Blog: Foodie Philosophy

I love to cook.  But during the week I rely on weekend leftovers, sandwiches, quick salads, and cans of this and that to creatively make quick healthy meals.  The weekend is my time to embrace my love of made from scratch cooking – and typically, it’s not something elaborate I dream about cooking.  It’s something purely simple – something that allows me to channel my obsessiveness into a specific craft:  making a perfectly clear homemade chicken stock from leftover roast chicken bones or fresh naturally leavened sourdough.

Pan frying a BIG Burrito while making chicken stock and roasted pumpkin seeds

This weekend, in between rounds of tilling my soil with leaves and compost, I was shuttling into my house to check on my fresh chicken broth and roasted pumpkin seeds – making sure the seeds didn’t burn and that the stock didn’t boil – all the while, making sure my three year old was safely climbing the pine tree in our backyard.  After a few hours of this, I was exhausted and realized I hadn’t eaten much that day.

I ran out to my trusty chest freezer and grabbed an EVOL BIG 11 oz Spicy Steak Burrito.  I realized I had some leftover Frontera Enchilada Sauce in my fridge (which we love), so I decided to microwave the burrito, then give it a quick pan-fry in a saute pan to crisp it up, and then top it with the leftover sauce.  My wife Deborah realized we had some aging avocados so we whipped up some fresh guac too.  The resulting pan-fried smothered burrito was just what the doctor ordered.  Deborah and I shared it and I was re-fueled to finish my long day of yard work and cooking.  And the roasted pumpkin seeds, homemade stock, and fresh bread were all delicious.

An EVOL Big Spicy Steak Burrito smothered with enchilada sauce and topped with fresh guacamole

What’s the moral of the story?  Go try a BIG EVOL Burrito!  They are my favorites by far!  Huge chunks of meat, lots of spice, and a size that will keep you from bonking on those long hectic weekends.

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The beautiful Jaca Ranch outside of Boise, ID

Where do I start – the beautiful landscape of a family owned farm, the passionate discussion about sustainability, the amazing chef created meals, or the rocking 80’s band? This past weekend I got the privilege of attending the Niman Ranch retreat in Boise, ID along with several other members of our EVOL team. It was a great chance to get to know one of our key suppliers, and we liked what we found.

The EVOL crew with the 5th generation farmer of the Jaca Family!

Niman Ranch is a co-op of over 700 family farms and they have high standards for their animals. The animals are never given antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed animal by-products, but we also found that the cows spend most of their lives grazing on open pasture and they are truly treated in a humane way. My favorite part of the whole weekend was getting a chance to talk directly to the farmer. The family is made up of 4th, 5th, and 6th generation (some pretty cute kids) farmers who truly care for the land and their animals. An interesting moment came when they were asked how their farm was sustainable, and the crowd of city slickers were confused when the family only responded by talking about their economic ability to last 6 generations. The fact is that they have to care for the land and their animals to be able to survive 6 generations, however, they are more proud that they have been able to thrive during the ups and downs of the commodity beef market. They had always had a quality product, but partnering with Niman Ranch has allowed them to reap the rewards for the extra care and effort they put into raising their cows. Visiting the farm was a great insight into how choosing quality ingredient partners is better for everybody – the farmers, the land, and the taste of our products.

The view from the Jacas family house. This is where the cattle graze in the Summer.

We also got to attend an insightful conference on Saturday where we passionately tried to define sustainability (not an easy task, but the definition I liked the most was, “sustainable means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. We were also treated to a lunch that was created by local chefs using Niman products, and ended the night rocking out to a memorable 80’s cover band.

The delicious lunch prepared by the local chefs.

The weekend made me proud to say we use Niman Ranch products, and gave me a deeper gratitude for the care and hard work that goes into our ingredients.

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For years I have wanted to visit the Salumi Artisinal Cured Meat Shop in Seattle, co-founded by Armandino Batali – celebrity chef Mario Batali’s father.  I have read about this place in a variety of foodie mags and finally had the priveledge of visiting the shop on a business trip to Seattle.

The mixed Salami Platter and Porchetta Sandwich at Salumi in Seattle

We got lucky as we arrived on Gnochi day – this is the day where Grandma sits in the windowsill hand-making beautiful gnochi as the line out the door grows for hungry customers waiting to enjoy a special lunch.

Grandma takes a break from making gnocchi to speak with a customer at Salumi in Seattle

We enjoyed a platter of salami as well as a Porchetta Sandwich (slow cooked roasted pork with spices, onions, and peppers).  The salami was absolutely the best I have ever had.  The slices were thin and chewy – perfectly cured and flavored with unique spices.  One of the salami’s had ginger and cardamom in it – it was delicious!  They had such an incredible selection of different types of autnentic Italian Meats such as Guanciale (cured pork jowel) and lamb prosciuto.

