Monthly Archives: March 2012

vegan abroad: review of Marmalade Restaurant in San Juan, PR

Following is a guest review by a good friend of ours who recently visited a veg-friendly restaurant in Puerto Rico. Let’s all imagine we’re drinking cocktails in the sun while we read it…

In late February I had the pleasure of visiting San Juan with my mom. Since holidays with my family are always an excuse to consume obscene amounts of delicious food, we wasted no time looking up the best places to eat. Marmalade is located in a restaurant-laden area of the beautiful district of Old San Juan, and its atmosphere is classy and open while still being funky and intimate. Backpackers be warned: this meal is not going to come cheap, but I assure you it is worth every cent — what’s a vacation if you don’t treat yourself?

glow bar

Before I talk about the food, I’ll just say that the service was incredible — attentive, accommodating, and knowledgeable without being imposing or pretentious. When I mentioned I was reviewing for a vegan food blog, our waiter was not only eager to point out appropriate items on the menu, but even asked the chef for a copy of the menu for me to take home (which he apparently doesn’t do for just anybody). The chef himself — Peter Schintler, an accomplished gentleman who studied under Gordon Ramsay — came out later on to talk with us about the food and the blog, and vegan/vegetarian food in general. Apparently his wife is vegetarian so he doesn’t find it difficult to cook without meat or dairy, and often will at home. I also appreciate his willingness to make something for everyone by leaving items out or altering dishes to meet dietary restrictions or allergies, something many chefs would consider akin to ruining the food.

Marmalade has a full page of vegetarian items on their extensive menu, and nearly all of these are or can easily be made vegan, which our wonderful server assured me would not be a problem. You can order à la carte if you’d like, but I recommend doing one of the tasting menus, which gives you four, five, or six smaller courses (including dessert, for $59, $69, and $79 respectively). I did five courses (though it was a bit much for me, admittedly), of which three were vegan.

sweet corn and lemongrass soup

The first dish I tried was the delectable sweet corn and lemongrass soup, which came poured over a salsa of haas avocado, grilled corn, red onion, and organic sprouts, and topped with sunflower shoots. The sweetness of the corn was offset by the tart pieces of avocado, and it had a pleasantly spicy finish. The texture and creaminess were reminiscent of a chowder, but the flavour palate was completely unique. I’m a big soup lover, but it’s not terribly often I have a soup in a restaurant that really blows my mind. This one did.

ratatouille

For the main course, I went with the ratatouille (I asked to have the goat cheese left off). This hearty provençal vegetable stew featured potato, spinach, zucchini, and a handmade roasted red pepper sheet pasta in a creamy tomato sauce, topped with pine nuts, sunflower shoots, and candied black olives. The sauce was so beautifully creamy that I actually double-checked with the server to make sure it was, in fact, vegan (he was jokingly offended that I would even ask). All the vegetables were cooked to perfection — no mealy potatoes or squishy zucchini to be found here — and each individual flavour was brought out. I don’t recommend ordering this as your last of four dinner courses, like I did; it’s quite filling so I could barely manage half of it, much to my own disappointment.

lemon-chamomile sorbet
Thankfully, there’s always room in the dessert stomach, and I had the lemon-chamomile sorbet*. This soft and delicately flavoured sorbet was punctuated with crisp pieces of sesame-peanut brittle. Certainly a combination I’d never encountered before, but it worked wonderfully, and its cool, light sweetness was the perfect finish for someone like me who had eaten too much but still wanted dessert.
*please note: this dish has honeycomb in it, but since most vegans I know are okay with honey, I felt I could include it here.

Overall, I think Marmalade was honestly one of the best restaurant experiences I have ever had. Not once were we kept waiting, not once was a bite of food I put in my mouth anything short of incredible, and not once did I feel rushed or uncomfortable. But the pinnacle of service that goes above and beyond? When we arrived, we had just been caught in an impressive rainstorm and had been using my mom’s scarf to shield our heads. Thus, it was completely soaked and she asked our server if he could hang it somewhere for her. When he gave it back to her at the end of the night, he hadn’t merely hung it up — it was still warm from being in the dryer!

I truly hope that anyone planning a trip to San Juan, or any Puerto Ricans who may be reading this, will devote an evening to visiting this delightful and creative restaurant.

all photos by me, from my flickr

Caramelized Apple Sticky Buns

We made these for our most recent brunch to rave reviews. Warning: if you are going to make these, be prepared to use a LOT of Earth Balance, a LOT of sugar, and a LOT of flour. These are by no means healthy, despite the inclusion of fruit. Oh, and prepare to spend about 4 hours on them.

The base is the VeganYumYum Perfect Cinnamon Buns dough. We had used it before and it worked perfectly. For brunch I doubled the recipe, but making a single recipe should work just fine. Yield is 12 big buns.

Dough

The original VeganYumYum recipe for the dough comes with great step by step photos, so head over there if you’d like.

