from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen

This is a several part recipe. Don’t be scared! Just be sure that you start the night before; the cashews need to soak overnight!

For the Panna Cotta:
1 1/2 tsp agar-agar flakes
1/3 c boiling water
1 1/2 c thick Cashew Cream, thinned with water to the consistency of whole milk (about 3/4 c thick cream and 3/4 c water)
1 c plain unsweetened almond milk
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped, or 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
For the Orange Sauce:
1 c freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange zest
3 tbsp firmly packed light brown sugar
4 tbsp Earth Balance
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Make the Panna Cotta: Put the agar-agar in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them; let soak for 5 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, combine the Cashew Cream, almond milk, sugar, salt, and soaked agar-agar. If using the vanilla bean, add it now, with the scraped seeds. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly and watching to make sure it doesn’t boil over. As soon as a foam starts to rise up in the pan, reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. If using vanilla bean paste, add it now.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into 6 (1-cup) ramekins. Let cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours, until set.

Make the orange sauce: In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice and zest, brown sugar, Earth Balance, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened slightly and reduced by half, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in the liqueur, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof container or squeeze bottle. If not using right away, let the sauce cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat by placing the container in a pan of hot water.

To serve: Run a thin knife or offset spatula around the edges of the ramekins to loosen the Panna Cotta. Place a serving plate over the top of each ramekin and turn over. Gently tap the ramekin; the Panna Cotta should slide out easily. Drizzle or squeeze some of the orange sauce over the Panna Cotta and top with a few pieces of the nut brittle. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Rosemary Pine Nut Brittle (see note below on Pine Mouth!)

1 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp Earth Balance
1 tbsp light agave nectar
1 tsp sea salt
1 c pine nuts, toasted
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan, gently stir together the sugar and 1/4 cup water.

Add the Earth Balance and agave nectar to the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to combine. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, and do not stir once the mixture is boiling.

Increase the heat slightly and cook until the mixture is a golden caramel color and the thermometer reads 350F. Remove from the heat and, using a nonstick heat-resistant spatula, immediately stir in the salt, pine nuts, and rosemary. Quickly but carefully, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading so that the nuts are in a single layer.

Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour, and break into chunks and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Do not refrigerate, as this will cause the sugar to melt. Makes about 2 cups.

Wow. This is a recipe that really had me on my toes. I started the night before I planned to serve it, making the brittle and orange sauce, and of course, soaking the cashews for the cashew cream. The intro to the brittle recipe says to use a candy thermometer, and to keep a close eye on it while you’re cooking, but my thermometer never got to the 350 point! I used a smaller pan too, as the other pan option I had was too big, and I figured that having more depth for the thermometer to read would be better than having it be too shallow. So it started to boil and I refrained from stirring, and it boiled, and boiled… and finally I decided I’d rather have it be underdone than burnt. So that’s what we have. A less-than-brittle-brittle. But it’s still really super tasty! The saltiness and savory really offsets the sweetness of the dessert. And the rosemary compliments the orange really nicely. The orange sauce was pretty straightforward, though it made a LOT more than I ended up using; so you might consider having some Coconut Bliss on hand to use up the leftovers on. The Panna Cotta. Don’t even get me started. Rich, creamy, perfect. The vanilla bean! A must have. Look at all those beautiful little speckles. The texture was great. Making the panna cotta was also pretty easy… but don’t let yourself get distracted. I will definitely make the Panna Cotta again, but mix it up with sauces depending on the season.
On Pine Mouth: The day after eating this, things were tasting a little bitter. Being a mom to an active little 9 month old, I tend to shovel small amounts of food into my mouth throughout the day, and didn’t really notice it, until the next day. BAM, all of a sudden, my warm rice cereal is super bitter. The banana I ate while running errands tasted disgusting. The dinner I made that night also tasted bitter, but in all of these cases, I thought maybe I’d gotten a bad batch of something; maybe I overdid it with the cinnamon? The next day everything was worse. AWFUL. To the point of us not wanting to eat, knowing that anything we ate was going to be absolutely nasty. Sweet and starchy foods were the worst! I did a quick Google search from my phone and found mostly stomach issues that might cause a bitter taste, and figured that maybe I just needed to give the coffeemaker a good cleaning with vinegar and a new filter. Then, my friend emailed me, the one I made this dessert for, asking if we’d been experiencing Pine Mouth as well, with a brief description of it. I felt so awful that I’d ruined my friends’ tastebuds for a spell! Here is an interesting article I found about it. Please note that I did not get our pine nuts from Trader Joe’s. Here’s the package (one of three that we bought for the brittle but didn’t need), that I’ll be returning to the grocery store today:
Many of the references to Pine Mouth blame Trader Joe’s… but I read that it seems to be an issue more with pine nuts that have come out of China (and in some cases Korea or Russia), and they seem to affect certain people. However, everybody I fed the brittle to is suffering! I feel awful about it. Granted, usually one doesn’t eat so many pine nuts in one sitting… I’m hoping that our dinner guests we had over a few nights after this aren’t coming down with Pine Mouth as I type.
Another thing I noticed while skimming articles on this dreaded affliction is that people have noticed that the pine nut culprits tend to be smaller than the pine nuts they normally eat and aren’t affected by, and that was the case here:

The ones on the left are from an old container of pine nuts I had in the fridge, that never caused a problem. The ones on the right are the culprits. Look how much smaller they are! They are also a little bit darker.
Pine Mouth was first documented in 2001, and so far there seems to be no cure but time.  Cruel, cruel nut.
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