Veg chef turns it on in borrowed kitchen
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It was a Sunday night and Lauren Urbschat was hungry. She also was frustrated that she couldn't find a place that was serving good food, much less one serving good fare for vegetarians like her.Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Lauren Urbschat cooks vegetarian meals on Sundays at the Brllobox in Bloomfield. She calls it Sunday Night Suppers.
Click photo for larger image.
Get your veg on in Johnstown
Actually, the group has gathered there for seven of the past 10 years, says Chris Stumpf, director of conference services at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He says the five-day event attracts some 500 people. Feeding them was difficult the first year or two, but now they've got it down to a science. "It's a lot of work, because there's a lot food prep for it," he says. "You're not going to make a lot out of cans with this group." But then, "Their food is really good."
Roz Ostler, spokeswoman for the upstate New York-based Vegetarian Society, says the national group tries to pick a central location, but Pitt Johnstown works for all sorts of reasons, including its lovely and "very green campus," with access to trails, mountains and other amenities lots of members like.
You can sign up for the whole event ($533 to $700), a weekend ($292 to $426), or just sign up for individual classes and meals.
For more information, visit www.vegetariansummerfest.org or call 1-518-568-7970.
-- Bob Batz Jr.
Even at Brillobox, a hip hangout in the Bloomfield neighborhood where she lives, the kitchen was closed.
So Ms. Urbschat asked the owner to open the kitchen to her, so she could cook in it.
"Sunday Night Suppers" was born.
One night a week, she plans, shops for and prepares a vegetarian meal that's served to Brillobox customers, usually with a beer.
In fact, for the first supper in the series on March 4, a bottle of beer was included in the $10 price, along with a second helping of the meal: Roasted sweet potato and black bean chili over spicy polenta, accompanied by a side of mixed greens with a maple Dijon vinaigrette, all topped with fresh cilantro and crispy fried tortilla strips.
The offering has since been revised to $7 for one helping and $3.50 for a second; a bottle of beer is $2.50 and well drinks are $3. Service starts at 6 p.m. and continues until the food is gone -- and it was that first night, except for one bowl of chili, after she fed 45 people.
The restaurant collects the money and pays her an hourly wage.
"I sorta get to play like I have my own restaurant for one day, and it's just great," she says. "I'm so excited about it."
The 26-year-old Ms. Urbschat works during the week as marketing director for Dance Alloy. But the artist always has enjoyed working with food. Consider the Rice Krispies Treats sculpture she did for last year's Three Rivers Arts Festival: "Marshmallow Mediation: Take One."
It was edible, but not nearly so as the vegetarian (some dairy and eggs) and vegan (no animal products) creations she dishes to her friends and on her blog, www.yinzhungry.blogspot.com.
She says she likes to make art that is delicious and food that is art. "There's nothing I love more than cooking for people."
That's why she so thrilled at the opportunity she's been given by Brillobox owner Eric Stern.
"I'm trying to keep things so it's economical. He's like, 'Just make it delicious.'"
He's quite happy, too. "It's a great energy, and she's a great cook. We're both kind of exploring this territory together."
Ms. Urbschat has been buying her ingredients at the East End Food Co-op, to which she belongs. "It'll be a changing menu," she says. "It's going to be seasonal. I'm going to try to use as much local produce and things as I can." She's not cooking to order. "The concept is anything I can make in big pots and big pans." But Brillobox also is serving empanadas and other appetizers.
She's been assisted in the kitchen by Aaron Austin, who formerly was a prep cook at the Quiet Storm in Garfield.
The Quiet Storm also serves vegetarian and vegan fare, as do a few other places, including Zenith on the South Side, but there still aren't a lot of vegetarian places. "It's a big city," she says. She believes there's a big appetite.
This past Sunday, the two served about 35 people three-cheese macaroni and cheese topped with pesto and tomatoes, with a side of garlicky greens.
Coming this Sunday: Chick pea, kale and tomato stew with orange and ginger, over giant garlic sourdough croutons.
Her food has gone over great from the very first night, when her real Dance Alloy boss, who was one of her diners, proudly collected customer comments.
Probably the best, Ms. Urbschat has to agree with a giggle, was from the person who wrote, "If I were on death row, I would request this as my last meal."
For more on Brillobox, visit www.brillobox.net or call 412-621-4900.
TUESDAY NIGHT TEMPEH
You can see what's cooking on Ms. Urbschat's blog, which includes recipes, such as this one built around one of her favorite foods: tempeh, or fermented soy. She says it can be served over rice, noodles or whatever, with hot sauce if you like.
The Bragg Liquid Aminos is a liquid protein concentrate (available at the East End Food Co-op), but you may substitute soy sauce. "Basically, with all my recipes, you can always interchange ingredients with what you already have in your kitchen."
- 3 tablespoons oil (olive, sunflower, canola, "whatever you got")
- 4 cloves garlic, or more, smashed
- 2 1/8-inch slices ginger
- 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- 1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
- 1 8-ounce package tempeh, sliced in ??-inch strips
- 2 roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh-ground peanut butter
- Bragg Liquid Aminos to taste (or substitute soy sauce)
- 2 pounds baby bok choy, "the cuter the better"
- Black pepper
- 1/2 lime
- Guests, "at least one (everything tastes better when you're cooking for someone else)"
Place about 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan with a lid and 2 tablespoons in a large chef's pan; heat both over medium heat. When the oil is hot, put two cloves garlic in each pan.
Toss ginger and walnuts into the pan with the lid, and add onions to that; cover and cook until the onions are translucent and smell delicious.
In the chef's pan, add sliced tempeh and begin browning on each side.
To the onion pan, add tomatoes and cook down a little. Then add peanut butter, plus a little water to thin, if necessary. Add Bragg or soy sauce, stir and taste. Add the baby bok choy, season with fresh ground pepper and put on the lid, allowing the bok choy to steam. Cook until bok choy is tender, adding a little more water if necessary. Add squirts of Bragg or soy sauce until it is flavored to your liking.
When the tempeh is brown, douse it, too, in Bragg/soy, add lime juice to taste, then add tempeh to the bok choy.
Serves "me and you with leftovers for tomorrow."
-- Lauren Urbschat
First Published March 15, 2007 12:00 am