If you ever find yourself in Seattle, get yourself to Salumi’s – it is an incredible eating experience that is rarely found these days.

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10 Years

by on February 1, 2012

I have been officially making burritos (and other foods) as Phil’s Fresh Foods, for exactly 10 years.  I just dug up my first invoice to the Eldorado Corner Market from 1/29/2002 for just over $50.  Ahhh, the good old days.  Those products were made in my 1906 Eldorado Springs Cabin on a crappy gas fired stove at 5am while my girlfriend (now wife) slept on our futon in the same room next to the wood fired stove – how romantic!

The 1906 Eldorado Springs Cabin, where the first Burritos were made

The labels were made on an old HP printer using the Jokerman font.  The product was delivered in coolers with icepacks in my Grandma’s old Toyota Camry.

Of course or food safety program was a little different in those days.  That original Green Chile Breakfast Burrito had big hunks of pork in it and was braised in a cast iron skillet and stirred with a wooden spoon.  There was no USDA stamp or even an understanding of who the USDA was, but who cared?  The cops at PDQ gas station on Table Mesa loved that product.  They freaked out when the USDA shut me down (after a local competitor turned me in) and I had to pull the meat from the burritos because I wasn’t inspected by the USDA.

Oh the memories….  Which was the best?  Was it the after hour kinkos sessions in the middle of the night when my buddy and I stayed up designing old Phil’s Fresh Foods packaging artwork?  Was it my original delivery driver who looked just like ZZ Top and lived on land in Rollinsville without any running water or electricity ?  Was it my original office next to Boulder Toyota where I kept my sleeping bag for the numerous all nighters that were pulled?  Was it the time the refrigerated van was stollen off the dock at the West Colfax Vitamin Cottage by a male prostitute (I had to go testify against him in court once they caught him)?  Ahhh, the glory days…

Thank you to all who supported helping to fulfill my original dream of climbing in Eldorado Canyon every day.  Wait, that didn’t happen….

Thank you to all for helping to fulfill my v2 dream of creating a super-rad company, of building community and relationships, family and friends, and a great life and business.

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I am by no means an accomplished baker.  To say that I am an amateur baker would be a stretch, but lately, I have been baking a lot of bread – and I have been getting really into it.

Shaped baguettes move from a floured cloth to the peel prior to baking

I think I probably never gravitated to baking because with it, comes the requirement of some type of structure, organization, recipes, exact quantities, exact temperatures, etc…  That’s just not the way I roll in my kitchen.  I maintain very few recipes and nothing tends to be cooked or come out the same twice.  I think that’s why I always shied away from baking – I saw it more as chemistry than cooking.  It would make sense that now, after having spent ten years building the EVOL Manufacturing Plant into a legitimate, professional, and systematized operation, that I would finally have developed the discipline and tolerance to follow procedure, write something down, take a temperature, and try something more process oriented.  In short, I am ready to learn how to bake.

My baked baguettes looked OK but lacked proper slashing and forming

I have been baking off of the very awesome book, Baking with Julia, that I acquired about 15 years ago, but have used very seldom until one month ago.  This is a book that was based off of a PBS Series that was run in the mid ’90’s in which Julia Child hosted the most acclaimed bakers in the country in dozens of 30 minute episodes.

Baking with julia - an awesome text on baking and patisserie

After a number of successful loafs including basic white bread, wheat bread, and rye bread, I skipped right to one of the most challenging bread in the book – the Mixed Starter Bread.  This is a bread whose taste, texture, crust and crumb is developed through a number of starters and takes nearly two full days to complete.  It is a bread far stickier than anything I have ever made before.  I have to say that my first attempt was relatively successful, although it lacked the real crunch of a traditional French Baguette.  The flavor and crumb was awesome, but the crust needs some work.  Part of the nuance of baking a bread like this lies in the final moments in which the proofed loaf is slashed, placed on a pizza peel, and thrust into a blazing hot 500 degree oven on top of a baking stone.  To further complicate the matter, one needs to attempt to create steam in the oven chamber by hitting a super-heated pan with water right before the door is closed – all the while moving as quickly as possible to maintain as much heat as possible.  I have to admit that this sequence of events was challenging the first time, and the loaves seemed to brown unusually fast, but the results were pretty good – not amazing.

The fresh baguettes tasted incredible with butter and jam - I ate a whole loaf myself

Being in the food manufacturing business and being highly attuned to process, costs, and systemization, my only question remaining after having completed this process was, How could anyone ever make money doing this commercially?  Seriously?  If you make bread for a living, I salute you.  I don’t know how you do it.  Wow those two baguettes were a lot of work!  I could have gotten better baguettes at Whole Foods for $1.99 a piece and wouldn’t have had to look like a lunatic to my wife as I spent two whole days heating my bathroom with space heaters to double as a proofing chamber for the dough’s!  She thought I was nuts!

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