

The full line of Hippeas aren’t perfect across the board, but one thing is for sure: They’ve mastered the elusive ways of the puff, and taken the “junk” out of this particular junk food favorite. There’s a whole lot to savor if you stick with the top hits.


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When In Rome

Rumblings about the latest legume superfood have been reverberating through the food scene for years now, but until lately, little proof could be found on grocery store shelves. Lupini beans (otherwise referred to as Lupine/Lupin) have been called the “perfect protein,” boasting even greater numbers than soybeans along with the full complement of essential amino acids. They’ve slowly begun to work their way into meatless meals, snack foods, and baking mixes, but few opportunities have allowed them to shine all by themselves. The main problem plaguing this humble bean is a natural bitterness that is very difficult to overcome. Prepared at home, they must be soaked, boiled, drained, boiled, rinsed, and boiled some more. Even then, pickling might be necessary to cover up any residual off flavors. Even worse, getting the process wrong isn’t just distasteful, but possibly poisonous. High levels of alkaloids can cause everything from dizziness to potential liver damage. That alone could scare off most reasonable eaters.

It’s not all doom and gloom in the lupini kingdom, though. Initially recognized for their nutritional prowess, they’re finally getting attention for their unique culinary potential as well. Brami has taken out their bitter bite and made it easy to enjoy them as a new kind of savory snack. Imploring us to “snack like a Roman” in reference to their Italian origins, it took a bit of modern technology to bring this ancient food back into relevance. Fully cooked and seasoned to enjoy much like edamame, needing no refrigeration and thus ideal for eating on the go- Although with my lack of grace, I’m not sure I could daintily eat them in public. It takes a bit of practice to gently ease the beans out of their tough skins without shooting them clear across the room.

The serving size might appear small, but it makes for a highly satisfying snack, indeed. These beans possess a very mild, slightly sweet and nutty flavor, accompanied by a firm, meaty texture. Of the four flavors, the garlic herb variety was my favorite, and likely the greatest crowd-pleaser of the batch. Overall mild and agreeable, the garlic flavor won’t put you at risk for dragon breath, but offers enough interest to entertain the palate. Chile lime is presented with equal finesse; tangy, warm spice accompanies the natural earthiness of the lupine without overwhelming it. This delicate balance can also be found in the bolder hot pepper flavor which dances with punchy seasonings that resist the urge to beat you up. Sea salt is for purists, but also seems ripe for additional creativity. Think of them as mixed nuts, capable of accommodating both sweet and savory tastes, and the sky is the limit.

I, for one, hope that the lupini bean continues to find new fans abroad. As a self-contained super food that genuinely lives up to the moniker, it’s hard to imagine a more versatile, tasteful option for healthy snacking.


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Lazy Day Luxuries

Browsing through the latest issue of a prominent food magazine, the leading sentence of yet another summer recipe round up grabbed me by the throat. Proclaiming August the “laziest month,” it struck me as a particularly bold declaration, forcing me to consider how plausible such a blanket statement might actually be. When else would we, collectively as a workaholic society, sneak out of the office sooner, take longer siestas, or justify more extended weekend adventures? December would be a close contender, but when you factor in the stress of holidays and family obligations, it’s clearly out of the running. Perhaps they’re right; perhaps August does take the cake for stringing together the most laid-back, unhurried days on the calendar.

So, as July inevitably slips through our fingers, it’s time to batten down the hatches and prepare to seriously take it slow. I’m all about minimal effort resulting in maximum impact, which is why I can’t get enough of The Blender Girl‘s raw key lime pudding.

It first graced my hot and humid east coast kitchen a number of years ago and has become an annual summer staple ever since. It’s baffling that I somehow neglected to include it in my initial review of her brilliant cookbook, but I suppose I was subconsciously saving it for the more languorous days that best suit the no-muss, no-fuss preparation.

