In part two of my conversation with Supernatural star Misha Collins, we dive into his family’s eating habits, which eventually lead to The Adventurous Eaters Club: Mastering the Art of Family Meal Time, which he wrote with his wife, Vicki. Their children Maison and West had adopted the chicken nuggets-centric diet typical of many children in America until West, seemingly at random, put some Jerusalem artichokes into the shopping cart. From that moment on their food lives changed forever.
All of a sudden the Collins family started making things like kale chips at home. Of course, the Collins children’s newfound food agency did lead to some-ahem-unusual recipes, which are documented in the book, like the pasta with jam sauce (Misha readily admits it’s not a recipe to be made). I don’t want to give away the whole recipe here, but I can tell you it includes chocolate chips, Goldfish, and popcorn for a garnish. On a more serious note, Misha also talks about his extraordinary charity, Random Acts, which will receive a cut of the royalties from the book (100% of the Collins’ royalties will fund Random Acts and other nonprofits).
But before we delve into the intricacies of pasta with jam sauce, Steve Garbacz asks Kenji whether it’s okay to leave butter out of the fridge for days. As someone who leaves pizza and mozzarella out for days on end, this was a question near and dear to my heart.
And at the end of the episode, Serious Eats’s Senior Culinary Editor Sasha Marx weighs in on making pizza at home. What do we need to make the dough? “If you’re serious about making doughs, breads, whatever, it’s good to have two types of scales. I like having a large scale, and then having one of these small jeweler’s scales. You can buy this online, and also in head shops, is a good place to get them. Tell them it’s just for making pizza, and they’ll be like, ‘Sure, definitely, for making pizza.'”
Misha Collins on pasta with jam sauce, Kenji on one of my favorite food topics, and Sasha’s visit to a head shop to make pizza dough: A far-ranging Special Sauce, to be sure.
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce 2.0, a Serious Eats podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we begin with Ask Kenji, where Kenji Lopez-Alt, Serious Eats’ Chief Culinary Consultant, gives the definitive answer to the question of the week that a serious eater like you has sent us.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: The flavor of butter does change. So even in one of those little jar things with the water seal, where you put the butter upside down, with those little bells, you’re still going to get some amount of oxidation of the fats, and a little bit of sort of warm, semi-rancid flavors will start to develop over time.
EL: After Ask Kenji, a conversation with our guest: today, one of Serious Eats Editor-in-Chief Niki Achitoff-Gray’s favorite TV stars, Misha Collins. He is, of course, an actor best known for his role on the CW television series Supernatural, and has now written with his wife, Vicki Collins, The Adventurous Eaters Club: Mastering the Art of Family Meal Time.
Misha Collins: Our children also consider themselves authors. We didn’t credit them.
EL: Yes, I was going to say that, have they thought of suing you for credit on the cover?
MC: They talk about it often. They have been consulting with an attorney. And I’m not at liberty to discuss the details of that, because it’s still pending litigation.
EL: And finally on today’s podcast, a teachable moment from the Serious Eats test kitchen.
Sasha Marx: I like having one of these small jeweler’s scales. You can buy these online and also in head shops, is a good place to get them. Tell them it’s just for making pizza and they’ll be like, “Sure, definitely, for making pizza.”
EL: First up, our Chief Culinary Consultant, author of The Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt.
And Kenji, Serious Eater… I don’t know, I might butcher this last name… so Steve Garbacz, please forgive me. So, Steve wrote in that he’s been fighting his co-workers re:butter, and this is something you and I discussed in many different situations. Okay to leave out for days or weeks, or put it in the fridge?
JKLA: So… yeah, we’ve talked about this specifically, I think, in the context of pizza, fried chicken and mozzarella, fresh mozzarella… these are all things that you don’t put in the fridge ever, right?
EL: Exactly. Right. Much to my wife’s chagrin.
JKLA: So with butter… so, it really depends what you mean by okay. Butter is going to take… it is going to take a long time for it to go bad, because it’s relatively low moisture, like low water activity, so it’s relatively hard for bad things to grow in it, so it’ll probably be fine out on the counter, as far as being okay to eat and not harming you.
JKLA: However, the flavor of butter does change, even in one of those little sort of… those little jar things with the water seal, where you put the butter upside down, and those little bells?
KLA: Even with one of those, which has a very good seal, you’re still going to get some amount of oxidation of the fats, and a little bit of sort of… I don’t know, sort of warm, semi-rancid flavors will start to develop over time.
JKLA: Where I live in the Bay area, I tried for a while leaving butter on my counter, but I don’t have air conditioning and the summer can get pretty hot, and many times I found that even after just a couple of days, my butter would start to taste sort of like cheese… which is not necessarily bad, but it’s different.
