Pizza Head Scott Sandler

Scott Sandler is the chef-owner of Pizza Head.

While honoring stay-at-home orders, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs for their best advice on how to make easy, wholesome meals using simple pantry staples. Find out how to make the most of your groceries in this Q&A series, which outlines some pro tips for creating nutritious and comforting from-scratch meals, baked goods and more.

Scott Sandler is the chef-owner of Pizza Head, a vegetarian and vegan New York-style pizza shop on South Grand. Pizza Head is currently offering whole pies, bagels, Be Hive Vegan Deli retail packs, T-shirts and more online at pizzahead.com. Pickup is available Tuesday through Saturday from 3 to 8pm.

What is a simple, satisfying bread that people of any skill level can make at home? Indian roti, or flatbread, is one of my favorites, which is quite easy to master. Bread baking takes practice and there are as many breads as techniques. So enter the simplest, the most basic and most ancient bread to make: the flatbread. 

I highly recommend 100 percent whole wheat, but you can use white flour or a combination of the two. Mix flour, water and salt (optional). For salt it should be 1.5-2 percent of the flour weight – that's about a teaspoon and a half in most standard bread recipes. I recommend a scale, but you can use cups or just wing it. Whatever the case, the dough should be slightly tacky to the touch – not too wet, not too dry and smooth. It's better for it to be on the drier side but not too dry. Technically speaking, that's roughly a 57-60 percent water-to-flour ratio in weight. I use grams. 

Once the dough is smooth – it doesn't need a lot of kneading – roll them into golf-ball sized balls. Let them rest for 15-30 minutes. Then, you'll need to roll them flat in some way with a rolling pin, wine bottle or whatever you have on hand. You’ll have to throw down some flour here and there so they don't stick to the roller. They can be rolled thick or thin, or somewhere in between. Take a pan and get it hot, then turn the flame down to medium and bake the dough until you see some brown spots. Then, finish them off on the open flame turning each a few times. For electric stoves, just bake the bread completely on the pan. Enjoy with vegan butter.

How can home cooks make a tasty tomato sauce using pantry ingredients? Any canned tomatoes will do: whole peeled, crushed or diced. Heat olive oil in a pan with fresh sliced or crushed garlic until the garlic makes a nice aroma (be careful to not burn it). Then, throw in the tomatoes and simmer for a while – maybe a half hour, stirring it here and there. Finally, add some more olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper, and a tiny bit of sugar (optional). 

What tips can you offer people hoping to work with sourdough starter? First, obtain a starter from King Arthur, Sourdough International or we can give you some for free if you'd like. If you are adventurous, you can try and start your own, which can be done but is more difficult than obtaining one. When feeding it, use a 1-to-1 water-to-flour ratio. If you bake with a starter, the starter has to be ripe and vigorous for it to work properly. Use about 15-20 percent starter to the flour weight in the recipe. For 500 grams of flour, that would be 100 grams of starter. Sourdough takes longer to rise than commercial yeast, so be patient.

What is a convenient, comforting meal you like to make with some bare essentials? Spanish rice. All you need is cooked brown rice, canned stewed tomatoes, canned diced chiles, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Throw all the ingredients in the rice, stir up, then heat and eat. Add canned black beans for a really full meal!