Learning My Mama’s Cornbread Recipe

Growing up, my mom cooked dinner every night, while I admired her techniques from the dining room table. Now that I’m an adult, burdened with cooking my own food, I try to recreate some of those comforting meals from my childhood. I’ve been able to produce some of those meals with ease, but cornbread has been the hardest to replicate.

My mom’s cornbread is buttery and salty, with a perfectly moist crumb. Every attempt I made to recreate it yielded something dense, flavorless, and hugely disappointing. So I was desparate to know how she made hers.

There are hundreds of great cornbread recipes on the web. But, only my mama’s cornbread recipe could satisfy my need. So instead of consulting my favorite food bloggers, I called up my mom. I pryed for the recipe but only received the vague measurements she’s been using for years:

“Just use some cornmeal”

“Add a little bit of buttermilk”

The next time I visited my mom, I begged her to whip up a batch of cornbread so I could measure out the ingredients and document the recipe. We had a fun mother-daughter time baking this cornbread together and we learned that my mom’s definition of “one tablespoon” is actually 1/4 cup (equal to FOUR TABLESPOONS.)

The key ingredient

Self-rising corn meal is the key ingredient in my mom’s cornbread.

The main thing I was missing in my attempts to bake this cornbread was self-rising cornmeal. Some recipes call for cornmeal, flour, and baking powder individually. But my mom always uses self-rising cornmeal, which already contains those key ingredients. Needless to say, when I used plain cornmeal with no leavening agents…it did not go well.

The recipe that I documented is still sparse, needing a lot of judgment. So no, it’s not the easiest or most traditional cornbread recipe on the web. But it is the first of my mother’s recipes that I learned to make. And it is darn good!


1 1/2 cups Self-rising cornmeal
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonaise (or sour cream)
1 egg
handy chef cornbread southern the best
Cornbread going into the oven.


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix the cornmeal and egg together in a large bowl. Then add the mayo and buttermilk.
  3. Add a sprinkle of sugar.
  4. Mix until combined.
  5. To adjust the thickness of the batter: Add warm water one teablespoon at a time until the batter has the consistency of pancake/waffle batter. For thicker cornbread, go ahead and add less water.
  6. Pour into an oiled cast iron skillet and bake for 12-15 minutes.
  7. For the final minutes of baking, switch the oven to BROIL to brown the top of the cornbread.
  8. Remove from oven and top with butter.
handy chef lex henry cornbread
Just like my mama’s!

Have you learned any of your parents’ special recipes?

Your Guide to the Best Diner-Style Hash Browns

I do not go out to breakfast without ordering potatoes in some form. Home fries, tater tots, and of course classic shredded hash browns. Likewise, I have eaten an immeasurable amount of homemade hash browns. Most of the homemade hashes hardly ever compare to the perfect griddled hash I order at greasy diners.

Homemade shredded hash is always plagued by the same flaws. The potatoes tend to be undercoked yet burnt. The flavor doesn’t match the classic diner seasoning. And the shreds often clump together.

But, worry no longer! The Handy Chef is here to make your next at-home Brunch just as good as the restaurant version.

1. Shred your own potatoes

Handy Chef Breakfast Recipes
Pictured: Handy Chef Lex spreading the openings of a traditional cheese grater.

I like the convenient, pre-packaged potato shreds as much as any online food writer. But shredding the potatoes yourself is not only more fulfilling, but also cheaper. Just take a normal cheese grater and a chopstick (or something of similar shape.) Use the chopstick to spread the wide grates even wider. This create rounder, and more classic shaped shreds.

2. Wring those potatoes

Homemade hash browns crispy
Wring the moisture from the shredded potatoes in a tea towel.

This is the most important step for achieving crispy potatoes. Fortunately, it’s a step that most home cooks are aware of. Place the shredded potatoes into a tea towel then wring them with your hands. As you learned from the roasting guide, moisture is the enemy of crispiness.

3. Cover the skillet while cooking

Without covering the hashbrowns, the potatoes only cook when in direct contact with the skillet. This will lead to the potatoes on the bottom burning before the potatoes on the top can cook all the way through. When you cover them, the skillet fries the potatoes on the bottom and the steam trapped inside the skillet cooks the potatoes on the top. This step is the difference between hashbrowns that are crispy but fluffy inside, and hashbrowns that are crispy and undercooked on the inside.

4. Salt after cooking; don’t season before cooking

An honest misstep many home cooks make is using multiple spices on hashbrowns before cooking. Once finished, the hash taste like the spice cabinet instead of tasting like hash. Instead, simply salt the hashbrowns immediately after removing from the pan. You truly only need salt. Think about it hashbrowns are just fried potatoes. Would you put that chilli powder on your french fries? Probably not, so put that back in the cabinet for this dish.