EL: Wow. So, it’s fermented… that’s so interesting, because I went to Razza, this pizzeria in Jersey City the night before last, Kenji, and he served butter that he’d allowed to ferment so that it tasted almost like blue cheese.
JKLA: Sometimes my butter will get that… my butter would get to that level. It would taste like… yeah, blue cheese, or like a little bit sort of Parmesan-y aromas to it. I guess it’s fine on your toast. It’s good with honey. It’s not necessarily something everyone wants.
JKLA: So, I mean, the answer is… there’s not really a debate. It’s… if you like your butter at room temperature and you don’t mind those flavors developing, then leave it at room temperature; and if you don’t, then leave it in the fridge.
EL: Will anyone get sick from leaving butter out?
JKLA: I mean, if you leave it long enough, yeah.
EL: But I mean, longer than a few days, it would take, right?
JKLA: It really depends on the specific environment you’re in. It depends on how clean your butter was to start with, how clean the stuff… the knife you’re sticking in there is, what temperature your kitchen is. It depends on a lot of different factors, so you can’t-
EL: Got it. There’s a lot of variables.
JKLA: Yeah, yeah.
EL: All right, Steve. It’s a tough question. It’s a much tougher question than we thought, but I think we got it covered for you.
EL: Thanks, Kenji, man. We’ll see you next week.
JKLA: All right.
EL: Kenji Lopez-Alt, the Serious Eats Chief Culinary Consultant and author of The Food Lab. Do send in your questions to Kenji to SpecialSauce@seriouseats.com.
EL: Now it’s time to hear more from Supernatural star Misha Collins, the co-author of the amazing The Adventurous Eaters Club: Mastering the Art of Family Meal Time, which he wrote with his wife, Vicki Collins. Welcome back, Misha.
MC: Thank you.
EL: So, you’re away on sets acting. Vicki was presumably home with Maison and West. What was mealtime at home at that point?
MC: We expected, I think, when we had kids… we expected that we would fold them into our eating habits seamlessly, that they would just eat the food that we were eating. I think when I was a kid, my mother had one of those old-fashioned… it was a metal hand crank food mill that was bolted to the counter.
EL: Oh, yeah, sure! There’s a name for those.
MC: I know, but I don’t know what it is. And I remember, she would just stuff things in there, whatever the grown-ups were eating… would stuff them in there, and turn it into mush, and spoon feed it to my baby brother. And I kind of imagined that that… maybe, maybe we would sort of mechanically pre-masticate the food for the kids, but they were going to be eating whatever we were eating.
EL: Mouli grater.
EL: I think it’s called a Mouli grater.
MC: Well done. I’m impressed.
MC: But then we had kids. And we were coupling raising kids with a really busy schedule, with a ton of travel; we were just constantly moving. And I was working, as you mentioned, a lot at that point, and it was challenging to get our kids to eat what we wanted them to eat, when we wanted them to eat, and they were flying off the handle when they were hungry, and so we were just sort of feeding them the easy stuff. And it was a lot of snacks, and it was a lot of processed snacks, and it was a lot of bland, beige foods.
EL: Children can live by chicken nuggets alone.
MC: They can. They can sustain for quite a while, unfortunately. So, we were feeding them a lot of garbage, and they were having blood sugar spikes and valleys, and sitting down for a meal with them was not something that we were looking forward to. I remember distinctly feeling this sense of dread about sitting down for a family meal.
EL: Which, for you, must have really hurt, given your upbringing and what sitting down for dinner meant to you.
MC: Yeah. To me, it actually felt like there was something core in the family that was broken. If this isn’t working, then this whole thing isn’t working. And it was really… I think it was a source of more pain for me than I let on at the time, but we had this sort of moment of kismet, where I had gone to the grocery store with my son. At one point, we discovered that it was easier to come back from the grocery store where we were living in our apartment in Vancouver if we brought the stroller, because we could hang the grocery bags on the hooks on the stroller when we came home.
And so, I brought my son in the stroller to the grocery store. And then, I must have been distracted or something when we were checking out at the register, because when I got home, there were several items in the bags that I hadn’t put into the basket.
EL: You mean you didn’t put marshmallows into the basket?
MC: Precisely. And my son had been sort of walking along beside me in the grocery store and tossing things into the shopping cart without me noticing.
EL: It’s like a scene from a movie.
MC: It really was remarkable, and I pulled out a bag of Jerusalem artichokes… I remember this distinctly… and I said, “What is this?” And I said, “West, I honestly don’t even know how to cook Jerusalem artichokes,” and he said, “I’ll show you.” And at that point, West was one of these classic American picky eater kids.
