Boldly Austin At Bouldin Creek Cafe

If there’s one establishment that embodies the Austin ethos of “keeping it weird” while uniting a diversifying community that would otherwise pull in opposite directions, it’s Bouldin Creek Cafe. Since its inception in 2000, this quirky artist’s enclave has captured the hearts of locals, cementing its place in the city’s sociopolitical map. For travelers, it shines as a welcoming beacon, from early morning to late night. Given top billing in any credible guidebook, it’s a worthy pilgrimage for vegans and food enthusiasts from around the world.

Bouldin Creek Cafe left a lasting impression on me from the first time I visited Austin, many years ago. I’ll never forget that meal shared with friends following Vida Vegan Con, watching everyone pull out their cameras as the orders arrived, feeling like I finally found my tribe. It was the first place I came back to after moving in, with pots and pans still packed away, cupboards yawning open with not a single can of beans to share. It’s where I’ve had countless dates, business meetings, solo meals, celebrations, and somber evenings. If you’re part of my life in a physical sense, we have or will inevitably spend time here together.

Always vegetarian with equivalent vegan options whenever a dish isn’t already plant-based to begin with, it’s one of the last surviving “old school” kitchens that makes veggie burgers from scratch- and actual veggies. There’s no Impossible or Beyond, no shortcuts or cheap tricks. Personally, I can’t leave without ordering something with tofu scramble, a classic take on crumbled and sauteed curds, thickly encrusted with cheesy, umami nutritional yeast. Making a truly exceptional tofu scramble is a dying art, but it’s alive and well here, executed at the highest level.

The beauty of the iconic tofu scramble is that it’s wonderful as a standalone entree, and even greater as part of larger plate. Zucchini migas folds fresh veggies and tortilla chips in with a spicy salsa, while Joe’s smokin’ “omelet” incorporates sauteed spinach with chipotle-pecan pesto. Sides aren’t a side thought, especially when it comes to the blueberry cornbread, served up in sizeable slabs so sweet and tender, you could easily satisfy cake cravings for breakfast.

More than once, I’ve witnessed rigid eaters soften their stance toward vegan food, embracing a meal without meat as a welcome change of pace, rather than a sacrifice. I’ve seen strangers connect over cashew queso, pups on the patio begging for hash browns, toddlers gleefully stuffing fistfuls of pasta into their mouths while somehow managing to wear the majority of it. Students hunch over coffees in tables next to couples dressed to the nines, kicking off a night on the town. It’s truly the crossroads of humanity, the universal answer to: Where should we eat today?

Bouldin Creek Cafe. It’s always the right choice.

The Ultimate Lasagna: A Make-Ahead Miracle

Scrolling through my mental Rolodex of meals that are quick, easy, and just the right balance of healthy and comforting on a hectic day, lasagna is typically not at the top of that list. It’s high time we changed this.

Make Ahead Lasagna

Neatly contained in a spacious baking dish, lasagna is the ultimate pasta casserole that can be made in large quantities to be enjoyed many times over. One batch could feed a small family for days, or a single person for weeks, when stored correctly. Either unbaked or ready to serve, you can stash it in the fridge or freezer with no degradation of quality; a huge feat considering how many store-bought options turn out.

Never settle for mushy noodles swimming in watery, sweet sauce ever again! Gentle people, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s best plant-based lasagna. Better, easier, tastier.

Tips For Success

It’s not so much technique that determines the outcome of this recipe, but the ingredients themselves. No cooking experience necessary, anyone can pull off this culinary feat with the right components.

  • The lure of no-boil noodles is tempting, but you must resist! Since they sit immersed in sauce for so long, they’ll have long passed the point of al dente and gone straight to mushy by the time you set the table.
  • Quality marinara is crucial. It plays a huge role in flavoring the whole dish, so if there was ever a time to splurge on the good stuff, this is it. Normally I’d make the case for starting from scratch, but for a quick fix meal, it’s okay to take an assist.
  • NEVER get anything less than the best tofu, AKA Hodo Organic Extra Firm Tofu. It’s rich, dense, and has a unique, subtly savory taste that allows it to transform into both meaty protein and creamy ricotta in a snap. While some may look at the pasta as the backbone of lasagna, it’s the filling that really lays down the foundation for flavor. Accept no substitutes for the best results.

Ideas for Adaptation

The beauty of a tried-and-true lasagna recipe is that it allows room for adaptation. Make it your own with any of your favorite herbs, spices, vegetables, and proteins without throwing off the delicate balance. Every batch can be a little bit different, and thus never boring, no matter how many times it’s on the dinner menu.