I’ve barely done anything to the original formula, which only goes to show what a solid recipe Tess has concocted here. I’ve never gone out of my way to actually use key limes, and yet it still bears a sprightly, zesty flavor thanks to the balance between standard limes and lemons. I’d venture to say that adding a touch of grapefruit to the party might be a delightfully tangy addition, too. It’s a good thing we have the whole month of August ahead of us- I’ll undoubtedly have many more batches of this refreshing raw treat to experiment with.

Raw “Key Lime” Pudding
Modified slightly from The Blender Girl Cookbook by Tess Masters

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Avocados, Pitted and Peeled
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Bananas, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lime Zest
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

It’s easy enough to figure out how this one comes together, but in case you need some hand-holding, here’s how it all goes down: Throw everything into your blender and process until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container if needed. Transfer to four individual glasses or ramekins, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until chilled. Serve the same day to prevent browning.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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I Did It All For the Cookie

For all the redundant recipes in the world, I still relish the individual personal touches that set each one apart. Even if it’s instructions for the same old chocolate chip cookie that half the country’s grandmothers made for decades and has been transcribed on over a million pads of paper or digital text files, each iteration bears the unique voice of the writer. As personal as a fingerprint, one can hear the voice of each baker through their choice of words, describing exactly how those familiar ingredients should be managed, what the end results should look like, perhaps throwing in a bit of sage wisdom along the way. What grabs the most attention, however, is always the title. Headlines by nature lead the way into any new conversation, and the way that recipe writers decide to engage prospective cooks and bakers says volumes all by itself. Some titles need no explanation, such as something straightforward like “Strawberry Pie”. Strawberries, pie crust, done. Others provide a hint of what’s to come, but leave a good deal of mystery on the table. Try, “Meatloaf Surprise.” A mash of ground meat, and…? Is it a good surprise? A bad surprise? I’m not entirely sure I want to find out.

Then there are the recipes that provide no clues, but plenty of intrigue. “Magic Bars” fall firmly into that category, but it’s easy to discern the kitchen wizardry at work after just a quick glance through the instructions. Cookie bars made in minutes, bound together with little more than a can of condensed milk. Consider it the cookie version of the classic dump cake, traditionally lavished with shredded coconut, chopped nuts, and plenty of chocolate. They come together so easily, and satisfy so effortlessly, there really is a certain sort of magic to them.

The real power of any tried-and-true recipe, however, comes from it’s near magical ability to bend to the will of innovation. When cravings led me to pine over every single cookie I could think of, all at once, I thought it would take a miracle to scratch that itch. Turns out it was really just a matter of some sweet sorcery, combined with a pint of So Delicious ice cream.

It takes a great deal of willpower to consciously melt down a perfectly good pint of Snickerdoodle Cashew Ice Cream, but just keep breathing and trust me on this one: The sum will be so much greater than the parts, if you can believe it. The deck is certainly stacked and expectations run high with this cast of characters, complete with sandwich cookies and crunchy chocolate chip cookies, in addition to the traditional graham cracker base. Oh yes, and don’t forget the chocolate morsels or buttery cashew nuts, either.

Designed for the cookie monster that lies at the heart of every child and reasonable adult, these bars can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned. Melted cashew ice cream serves as the decadent glue that binds this cookie overload together, handily replacing the sticky dairy syrup that is usually embedded in the formula. Best of all, it brings yet another type of cookie into the party, so all told, you’ve got a cookie quartet singing sweetly in every bite- Five if you count the finished bar itself, I suppose.

Keeping with tradition, my title remains appropriately bewitching, providing a subtle taste of what lies ahead, without giving away the ending. The real magic comes with the baking, after all.

It’s my pleasure to join 20 other inspiring bloggers, authors, and general kitchen whizzes in this summer’s Raise a Pint Recipe Contest, made possible by Go Dairy Free and So Delicious. Tasked with finding new ways to make the most of any So Delicious Coconut Milk or Cashew Milk Frozen Desserts, there will no doubt be loads of tempting sweet treats flooding your computer screen soon. All recipes will be unveiled by July 24th, at which point you, my dear readers, will be able to jump in and vote for your favorites, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, you can also join in on the fun with the #RaiseAPint Event, running until August 5th. So Delicious will reward 20 entrants with ice cream party prize packs. Simply share your moment on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and be sure to use #RaiseAPint! Find the full details right here, and start scooping.