EL: He was like three or four?
MC: Yeah, he was three, and he was not eating… he would eat a lot of pasta… if we were lucky, we were getting some olive oil on it… and certainly not something new and unfamiliar like a Jerusalem artichoke. But he said, “I’ll show you how to make it,” and he smashed them up with a rolling pin, and he gave me instructions, like, “Throw it in the pan.” And then he put peanut butter on them, and he ate this enormous portion of Jerusalem artichokes, and it was the beginning of a process of discovery with the kids for us, where we realized, “Wait. If we allow them to have some agency in the kitchen, if we give them involvement in the cooking process, they suddenly become curious and want to try things in a way that they hadn’t before. And not only that, they want to sit down and be present at the dinner table instead of throwing the food at us.”
MC: And there were all of these little things that started to fall in place around allowing them to be a part of the cooking process. And it felt like this amazing epiphany to me, and it opened the door to us beginning to explore, what is it that’s going on with how we’ve been eating? How did we get here? Why did we get here? And how can we chart a course that takes us out of that stressful family meal time, and into something that is harmonious and bonding, and also healthful?
EL: I guess one of the first things you had to give up is the feeling that you have to be in control.
MC: Yeah, and it had to be deliberate. I mean, I think it’s pretty common in many walks of life in parenting, where you feel like, I’m the adult; you’re the child; I am going to show you how to do this. And it’s also often easier to be the one in control, because kids tend to make messes and explore the world through play, and that can get tricky.
But we decided to start making the deliberate decision to allow the kids to play in the kitchen, and when they were allowed to play in the kitchen, suddenly the whole universe of food became less intimidating to them. And of course, kids learn through play; we all know that; we know that that’s big developmental tool for children. But for some reason, a lot of times, we, as Western grown-ups, don’t allow that play to extend into the kitchen.
MC: I was thinking about it on the drive over here this morning. We have this little craft table for the kids, and they will dump glitter all over the craft table, and glue, and they’ll cut up construction paper, and they’ll bring sticks and leaves in from outside, and they’ll pour wax all over. I mean, it’s just this horrific mess, and glitter is constantly permeating every fabric in the house, and we’re totally fine with that. And no one walks into the house and says, “What are you doing? Why are you letting children play with glitter?” Because we have all accepted, as a culture, that children play with glitter and glue.
However, when you transpose that kind of play into the kitchen, everyone takes slow steps backward with their hands up, like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
EL: Right. Right. “You’re not going to let your kids do that?”
MC: “You’re making a terrible mess,” or, “Oh, you’re wasting.” We have this idea that if food is, in some way, played with, that that’s a horrific waste, but in the long run, actually allowing kids to touch things and to smell them is a part of the process of them learning to accept new foods, and if you let them play a little bit, and occasionally even waste something by making something that maybe isn’t as palatable to us as we would like… in the long run, we’re setting them up for a healthy relationship with food that’s going to serve them for the rest of their lives, and it’s well worth that expense of cleanup and possible waste along the way.
MC: So, it’s an interesting thing how we have these… we cordon off certain sectors of our family life for play, and other sectors for, this is serious. “Kitchen is a serious place. Don’t mess around here. And don’t make a mess.” We keep saying, “You’re making a mess,” but that’s what kids do.
EL: Yeah, it’s interesting, but it must have forced you and your wife, as parents, to sort of slalom back and forth between, “Is this okay? No, this isn’t okay,” or, “This is really driving me insane,” and, “It’s really great.”
MC: Yes, absolutely, and by the way, I don’t want to paint a portrait of a family where we’re just constantly throwing flour by the fistfuls into the air, because we would spend all of our time cleaning up the kitchen. We kind of set aside specific times where we make projects in the kitchen and let the kids run wild, and then other times… and this is the bulk of the time… the kids are coming along with us, and I will give them tasks.
EL: Got it.
MC: Like, “Here, you grate the cheese, and grate it on a plate, not on the table,” and we navigate the process. I think slalom is a good term, because it is a little bit of back and forth. Sometimes we let it go, and sometimes we don’t have time to let it go.
EL: Yeah, sure.
So, The Adventurous Eaters Club is much more than a cookbook, right? It’s really as much a prescriptive guide to how families can make the most of the time they spend together cooking and eating. How did the book come about?
MC: So my wife has a Ph.D. in history, and she loves research.
EL: Yeah, she’s no slouch, either. She’s got serious writing credential, too.