  • Seasonings: Italian seasoning, featuring basil, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, and thyme are of course classic, but that’s not the only option here. Consider something a bit spicier, like Cajun or Creole seasoning, bright like lemon-pepper, complex like curry powder, aromatic like za’atar, and so on. The only limit is your imagination, and spice rack!
  • Vegetables: Use fully cooked vegetables so they don’t water down the filling as they cook. That means sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled zucchini or eggplant, and more are all fair game. If you want to add greens, use frozen chopped spinach, kale, chard, or collard greens that have been thawed and very thoroughly drained; squeeze them really well to get all the liquid out.
  • Proteins: You’re already getting a ton of protein from the Hodo tofu ricotta, but in case you’re craving something meatier, you can beef up the filling, with all sorts of plant-based proteins. Saute your favorite meatless grounds before adding them to the marinara sauce to transform it into a hearty bolognese. If you’re focusing on more whole foods, try the same trick with lentils; red, green, or brown are welcome here! Even chopped up chunks of seitan or vegan sausage can add a satisfying meaty bite into every forkful.
  • Dietary Restrictions: Gluten-free? There are great gluten-free noodles on the market now, made from chickpeas, rice, corn, and/or lentils. Read labels carefully to find the best option for you.

Prep Once, Eat All Week

The creamy Hodo tofu-based ricotta, layered throughout strata of tender pasta sheets and robust red sauce, is fortified with cream cheese, thickening, stabilizing, and enriching it all at once. This simple trick ensures that you’ll have picture-perfect slices of lasagna every single time.

Best of all, it acts as insulation from ice crystals in the freezer, making it the ideal dish to make ahead, toss in the deep freeze, then heat and eat as needed. The tofu ricotta is so undeniably cheesy that it really doesn’t need the finishing flourish of vegan mozzarella on top… But then again, has there ever been such as thing as too much cheese?

Don’t answer that. Just pass the lasagna, please.

Continue reading “The Ultimate Lasagna: A Make-Ahead Miracle”

Hatch A Plan For Green Chiles

Forget Christmas; hatch chile season is really the most wonderful time of the year.

Throughout the month of August, the air across Texas and New Mexico will be thick with smoke, streaming out from roasters cranking at full bore all hours of the day. As chiles tumble over the flames, their skin blistering and crackling like fireworks, they quickly char to a matte black finish. Intoxicating aromas assault the senses, so intense that you can practically taste it from a mile away.

You’ll mark you calendar by it too, once you get a bite of those freshly roasted beauties; earthy, smoky, and with a subtle, smoldering spice.

What’s So Special About Hatch Chiles?

The relatively short growing window gives them an air of exclusivity, drawing in crowds clamoring to get their fill. What sets them apart from other peppers is their delicate balance of flavor and heat. Not so spicy that they’ll send you running for dairy-free milk, it’s more of a subtle, smoldering burn that gradually builds over time. According to the Scoville scale, they typically clock in between 1,500 and 2,500 units, which is roughly comparable to poblano or Anaheim peppers.

While you can eat them raw, it’s not recommended; roasting them completely removes the initially harsh, bitter notes by caramelizing the natural sugars, transforming the flesh into a silky, smoky treat.

How Can You Cook With Hatch Chiles?

Given the opportunity, load up your freezer with a few pounds of freshly roasted chiles to enjoy their unique flavor all year round. People go wild for the green fruits, indulging their cravings from breakfast to dessert. A glance through HEB turns up gems like:

More traditional recipes incorporate them into cornbread, salsa verde, chili, and most importantly of all, hatch chile stew.

What Is New Mexico-Style Hatch Green Chile Stew?

The first written recipe for green chile stew dates back to the 1940s, published by renowned New Mexican cook and author Fabiola Cabeza de Baca. A humble, homey affair, the recipe included pork, potatoes, and roasted green chile peppers, which has since become the blueprint to an indispensable staple of New Mexican cuisine.

Unsurprisingly, my version takes a few liberties for the sake of ease, nutrition, and plant-based adaptations, but overall stays true to the spirit of the dish. Tender chunks of meatless protein simmered slowly in a rich broth, infused with the smoky, earthy flavor of those alluring chiles take on greater depth alongside potatoes, onions, garlic, and seasonings like cumin and oregano. The result is a hearty, comforting dish that warms you from the inside out, and makes you feel like you’re right at home in the Southwest.

Whether enjoyed on a hot summer afternoon, crisp fall day, or as a cure for a chilly winter evening, hatch green chile stew is a dish that will leave you wanting more.

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Special Delivery: Mailbox Lasagna

If you can make cookies in the car, why can’t you make lasagna in the mailbox?

This was the thought that propelled me forward on my next wild experiment. If global warming is going to get worse, I can only get weirder in response.

Why Lasagna In A Mailbox?

Many news stations like to offer this tantalizing idea as a quirky way to lighten the mood when oppressive summer heat sets in. The earliest reference I can find to it is from 2019, attributing it to the Nation Weather Service, but I can’t find that original reference. What’s more alarming is that despite being re-posted and shared thousands of times, I couldn’t find evidence that anyone had actually tried it. That’s where I come in.

The idea is that by prepping your meal in advance, stuffing it in a hot mailbox all day, it would bake though pure solar power, keeping the kitchen cool and saving electricity. I’m dubious that the actual cost savings would add up to a full cent, but given how prone my state is to rolling blackouts, I’ll do everything I can to conserve.

How To Make Mailbox Lasagna

The procedure is pretty much as you’d imagine, starting with your favorite lasagna recipe.