Cookie Monster Magic Bars

4.5 Ounces (About 1 1/4 Cups) Finely Ground Graham Cracker Crumbs
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil or Vegan Butter, Melted
8 Ounces (About 1/2 Pint ) So Delicious Snickerdoodle Cashew Ice Cream, Melted
6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/2 Cup Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Crunchy Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Unsalted Cashews Halves and Pieces

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted coconut oil or vegan butter in small bowl and mix until all the crumbs are thoroughly moistened. Transfer to your prepared pan, and firmly press it across the bottom. If you’re having trouble getting the mixture to cooperate, it helps to lightly grease the bottom of a flat measuring cup and use that to get a nice, smooth layer.

Now comes the fun stuff! Pour the melted ice cream all over the crust, distributing the mix-ins to the best of your ability. Sprinkle the chocolate chips, both types of chopped cookies, and cashews all over. Use your palms to press the goodies down gently but firmly.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely in the pan, and then use the aluminum foil like a sling to remove the whole lot. Slice into bars or squares as desired.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Back to the Roots

A flavor that defies all seasons and locations, root beer is nonetheless inextricably linked to memories of my childhood summers, celebrations both big and small in cozy easy coast suburbs. Reserved for grand finales rather than the accompaniment to a meal, this fizzy elixir would rarely arrive at the party alone. Creamy scoops of ice cream always set those bubbles off in perfect contrast, the pale vanilla dollops slowly melting, melding into the dark sea of syrupy sweetness. If you were lucky, it might all be topped off with a swirl of chocolate syrup; just enough to hint at a cocoa undertone, never so much as to steal the show.

Few desserts have shaped my palate quite like that combination, inspiring a wide range of spin-offs over the years, the most “famous” of which can more or less lay claim to landing my first cookbook deal. No matter how many times root beer re-enters my consciousness, in any sort of shape, I will never grow tired of its unique spices, herbal and earthy in all the right ways.

It’s effortless to infuse root beer flavor into absolutely anything, thanks to the magic of baking extracts and concentrates. Armed with this secret ingredient, I’ve set my sights on another adolescent favorite: The classic rice crispy treat.

Not only is the flavor more mature, but the grains themselves are all grown up. There’s still some rice in there for good measure, but it’s kissed with cocoa, adding a greater depth to the whole conversation. Most notably, tiny flecks of crunchy quinoa cereal and popped sorghum round out the affair, lending a distinctive nuttiness not found in the original invention.

That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more appealing treat for kids and adults alike. Lacking the fancy cereals, this formula will easily work with all rice crispies just as well. Go ahead and play around with your top breakfast cereals, because as it turns out, just about anything light and crunchy will do. Bathed in a binding mixture of root beer and maple syrup, even the most humble of breakfast fodder can be transformed into an ambrosial sweet snack.

Nostalgia is a strong pull for the overall concept, but the flavor itself will bring you back for more, whether you grew up indulging in root beer floats or not.

Popped Root Beer Crispy Treats

2 Cups Crispy Quinoa Cereal
2 Cups Cocoa Crispy Rice Cereal
1 Cup Popped Sorghum
1 1/2 Teaspoons Refined Coconut Oil*
1/2 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
6 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoons Root Beer Extract

*Opt for refined coconut oil to minimize the coconut flavor, or if you’d prefer, simply use your favorite vegan butter instead.

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Combine both cereals and popped sorghum in a large bowl. Set both aside.

Set a medium saucepan over low heat and begin by melting the margarine coconut oil. Once liquefied, add in the maple syrup, sugar, and salt, stirring as needed until the sugar crystals dissolve. Bring the mixture to a steady boil and then cook for an additional 3 – 5 minutes, until it appears to have thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the root beer extract.

Pour the contents of your saucepan over the dry mix and fold it in carefully but briskly with a wide non-stick spatula, being careful not to crush the cereal.