MC: Yeah, and when she gets into something, she tends to really explore it deeply. And so, when we started to discover that things were shifting in our household around family meal time, she started to do a lot of research, and she dug into everything from the existing cookbooks on family cooking to peer-reviewed literature about childhood development, and began to… and in a way, a part of what was going on for her was seeing that our kids were picky eaters, but also their peers were often picky eaters at school, that the parents in our social circle were all struggling with a lot of the similar problems.
MC: And she started to see that there’s real evidence that there are real ways around this, and collecting that information, really, to service our family. And we had had such a positive experience ourselves implementing this stuff, we felt like, “Wait, maybe we should put this together in a book.” And I think, for me, because cooking such an emotionally grounding force in a family, I was really gung ho about it, because I feel like sitting down at a family meal is so important for a family.
MC: So, it was a combination of factors that went into us slowly, slowly coming around to the idea of writing a book, and by the time we decided to write the book, we actually had already collected a lot of information, and had a lot of empirical support for what’s in the book ourselves.
EL: Yeah, so tell us about the process of writing it, because you must have written it while you were on hiatus? When’d you come back for the weekends? How do you write a book when you’re also shooting a television show?
MC: We have long days of shooting on Supernatural, but there’s also a lot of hours that I spend idly… not idle, there’s nothing idle about it… I’m actively searching Twitter or wasting time in other ways. So, in some respects, it was a welcome reprieve from time-wasting efforts that I have on set. But also, I’m not in every single episode, so I occasionally have episodes off. We have a three month hiatus. There’s a lot of time in the calendar year to work on things, and we also… Vicki and I worked on it independently, and then would come together and work things out together, so there was a lot of slaloming there, as well.
EL: Yeah. And did you find it fun, or was it a, why did I take this on? Or by that time, had you already started thinking about life post-Supernatural?
MC: There were so many aspects of this book that were fun, and it gave us an excuse to lean even more into cooking and food with the kids. Because we knew that we needed to come up with roughly 100 recipes that we were really happy with, we were doing a lot of experimenting in the kitchen, and so it was an excuse. I could say to the kids, “Come on, you have to come cook with me, because we’re writing this cookbook. We got to work on this.” So for me, there was a lot of joy in that process, and a lot of joy in watching the kids take ownership of… our children also consider themselves authors. We didn’t credit them.
EL: Yes, I was going to say that, have they thought of suing you for credit on the cover?
MC: They talk about it often. They have been consulting with an attorney.
MC: And I’m not at liberty to discuss the details of that, because it’s still pending litigation. But they consider this their cookbook, and there are recipes in here that are their recipes, and they’re proud of them. We have a few recipes in here that are highlighted as culinary frontier recipes, and those are recipes that we specifically stipulate, no one should actually make… there are four or five of them… because they are recipes that are, frankly, disgusting, but the kids invented them, and… one example is pasta with jam sauce.
EL: Yeah, so I did, as you can see, from the book-
MC: Oh, you dog-eared it.
EL: I dog-eared pasta with jam, and I feel compelled to give the ingredient list for pasta with jam.
EL: First of all, it says 10 strawberry jam; so many tomato sauce from a can; five inches carrot juice; all the orange juice in the fridge; one bag chocolate chips; three quarters of a bag of Goldfish; eight inches fresh blackberries; one whole Red Delicious apple, including stem and core, less three small bites; one box wheel-shaped pasta; one jar of tomato sauce; and a handful of popped popcorn for garnish… obviously!
EL: And do you make it clear that this is not really something you’re supposed to do, and the way you drove that point home was you sent this recipe to a bunch of critics, some of whom I know, by the way… some of whom are friends of mine.
MC: Oh, really?
EL: Rick Nelson is a… we served together on the James Beard Committee. But one of my favorite things is from the former restaurant critic for the Sacramento Bee. “Did I hate this dish? Hate is a strong word, but it’s not strong enough. I despised this dish. I hope it doesn’t haunt me until the day I die, though I fear it will.” That’s very gutsy, because this is where the cookbook becomes a children’s book!
MC: I was amazed that so many food critics were game to write reviews of the pasta with jam sauce, and being invited to taste something that is intended to be somewhat disgusting is… and to take on that challenge so eloquently, as some of these critics did… I was very impressed by it. But I laughed a lot when I read them, as well.
MC: But this is… the reason that we included these… I mean, partly, obviously, for the comic relief, but also partly because it exemplifies the fact that when kids feel prideful about something that they’re making, and this is their invention, they will eat just about anything, and it’s an interesting lesson.
EL: But it must have forced you and Vicki to sort of check yuck at the door.
MC: Oh, yeah. I mean, I had to take a bite of pasta with jam sauce and say-
EL: Wait, and you’re still vertical.