Yeast Mixture
4 tsp Active Dry Yeast (a little less than 2 packets)
1 tsp Sugar
1 Cup Warm Water

Dough
1 Cup Non-dairy Milk
2/3 Cup Sugar
2/3 Cup Earth Balance Margarine
2 tsp Salt
2 Egg Replacers, prepared, optional (I used 2 tsp ground flax and 6 tbsp warm water, stirred in a small bowl and let to sit for a couple of minutes)
Yeast Mixture, from above
6 Cups All Purpose Flour, more for kneading

Filling

Raisins, optional
1/4 cup Raisins
1/4 cup Whiskey
2 Cinnamon Sticks

1/3 cup Walnuts, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup Earth Balance Margarine
1 & 1/4 cup Sugar
2 tbsp Ground Cinnamon

Sticky Sauce

1 – 2 Apples
1/2 Lemon or 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
1/2 cup Earth Balance Margarine
1/2 cup Sugar
1 tbsp Maple Syrup (agave works too)
2 tbsp Non-Dairy Milk

Dough

Mix together the ingredients in the yeast mixture in a non-reactive bowl. Let the yeast mixture sit for about ten minutes to proof – you’ll know it’s ready when it’s nice and foamy.

While you’re doing that, in a saucepan, combine the non-dairy milk, sugar, margarine, salt, and egg replacers over medium-low heat. Heat until the margarine is melted, mixing together. You don’t want it to be hot – if it’s too hot, it’ll kill the yeast. Test by putting a bit on the back of your wrist.

Add the yeast mixture to the milk/margarine/sugar mixture and stir.

In a large bowl, combine 4 cups of flour with the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Add the remaining 2 cups of flour and mix in partially. Turn out onto a clean, dry, floured surface and knead together until the dough is smooth and elastic, or 8 – 10 minutes. Use extra flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.

Once the dough is ready, place it in an oiled non-reactive bowl, cover it with (oiled) plastic wrap, and leave it in a warm place to rise for 90 minutes.

Now you’re ready to start preparing your filling.

Filling

If you’re doing the raisins, follow these steps. Break up the cinnamon sticks. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the raisins, whiskey, and broken cinnamon sticks. If the whiskey doesn’t cover the raisins, add water. Allow this mixture to heat until it’s simmering; simmer 10 minutes and then remove from heat. Allow the raisins to continue to soak.

Toast the walnuts in a small dry skillet over medium heat, flipping often so they don’t burn. You’ll want to toast them until they have darkened/goldened slightly and are fragrant. If you really wanted to go decadent here, you could candy the walnuts.

At about the 70 minute mark, peel the apples and chop them into cm x cm cubes, approximately. Sprinkle them with lemon juice to avoid them browning while you take care of the other steps.

At about the 80 minute mark, when your dough is just about finished rising, throw the raisins into a food processor or blender, or use a hand blender. Alternately, cut them with a knife. You want to purée them a bit so they are spreadable, almost like a jam.

Sticky Sauce

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the margarine, sugar, maple syrup, and milk. Stir together until the Earth Balance is melted.

Pour the sticky sauce into the bottom of your lasagna pan. Add the chopped apples.

Dough – rolling and filling

You’ll know your dough is finished rising when you can press a finger into it and it doesn’t spring back.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Find your lasagna pan. Oil it.

Remove the dough from the oiled bowl and roll it out into a 15″ by 20″ rectangle on a clean, dry, floured surface. The more perfect the rectangle, the more perfect your buns.

Melt the Earth Balance for the filling and brush it evenly across the dough rectangle. Add the sugar, sprinkling evenly, and the cinnamon.

Now, starting at one horizontal edge (I prefer the one closest to my edge of the counter/table), spread the raisin mixture along the edge. You want to fill up about the bottom 5cm of the rectangle. This will fill the centre of the rolls with yummy whiskey raisins.

Sprinkle the toasted walnuts evenly across the dough rectangle.

Now it’s time to roll your buns up. Start at the bottom edge and roll nice and tight until you get to the top. You will now have a long, skinny tube. If possible, you will want to cut them with thread or fishing line so you don’t squish them. I used my thread to make marks along the length of the tube so I would end up with 12 evenly sized buns. Don’t worry – these will continue to rise afterward; they won’t really be as small as they look.

Again, for more details, check out the step by step photo guidelines at VeganYumYum.

Once your rolls are sliced, place them in the pan. They will be swimming in sauce by the end, which is good. Cover them and let them rise some more – I let them rise overnight in the fridge, but you can also just let them rise in a warm spot for another hour or 90 minutes.

Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until golden. We had a bit of an issue with the bottoms not being fully cooked due to the overwhelming wetness of the apples and sticky sauce. If this happens to you, put a piece of tin foil over the pan to avoid burning the tops and bake for another 20 minutes in the oven.

Let them cool for about 5 minutes before you eat them. Pull ’em out, flip ’em over, and eat with a fork. Add candied walnuts on top, or icing sugar, or fresh apple. Yum!

Pinterest as a recipe collection tool

When I first started using Pinterest I didn’t really get how it was different from Tumblr or any of the other myriad social media services I use, but lately I’ve been putting together a gorgeous collection of food inspiration. Some of it’s recipes, and some of it is presentation inspiration, and I thought I’d give you guys a chance to check out my “eat it” board on Pinterest if you’re a user of the site as well.