Handy Chef Perfect Hash Browns

What do you usually make for breakfast at home?

Your Guide to Entertaining Friends with a Fun Cheese Board

This weekend, I had several friends in town to celebrate Howard University’s Homecoming. And as a Howard alum, I was excited to attend the festivities. I was especially excited to feed and entertain my friends!

Remember that antique cutting board? Well, this was the perfect opportunity to christen that newly restored board with a full spread of assorted cheeses and breads.

Cheese board vegetarian Handy Chef Lex
Cheese Board featuring: cheddar cheese, Honeycrisp apples, goat cheese, grapes, pepperjack cheese
cheese board handy chef lex

Tips for Creating a Cheese Board

1. Select cheeses with varying textures

I typically include 1 soft cheese, a Cheddar cheese, and 1 hard cheese. This can be soft goat cheese, smoked white cheddar, and aged parmasean (hard.) This will provide some variation as your guest eat their way around the board.

2. In absence of meats, load up on extras

Charcuterie boards are traditionally prepared with meat as the main feature. But you can create a great spread with just cheeses, breads, vegetables, and fruits. To satisfy guests, without serving meats, be sure to add hearty extras. Examples:

  • Olives
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Apples
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Figs
  • Bread & Olive Oil

3. Jam!

Many people are unfamiliar with the magical union of cheese and fruit. So they wouldn’t think to combine cheese with fruit jam, but they absolutelty should. Every cheese board can be elevated with a dollop of jam made from fruits like raspberries, apples, or figs. Advise guests to try smearing the jam on a cracker and laying a piece of cheese on top; a guaranteed “Wow!”

4. Group complementary items together

Group together the “perfect bites” so your guests can easily enjoy your board. See examples of “perfect bites” below:

  • Cheddar/Apple
  • Goat Cheese/Jam/Cracker
  • Feta Cheese/Watermelon

5. You don’t need rules

There is an endless list of rules when it comes to making this hors d’oeuvre. But the true reward of making a cheese board isn’t a picture perfect spread, instead it’s the joy of eating tasty cheeses with friends. For you rule-followers: here is a more comprehensive guideline for crafting cheese boards.

What appetizer do you usually serve to guests?

Your Guide to Perfect Scrambled Eggs

There’s no better way to start your morning than with some hearty eggs. This protein-packed ingredient can be prepared in about a dozen different ways: fried, boiled, poached, etc. But the most contentious iteration of the egg is easily the scrambled egg.

Like many people, I grew up eating my eggs scrambled hard…harder than hard. My mom would scramble eggs into small, yellow bits. I grew a distaste for scrambled eggs, which I realized later in adulthood was really just a distaste for over-cooked eggs. Growing up, eggs that were runny or generally soft were deemed undercooked and inedible. If I had only known then what I knew now.

Handy Chef Lex Make Perfect Scrambled eggs
Left: Over cooked eggs
Right: Soft scrambled eggs

In adulthood, I found that many of my friends were also accustomed to the ultra-hard scrambled eggs that I grew to loathe. But once I learned to scramble my eggs more softly, I was determined to change their minds. Now this isn’t a manifesto against well-done eggs, though I do not personally classify well-done eggs as good eats. This is proof that eggs can be well-done, and not hammered beyond recognition.

1. Turn down the heat

Handy Chef Lex gif
Turn down the heat!

The single biggest reason cooks over-cook eggs is the temperature of the stovetop. Eggs will become tough when cooked over HIGH heat. So, if you only take one tip from The Handy Chef, turn down the heat when you scramble eggs! Use MEDIUM to MEDIUM-LOW heat when scrambling eggs.

2. Salt after cooking, not before

Most home cooks prep their eggs in this order: crack eggs into a bowl, add salt and pepper, mix in the bowl, then dump the eggs into the hot skillet. I recommend delaying step 2 in this process. Adding salt to the raw eggs draws moisture out of the whites, resulting in a drier finished product. After scrambling yours eggs, sprinkle them with salt. You will taste the difference.

3. Add fat at the end of cooking

This tip is optional, but adds a delicious element. If you want creamier, silkier eggs, then add a small dollop of fat near the end of cooking. Butter is a great option, but goat cheese, creme fraiche, or olive oil work well too!