MC: I had to say, “Mm, yum.”
EL: That’s really funny.
EL: So, give us three recipes, serious recipes, that someone absolutely has to make from the book.
MC: Okay. Well, there’s one that I love because it was a comfort food in my childhood, which is the shepherd’s pie, and we have the peas and the carrots and the corn… we have the kids separate them out, so that we make real layers, and then we cook it in Mason jars so that you can sort of see the rainbow of food in the jar.
MC: And our kids, my son… shepherd’s pie was really my go-to comfort foot. When I was sick or something, and my mom said, “Well, what do you want me to make you,?” I would say shepherd’s pie.
MC: And it also happens to be my son’s favorite dish in the cookbook, so I feel like perhaps it’s just a genetic predisposition to liking shepherd’s pie. I’m not sure… but that’s one.
MC: Kale chips is another one, because we have been-
EL: You’re kale freaks in the family.
MC: We are a bit of kale freaks. At one point, I was at Comic-Con… this must have been 10 years ago… and I was going through a red carpet line, and you get sort of bombarded with these questions that eventually become mind-numbing. And I was going through a line, and someone said, “There are so many people here who are such fans of Supernatural. Are you a big fan of anything?” And I said, “Kale.”
MC: And this was a fateful moment because I ended up getting a call from the American Kale Council after making that comment, and they asked me to be their official celebrity spokesperson.
MC: And I said, “Sure,” and they said, “All right, we’re going to send you some T-shirts,” and they sent me these… it was like size small, women’s kale T-shirts. It was like a white shirt and it said, “Kale,” and it was so small, it was like a crop top.
EL: So you gave it to Maison.
MC: So, yeah, I gave it to Maison, ultimately. She wasn’t even born at the time, but I was like, “Eventually, I’ll have a daughter.”
MC: But kale has become sort of a cornerstone for me, and the kids love kale, as well, and so, we fold that into the cookbook again and again.
MC: And there’s another recipe that was particularly contentious for us in this book, which was the breakfast popsicles. So, I think we have four of these sort of marginal kids’ recipes, like the pasta with jam sauce; another won was the breakfast popsicles.
MC: So, we have a ritual in our household, which is we’ll wake up and we’ll say, “Let’s make a breakfast that no one has ever made before.” And one morning we got up and Maison said, “Let’s make breakfast popsicles,” and I said, “Great, we have orange juice in the fridge. We can do this.” And she said, “Great. We have orange juice and we have eggs, and we have bacon and we have toast.” And I said, “Wait, what are we doing here? What’s happening?”
MC: And so, we ended up cooking a breakfast with eggs and bacon and toast, and then putting it in a blender with orange juice and putting it in the fridge, and the kids devoured these breakfast popsicles, and I literally… this is the one time that I even… with pasta with jam sauce, I felt I could swallow a bite, but I could not swallow the breakfast popsicles.
MC: The publisher at Harpers, when we submitted the manuscript… I said to my wife, “I don’t think we should put this in here. It’s just too disgusting,” and the publisher said, “I don’t think we should put the breakfast popsicles in the cookbook. It’s just too disgusting,” and I pumped my fist in the air, and I was like, “I told you, Vicki, it’s too disgusting.”
MC: And then the publisher called back a week later and said, “I’ve just been haunted by the breakfast popsicles.”
EL: That’s awesome.
MC: “I feel like we need to put it back in. I feel like it shows that the adventure and the playfulness that kids can engage in in the kitchen is almost without bounds. So, I think we should put it back in.” So, ultimately, I lost that fight, but that’s another recipe that’s sort of a standout for me in the book.
EL: That’s great.
EL: So, do you think your kids might end up being chefs?
MC: It’s hard for me to say at this point.
EL: They’re young.
MC: They’re young, and I don’t want to pressure them into any career choices yet, but Maison did recently say, “I think that I might be a chef when I grow up.”
EL: That’s great.
MC: So, hopefully, at least, they’ll be bringing food to their families.
EL: We have to get to the Special Sauce All-You-Can-Answer buffet, but before that, I want you to talk a little bit about your non-profit.
MC: When I got on Supernatural and started realizing that I had a following, it was a bit surprising, and I was re-calibrating, and then there was an earthquake in Haiti, and I quickly set up a fundraising page on UNICEF and tweeted it out to my followers, “Let’s donate here as a team.” And within 24 hours, there was something like $30,000 in donations that came in, and I was like, “Whoa, there’s something here.”