Pour everything into your prepared pan and gently press it out into an even layer. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes 10 – 12 Bars

Printable Recipe


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A Cheesecake for the Ages

Now synonymous with New York, the Americanized cheesecake as we know it has only been around for about a century, beginning life a mere shadow of the dense and rich dessert it became. In fact, cheesecake originated sometime around 1500 BCE, from the hands of inventive ancient Greeks and Romans, frequently used as offerings to the gods. This rendition merely combined soft cheese with flour and baked it into submission; pastry bases only emerged sometime in the first century, with sweeteners joining into the mix shortly thereafter. From that point forward, there was no stopping it. Today it might look like the explosion of cupcakes or other trendy food crazes, but of course, without the aid of social media, the cheesecake’s popularity spread at a glacial pace. Eventually reaching the hands of more creative bakers, various cultures developed their own unique approaches, utilizing various cheeses, flours, spices, and eventually, fruits and chocolates. We’ve come a long way, baby.

I’d like to think that the evolution of the cheesecake isn’t yet over. There’s still so much left to explore through the medium of tangy cream cheese perched atop a cookie-like base. In fact, going by that very loose description, why does it need to be a full-fledged cake at all? Can’t we bring it back from the edge of decadence and debauchery, back a bit closer to it’s more humble, less saccharine beginnings? I’m not suggesting we whip up a batch of salty cheese nuggets, but just consider a cheesecake fit for everyday eating, perhaps with a few nutritional benefits to speak of.

I bristle at the overused turn of phrase, but it really is true; you can finally have your cheesecake and eat it, too! Re-imagined for the 21st century, the illustrious dessert has been stripped of all its highfalutin’ frippery and restored back to its original brilliance, suitable for the commoner and the gods alike. Simple squares replace the traditional wedge, making a knife and fork unnecessary for enjoyment. What’s not so plain to see is that underneath the hood, these luscious bars conceal a considerable dose of plant-based protein, furnished by the new Pro(Zero) Natural Strawberry Jam Protein Powder. Simultaneously bolstering the structure of this snack and contributing volumes of fresh, fruity flavor, the powder’s inherent sweetness considerably reduces the need for added sugar. Remarkably flavorful, Pro(Zero) really nailed the flavor of ripe strawberries simmered down into a rich spread, condensed into a satisfying, wholesome package.

Oh, and most importantly of all, did I mention that the finished treats taste amazing? Sure, these brilliant little squares may be a far cry from what the ancient Greeks and Romans had in mind when they first invented the concept, but let’s be honest; they couldn’t even dream up a treat this heavenly, even if it was the food of the gods.

Strawberry Protein Cheesecake Bars

Oatmeal Cookie Crust:

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Water
1/4 Cup Coconut or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3/4 Cups Quick-Cooking Oats
1/2 Cup White Whole Wheat or All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Protein-Packed Strawberry Cheesecake Filling:

1 1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
1 (8-Ounce) Container Vegan Cream Cheese
1/2 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Strawberry Jam Protein Powder
1/3 Cup + 1/4 Cup Strawberry Jam or Preserves, Divided
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8×8-inch square baking dish with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Whisk together the olive oil, water, and sugar in a medium-sized bowl before adding in the remaining dry ingredients for the crust. Stir well to combine and form a cohesive but slightly crumbly dough. Transfer the mixture into your prepared pans; using lightly moistened hands, press it into the bottom of your pan so that it’s in one even layer. Bake 15 – 18 minutes until lightly browned and let cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by first draining the tofu of any excess water before tossing it into your food processor or blender. Puree thoroughly until completely smooth. Add in the “cream cheese” and pulse to incorporate. Scrape down the sides and blend again, ensuring that no lumps remain before adding the protein powder, 1/3 cup of the strawberry jam, lemon juice, and vanilla. Blend thoroughly until completely smooth and creamy.

Pour the cheesecake filling on top of the par-baked crust, and smooth out the top with your spatula. Tap it gently on the counter a few times to knock out any air bubbles. Take the remaining 1/4 cup of strawberry jam and spoon dollops all over the surface. Use a flat knife or spatula to gently marble and swirl the jam throughout, being careful not to disturb the crust underneath.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the edges appear set but the center remains ever so slightly wobbly when tapped. It will continue to firm up as it cools.

