Mission Taco Joint Owners

Jason Tilford (left) co-owns Mission Taco Joint with his brother, Adam Tilford.

While doing their part to maintain social distance, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs and business owners 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, snacks and more.

Jason Tilford co-owns Mission Taco Joint with his brother, Adam. The popular local eatery features California-style street food and recently opened its seventh location in Kirkwood following St. Louis-area locations in Soulard, the Central West End, the Delmar Loop and St. Charles, in addition to two locations in Kansas City. For hours, the menu and online ordering options, visit missiontacojoint.com.

What are some of the most useful ingredients you like to keep stocked in your home kitchen? Extra-virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, quality canned tomatoes, polenta, coconut milk, dried black beans and anchovy paste are always in my kitchen. They are pretty versatile in a pinch and can be used for many things. I also keep high-quality vegetable and chicken stock on hand.

What are some examples of easy comforting meals you like to make with these pantry staples? A perfect comfort meal would be a roasted chicken or fish with a little creamy polenta and a quick sauce of tomato, garlic, olive oil and some fresh herbs. Serve with some warmed crusty bread and some more olive oil for dipping.

How can home cooks make their own tortillas at home? Making fresh tortillas at home can be tricky but very satisfying as well. Ideally, start with a nice fresh ground masa. This is difficult to find, but it's sometimes available at small Hispanic grocers. A good substitute is Maseca, or corn flour. This is widely available and easy to use.  

The directions will be on the bag and it’s usually just equal parts flour and water. Mix it by hand until a nice dough is formed. Form the dough into one-ounce balls and set aside. There is a special tool that can press the tortillas, but if you don’t have one there is another method. Place the ball between two pieces of plastic wrap and press down firmly with a 6-inch skillet. Press hard enough to smash the ball into the thickness of a tortilla you would like. If you want it thinner than you can press, you roll it out more with a rolling pin.  

Cook the tortillas on a flat griddle over medium-high heat – 45 seconds on one side, then flip and cook 45 seconds on the other side. Flip once more and press the tortilla with a spatula to cause an air pocket to rise; 30 seconds on this side and it’s done. Store the cooked tortillas stacked in a clean kitchen towel until ready to eat.  

Fresh tortillas are obviously best for tacos but also great for quesadillas and tostadas. Use leftover tortillas the next day to make tortilla soup or chilaquiles, a Mexican dish of stale tortillas stewed in a spicy salsa.

What tips can you offer on making salsa from scratch? Salsas are extremely easy to make and an excellent condiment to have around. Basically, start with three main ingredients of tomato, onion and chiles. These can be stewed, roasted, grilled or even raw for a salsa cruda. The amounts of each are purely up to the cook and how they want it to taste and how spicy they want it. 

Salsas can be made to taste vibrant, earthy, smoky, citrusy and tangy. Be sure to make its flavor match what you’re using it for. After your core three ingredients are ready, additional flavorings can be garlic, lime juice, cilantro, cumin, oregano, tomatillos, vinegar and even sugar or agave. These are all up to you and how you want it to taste. This smoky chipotle salsa is one of my favorites.