  • Use any lasagna recipe you prefer, scaled down accordingly to fit your pan. Use only fully cooked components (no raw proteins) to prevent potential food poisoning. While unlikely, it’s better to be safe than sick.
  • Make sure you use no-boil noodles, no matter what the recipe originally calls for.
  • Cover with foil to seal in the heat before placing it in the mailbox. Close the door and lock it if possible. This is to keep both nosy neighbors and hungry critters out.
  • Go about your day and let the lasagna “bake” for 6 to 10 hours.
  • Handle carefully, with potholders, because it will be hot! Remove the foil to check that the cheese has melted and your pasta is al dente. It won’t brown due to the lack of intense direct heat. The Maillard reaction only occurs at 149°C/300°F and higher.

Tips and Tricks

There are a lot more variables to contend with when using a mailbox instead of an actual oven. Bear in mind these factors before writing it into your dinner menu:

  • Ideally, plan this experiment for a Sunday or federal holiday so there’s no mail delivery that might end up in your meal.
  • Start by cleaning out your mailbox. If it’s anything like mine, it’s also full of dust, dirt, and the occasional spiderweb. None of those are great seasonings, so you’ll want to give the interior a good rinse before adding food.
  • Select a metal pan to better conduct heat, and make sure it fits inside your mailbox. I’d recommend a loaf pan in most cases, unless you have a giant mailbox equal in size to a conventional oven.
  • Start around late morning (10 or 11am) when the mailbox is in direct sunlight. There needs to be a high of at least 105℉ (40°C) outside to attempt this with any level of success. Sorry if it’s not as brutally hot in your neck of the woods; it simply won’t work otherwise.

What Does Lasagna Cooked In A Mailbox Taste Like?

Here’s the thing: It’s fine. Edible, for sure. The cheese comes out melt-y-ish if not fully melted (though your mileage may vary depending on your brand), the pasta is soft enough after sitting and soaking in sauce for a few hours, and if you started with flavorful sauce and filling ingredients, it tastes as good as those did to begin with.

It’s not as good as lasagna baked in the oven because it lacks the textural contrast of crispy edges, the caramelized bits and browned surfaces. It’s a novelty that can amuse your friends and scare your neighbors, not a culinary treasure.

Honest Thoughts On Mailbox Lasagna

Is it the best lasagna you’ve ever eaten? No.

Is it the easiest lasagna you’ve ever made? Also no.

But is it the silliest and most fun lasagna you’ve ever tried? Absolutely a strong contender. I’d love to hear if you’ve come up with something wackier, because that would be a must-make for me.

Big Night, Small Bites

It doesn’t have to be a “big night” to justify treating yourself to timpano. Even if it’s just a weekday meal for one, there’s no reason why you can’t have exactly what you crave.

For years, I’ve been dazzled by the specter of timpano, just like the rest of the movie-watching world, after seeing the unforgettable unveiling on screen in Big Night. Who could look away as the knife plunged deep into that thick pastry crust, revealing endless layers of pasta, meatballs, salami, eggs, cheese, and red sauce? Given that impossible depth and breadth, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a whole tomato vine in there, stems, leaves, and all.

What Goes Into Timpano?

It’s like the clown car of foods; it seems to contain much more than could possibly fit inside such a confined space, where truly anything goes. Some versions feature sausage, pepperoni, ricotta, wilted spinach, marinated mushrooms, olives, capers, pickled peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, cubed bread- At some point, you have to wonder if this was just a clever vehicle for repurposing the dregs of the fridge and pantry. The only limit is your appetite.

Unfortunately, for those eating alone, that is a considerable restriction.

How To Make A Tiny Timpano

While I’d relish the opportunity to cook up a few pounds of pasta, throw it into a flaky crust, and go to town, my stomach would hate me for it later. Even for someone who loves gluten, it’s quite the wheat bomb, to say nothing of the absurd serving size. Taming the towering timpano requires more than just downsizing, but significant redesign for a more sound construction.

  • Oversized ziti get replaced with more compact orzo to prevent gaping holes. Any other small pasta shapes like pearl couscous, pastina, or stelline are also fair choices.
  • Trade out the doughy exterior for tender zucchini, lightly roasted for a subtly smoky, charred essence and greater flexibility. Thinly sliced eggplant, yellow summer squash, or red peppers are excellent alternative edible wrappers, and can be used in concert for greater color and flavor.
  • Single serving portions take shape in standard ramekins, no fancy molds needed. Leftovers are a snap to freeze for later enjoyment and can be instantly thawed on demand.

Is A Timpano Of Any Other Size Still As Grand?

I’d answer that with a resounding “yes!” Given that the original dish was named after timpani, AKA kettledrums, I’d like to think that a more creative approach, allowing cooks to march to the beat of their own drums, only serves to better honor the concept. Rather than approaching it as a project, tiny timpanos fit into any schedule or meal plan, especially as an excellent way to use up any odds and ends on hand. Consider the following recipe more of a guideline; any night can be a big night with the right perspective.

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