Let cool completely before moving it into the refrigerator, where it will continue to solidify until it can finally be sliced into bars, after a minimum of 4 hours.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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In the Zone

In this day and age, it’s stunning that there are still any lingering concerns about where vegans get their protein from. That said, not all sources are created equal, and I’m still a big fan of protein shakes for quick nutrition infusions on the go. The field is littered with failed attempts at appealing only to health nuts, and not necessarily their taste buds, so it’s with great trepidation that I would tempt fate and deviate from my tried-and-true rotation of powdered options.

Thank goodness I gave Pro(Zero) by HPN Supplements a try. Blending pea and rice protein with lou han guo and stevia for strength and sweetness, the label itself was unarguably impressive. Immediately dispelling my biggest textural fears, each shake mixed up beautifully in just a standard sports bottle. Silky smooth, not a lump nor clump in sight, it was ready to go with only water and a bit of elbow grease. Quite substantial without any sort of extras necessary, I found that one scoop easily kept me satisfied for hours, even through the most drawn out, late night classes.

Granted, it’s not a miracle mix. It continues to thicken as it sits, so it shouldn’t be blended in advance. Plus, it’s best served icy-cold; at room temperature, there are some vaguely fruity notes, a strained sweetness, and very slightly bitter aftertaste that come to the fore. The takeaway here is that as long as your shakes don’t sit around, you’ll still be sitting pretty!

Excited by this new protein-packed ingredient, I wanted to see what else it could do to supercharge some other snacks. With an eye to the holidays, it seemed like the perfect thing to turn into a festive, yet healthy indulgence.

Does anything say “indulgence” better than a vanilla bean-flecked bark, covered with toasted pistachios and sweetened dried cranberries?

Well, what about a thick slab of chocolate, dotted with crunchy crushed cacao nibs and a smattering of flaky sea salt?

Just because it’s classified as candy doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy. I’d like to think that protein bark is the new protein bar, with an extra dose of holiday whimsy mixed in. Whether it’s a gift you give to friends and family or simply to yourself, it’s guaranteed to be in good taste!

Not all protein powders react the same when used in various recipes, so I would highly recommend stocking up on Pro(Zero) specifically this time around. Just for you, my sweet readers, order directly from HPN Supplements and get 10% off by using the coupon code “bittersweet”.

Protein Holiday Bark

Peppermint Cacao Bark:

6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Vanilla Protein Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
Coarse or Flaky Sea Salt

Cranberry-Pistachio Bark:

1/2 Cup Refined Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Vanilla Protein Powder
3 Tablespoons Confectioners’ Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Toasted, Unsalted Pistachios
1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries

For the Peppermint Cacao Bark, place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe dish and heat at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each cycle, until completely melted. Add in the protein powder and peppermint extract, mixing thoroughly. Once the powder is completely incorporated, spread the mixture out on a piece of parchment paper or a silpat. Smooth it out as thinly as possible with a wide spatula; exact dimensions aren’t important.

Sprinkle the cacao nibs and a pinch of sea salt over the top, gently pressing the goodies into the surface so that they adhere. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes for the bark to solidify before breaking into pieces and enjoying.

For the Cranberry-Pistachio Bark, place the coconut oil in a microwave-safe dish and heat until liquefied. Add in the protein powder, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla paste or powder, and salt, stirring until the mixture is homogeneous. Allow it to sit in a cool place for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until it begins to thicken and solidify again. If you house is very warm, place it in the fridge for only 5 – 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so for the same effect.

Spread the mixture out on a piece of parchment paper or a silpat as thinly as possible with a wide spatula; exact dimensions aren’t important. Once smooth, sprinkle the pistachios and cranberries evenly over the top, gently pressing the goodies into the surface so that they adhere. Place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes for the bark to solidify before breaking into pieces and enjoying.

Store either rendition in an airtight container in the fridge or a cool place for up to a week.

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.