MC: And so, I went through a little bit of paperwork and machinations to start setting up a 501(c)(3), and I called it Random Acts, and I really drew on the fandom that we had from our show. And we ended up building an orphanage in Haiti and a school in Nicaragua, and funding resettlement Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and funding a dance/ballet school in a township in South Africa, and doing all of these kind of really cool projects that are not the kind of thing that you would expect a CW sci-fi fandom to be getting behind.
MC: But the core mission of Random Acts is to help people perpetrate acts of kindness on their own. So, if somebody comes up with an idea of something that they want to do in their community, we help facilitate that, and we either help facilitate it with logistics or with funding. But the reason that I set that up is that when I was a kid, and we had very little, there were very discreet acts of kindness that strangers perpetrated on our family that made a lasting impact on me.
MC: I remember, we were camped out on the side of the road one day, and a woman in a pick-up truck pulled over, and got out, and she handed my mom a gift certificate to Abdow’s Big Boy for $14.
EL: Which was a local-
MC: Hey, it’s a chain!
EL: Oh, it’s a-
MC: Yeah, yeah, Abdow’s Big Boy… it’s not a Wendy’s, but it’s a franchise.
EL: It’s a mini-chain.
MC: And we went into Abdow’s Big Boy with this $14 gift certificate, and it just felt like such a windfall. It was such a bonanza.
MC: I was six or seven at the time, and that was stuck with me for the rest of my life, and I have thought, when I come across people in need occasionally, of like, “I remember when someone did that for me, so I’m going to pay it forward,” and I think that Random Acts is sort of an outpicturing of that, as well… just thinking, well, a small act can go a long way. I could talk about that forever, but I won’t.
EL: But here’s a not so random observation: you talked about how this is the arc you imagined your life taking, which is, “Okay, I’ll become an actor. I’ll get rich and famous, and then I’ll do something good for the world.” Kind of sounds like… I don’t know if you’re rich or, what your level of fame is-
MC: Oh, yeah, I’m loaded.
EL: But the point is, in a way, you did that. Have you ever… I’m sure you’ve thought about this, but it was apparent to me after listening to you. It’s like, you’ve kind of got to live that dream, that fantasy, in some small way… which is pretty cool.
MC: Yeah, I guess in some small way… I mean, I think it’s maybe nice to see that core value in me of… trying to be helpful to people hasn’t totally gone away in the process.
EL: Yeah, look, we all… by the way, that’s something that I struggle with with Serious Eats, and somehow, against all odds, I managed to bring it to the finish line and do something good for a bunch of people, which is cool.
EL: One thing we should mention, that 100 percent of your royalties… of your royalties and Vickie’s royalties… go to Random Acts.
MC: Well, it’s actually… Random Acts is one of several organizations that will be benefiting from the proceeds of this book.
EL: Got it.
MC: But our mission with the proceeds of this book is to help bring access to healthy food to needy families and kids. There are a lot of communities, even in the U.S., in urban communities, where parents simply don’t have access to fresh groceries. There are a lot of places where unless you have a car or you can afford the time commitment to take a bus and transfer to another bus, you’re not going to be able to get to a grocery store; and so, people are buying their groceries at convenience stores or liquor stores.
EL: Yeah, for sure.
MC: And if you’re buying your groceries at a convenience store, you’re not getting fresh vegetables.
EL: Yeah, well, that’s a classic case with inner-city grocery stores and convenience stores, and where people in disadvantaged neighborhoods have to shop.
MC: Yeah, and one in four kids in our country don’t eat a vegetable on any given day.
MC: And so, anyway, that’s the profits… our profits from this book are going to organizations that are helping with that problem.
EL: Very cool.
EL: So now it’s time for the buffet. No pressure, we don’t have a clock on you, but…
MC: But some other guests have done it quickly. Great.
EL: Yeah, exactly. I’m not saying that, but it’s true.
EL: So, who’s at your Last Supper? No family allowed; can be people living or dead; artists, politicians, poets.
MC: Mary Oliver is my favorite poet, and I would like to have her there.
EL: The first time anyone has mentioned Mary Oliver.
MC: Is that true?
MC: What is wrong with people?
EL: People have mentioned other poets, but not Mary Oliver.
MC: Okay, I’ll take Mary Oliver.
MC: And here’s another poet that I would really like to have dinner with, is Edna St. Vincent Millay.
EL: Whoa, another original Last Supper guest.
MC: Good. My long-time idol from when I was probably 18 was a National Public Radio personality, Bob Garfield.
EL: Oh, sure.
MC: Whom I just met, finally, for the first time. We had drinks last week, but I have always wanted him at the-
EL: On the Media, right?
MC: Yeah, he’s the host on On the Media, yeah. So, I’d like him there.
MC: I’d like President Obama.
EL: All right.
MC: I’m sure you get that a lot.
EL: Yeah, yeah, we get a lot of-
MC: That’s boring.
EL: Yeah, but one more… but that’s good. We get a lot of Barack and Michelle, which is awesome, don’t get me wrong. One more.
MC: I would like to meet my great-great grandfather, who is the inventor of the first mechanical adding machine. He’s sort of this titan in my family that everyone always talks about, but I, of course, never met him.
EL: Yeah, and clearly, the money didn’t make its way.
MC: It really didn’t, yeah. His progeny squandered his fortunes.
EL: So, what are you eating?
MC: What am I eating?
EL: Yeah, at the Last Supper.
MC: Oh. I think the Last Supper for me would be a breakfast.
EL: Okay, I like this.
MC: For some reason, there’s nothing that I love more than having a cup of black tea, an omelet with toast, and sauteed greens for a meal. There’s something about taking the time and space to start the day with something like that. So, it would be a Last Supper, it would take place at dawn, and we would have tea and omelets.
EL: That’s awesome. I like that. Is there a filling in the omelet, or is it a plain omelet?
MC: Oh, there’s filling in the omelet. Brie and greens in my omelet.
EL: And what are you listening to?
MC: Ella Fitzgerald.
EL: I like it. By herself? With Louis Armstrong?
MC: By herself.
EL: By herself. Songs that you love to hear Ella sing?
MC: It just popped into my head because the kids were just singing along to it, but “A Tisket, A Tasket… a brown and yellow basket”.
EL: I like it. I like it.
EL: So, do you have guilty pleasures, in terms of food?
MC: Occasionally, I’ll take a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and eat those, and I don’t know why.
EL: That’s the definition of a guilty pleasure.
MC: I’m compelled to eat them, and I think I’m confused as I do, as to why they’re going into my gullet. So, I would say, yeah, Cool Ranch Doritos.
EL: I like it. Three books that have profoundly influenced your life?
MC: Crime and Punishment was really big for me. It just sort of sent me into an existential crisis when I read it in college.
MC: There’s a book by the South African author Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K.
EL: Yeah, J.M. Coetzee.
MC: Yes… which the book is about this incredibly poor, slightly brain damaged South African black man living in Apartheid South Africa, who loses everything, including his mother. He finds himself living in a crack between rocks, waiting for some pumpkins to grow after he plants the seeds. And when the pumpkins finally do grow, some soldiers come and destroy them… and it’s the bleakest, most miserable existence you could possibly imagine. And yet, somehow, in my pathological optimism, I read that book and saw it as uplifting, because I saw this character as someone who was finding some shred of humanity and happiness in the most dire of circumstances.
I have given that book to many, many people; all of them found it just deeply depressing, and so, I’m the only one that found it uplifting.
And then, I just read a book that was just incredible, Educated.
EL: Sure, the Tara Westover book.
MC: Yeah. Have you come across it?
EL: Yeah, I read it.
MC: I thought that was amazing. I don’t know how profoundly it will affect my life in the long term, but I just read it, and I’m telling everybody I meet to read it.
EL: Yeah, that’s very interesting.
So, it’s just been declared Misha Collins Day all over the world… all over the world.
MC: Finally. I can’t believe I’m only hearing about that now.
EL: What’s happening on that day?
MC: Boy, I don’t know how to answer this question. I’m cringing at the very thought of it. I feel very uncomfortable. I mean, I’m flattered, obviously, but…
MC: I guess I’ve been working on something that I’m calling gamifying good; so, we’re making a game of trying to do good in the world. I have this international scavenger hunt that I run where people sort of dress up in humiliating costumes and then go to, for example, retirement homes or children’s hospitals, and do things. So, I kind of like the idea that on Misha Collins Day, everyone would be dressed up in some humiliating wardrobe, and then going out into the world and trying to do something good for their neighbors.
EL: And would they be eating breakfast popsicles?
MC: Nobody should ever be eating breakfast popsicles.
EL: All right. Thank you so much for sharing your Special Sauce with us. Misha Collins, his new book written with his wife, Vicki, is The Adventurous Eaters Club: Mastering the Art of Family Meal Time. Thank you. It was really a pleasure to have you.
MC: Thank you for having me. I’m honored to be here.
EL: Now it’s time to head over to Serious Eats’ test kitchen to discover what our Managing Culinary Director, Daniel Gritzer, is cooking up. No need to take notes. Details of Daniel’s recipe are at seriouseats.com.
Sasha Marx: Hey, I’m Sasha Marx. Today, we’re talking pizza, something I feel super strongly about. I grew up in Italy, so I kind of have a lot of opinions about pizza.
Today, we’re making pan pizza. You don’t need a wood-burning pizza oven. You don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment. You don’t need a stand mixer. All you need is a functioning oven, a few bowls, and two cast iron pans.
All right, so we’re going to start with the most important part of the whole recipe, making the dough for the pizza. Super simple, this one; it’s using a no knead method. Basically, you just get everything into one bowl, stir it together, cover it in plastic wrap, set it aside overnight.
If you’re serious about making doughs, breads, whatever, it’s good to have two types of scales. I like having a large scale, and then having one of these small jeweler’s scales. You can buy this online, and also in head shops, is a good place to get them. Tell them it’s just for making pizza, and they’ll be like, “Sure, definitely, for making pizza.”
400 grams of bread flour; 4 grams instant yeast; 10 grams of kosher salt. So for this recipe, everything goes in at the same time. 275 grams of water. Yeah, the sound is suggestive. 8 grams of extra virgin olive oil.
So once you have everything measured out, all that’s left to do is mix it together. I like to have a plastic pastry card with me for this, so that as I’m going, I can scrape off my wooden spoon to make sure that I’m not just stirring this one piece of sort of wet dough on my spoon, and I’m actually incorporating everything that’s in the bowl.
We’re sort of… got everything into a wet, shaggy dough, and that’s pretty much what we’re looking for. All you have to do is cover this bowl with plastic wrap super tight, and set it aside at room temperature overnight.
So, we have our dough that’s rested overnight, and we’re now ready to get it out onto the counter, and then just use a pastry card or scraper to get the dough out onto the works.
Now, all we have to do is sort of form into a cohesive piece of dough, and then just divide it into two pieces using a bench scraper. And from there, it’s just balling the dough up into rounds, get it into one piece and sort of tuck it under with your thighs of your hands, and it’ll come together and sort of naturally form an elastic, smooth top, flattening it out, as well. This will eventually be the bottom crust of your pizza, and the more you have it uniform and flat, the better crust you’ll get on the bottom of it.
We have two 10-inch cast iron pans, and we drizzle in one to two tablespoons of olive oil. I’ll start with the sort of presentation top side first; sort of get some oil on it, rub it around, and then flip it over.
Then, you just have your nice and oiled up pan, and with the flat side of my palm, just press down on it. This is just about giving it sort of an even flat surface for it to proof evenly. If you just proofed it as a ball as is, you’d get one giant domed piece of pizza.
All we have to do is cover both pans with plastic wrap and let them rise for two hours at room temperature.
So, it’s been two hours. Our dough has rested in the pans, and we’re ready to finally bake off some pizzas. And I’ve actually never had American-style pan pizza before, but you can see a lot of similarities between this American-style pan pizza and an Italian focaccia, minus all the sauce and stuff, or pizza Pugliese, or focaccia Pugliese, that have this sort of technique of cooking it in a cast iron pan with tons of oil underneath.
And so now, the best part of any pizza party is sort of having your toppings set up, and topping the pizzas before you bake them off. And normally, for pizzas, you would say, “Oh, I treat it like pasta or something”; you lightly dress it. You’re not slathering on tons of toppings. This pizza is different. This one, you actually want to weigh it down with a lot of toppings, especially when it comes to tomato sauce. It needs almost that sauce to sort of soak into the dough, so you need three quarters of a cup of sauce per pie.
And then using the back of a spoon, you’re just going to spread it out all the way to the edge. Don’t worry about having a rim, undressed pizza dough; that’s not really what we’re going for here. That’s a lot of sauce; kind of makes me a little nervous having that much sauce, but it’ll be great.
A good amount of cheese; go hard with it.
And then, whatever you want to do. Let’s try some of this pepperoni and see what the deal is. Basil; don’t try and be too perfect with it. A drizzle of olive oil on top. Even though you’ve got salty cheese, salty pepperoni, whatever; you need a final sprinkling of salt.
Crank your oven all the way up. Middle rack, 550 degree oven, and they go in, 12 to 15 minutes… and we’ll have some delicious pan pizzas ready to go.
Kind of crispy on the bottom; you got sauce, you got salty pepperoni, cheese. There’s a lot going on and a lot of dough, but I dig it.
EL: Our Managing Culinary Director, Daniel Gritzer. Again, the details of this recipe are at seriouseats.com. More from our test kitchen next time.
That’s it for today. Next week on Special Sauce, Kenji will be back to answer with his usual scientific precision your culinary question of the week. Do send in those questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All this and a special guest on next week’s Special Sauce.
So long, Serious Eaters. We’ll see you next time.