4. Remove from heat, as needed

Again, this is about temperature control. During the cooking process, if you notice your skillet getting too hot, or you notice your eggs sticking to the pan, don’t be afraid to lift the pan away from the heat source. Once the temperature is manageable again, you can place it back on the heat source. This will prevent over-cooking.

5. Stop scrambling

Eggs have a hefty amount of protein in them. Because of this, the proteins retain heat and continue cooking after the you turn off the stove. So, final tip, stop cooking the eggs a few seconds before the eggs appear “done.”


With these tips, you can enjoy scrambled eggs in a whole new way! Instead of dry, yellow bits, you can have soft, fluffy eggs every time.

Scrambled eggs, fit for a Handy Chef.

How do you like your eggs? Hard, soft, medium?

You Can Turn Any Piece of Wood into a Cutting Board

My favorite thing about visiting small towns is shopping at the local thrift stores. So I made sure to drop by the secondhand shops on my trip to Easton, Maryland. As I sifted through the aisles, I spotted a pile of wood going for $10 a piece. They were rough cut, red cedar pieces. The smell of the red centers was so delightful. And at such a low price, I bought a piece figuring I could make something out of it.

Similar to the antique cutting board I restored, I decided to simply sand and wax the cedar peices. The finished product was much more beautiful than I expected.

Make a cutting board cedar
The raw cedar, from the thrift shop.

The Tools

1 piece solid wood

Medium grit sanding block

Fine grit sanding block

Cutting Board Oil or food grade mineral oil

Cutting Board Conditioner

Cloth, for cleaning and buffing

My cedar board, after sanding (step 1) and before conditioning (step 2.)

The Process

  1. Begin sanding one side of the wood with the medium grit sanding block until it is mostly smooth. The medium grit block should smooth out any major bumps and irregularities. Then sand the same side of wood with the fine grit. The fine grit block should leave the wood smooth to the touch–smototh enough for you to enjoy running your hand across the wood’s surface. Be sure to remove all dust from the wood when it accumulates. Check out this guide for how to properly sand wood.
  2. Once the surface is smooth, then apply your Cutting Board Conditioner, following the label instructions. You may need to apply the conditioner 2-3 times.
  3. Optional. Apply a layer of Cutting Board Oil according to label instructions.

The Result

Save Money on Picture Frames by Re-Purposing Custom Frames

On a visit to my favorite antique shop, I picked up a photo frame. It held a piece of crochet art that formed a bright scenery. The crochet landscape could have been hung above the mantle in your grandmother’s house without anyone noticing its apearance. But on this particular visit, I was in the market for a frame not artwork. So the colorful yarn didn’t distract me from the potential of the frame which was holding it. I bought the frame and carried it home, ready to give it a second life!

how to reuse old picture frame
The original frame, with crochet artwork.

The Story

Despite my excitement, the frame sat in my closet for weeks. Okay, it was actually a few months. I stalled on this project not for lack of know-how or motivation, but because I didn’t have anything worth framing. That is, until I found a rolled-up poster in my partner Kaia’s closet. Perfect!

the handy chef lex
Photo 1. The poster before I painted the frame.

The new occupant of this old frame is a promotional poster from Kaia’s first film festival, BlackStar Film Festival 2017. The poster is special to Kaia so it deserves to be framed, not just thumb-tacked to plaster.

The poster fit well into the frame and the gold lettering looked awesome in the gold-flecked frame (see Photo 1.) But the chipped, gold flecks were not enough. I knew the poster would truly pop if the entire frame were painted gold.

When I first opened the back of the frame, I discovered that the crochet art was done on the back of the painting that originally occupied the frame (see Photo 2.) So someone before me had already given this frame a second life! This made me wonder just how long this frame had been around, how many crafty hands it had been passed through. But without any brand name or year marker couldn’t uncover that history.

how to reuse old picture frame
Photo 2. The original painting, hidden behind the crochet art.

With some snips and pulls, the crochet yard came cleanly off the original painting. From then, I was able to give this frame a third life.

See the steps I took to transform this old frame to a sparkly new gift for Kaia.

The Tools

A proper frame fitter would probably scoff at this list of tools, and recommend just buying a new frame from a frame store. But this is how I made my antique frame shine again.

How to put new photo in old picture frame
Photo 3. Dissembled photo frame with the tools I used.
  • 1 flat shaped wedging tool (I used a blunt butter knife)
  • 1 can spray paint (optional)
  • 1 background paper, if needed
  • Replacement nails, if needed
  • Cloth for cleaning
Lex The Handy Chef DIY Black Bloggers
Photo 4. Handy Chef Lex cleaning the wooden frame.

The Process

  1. Pick out a picture frame that is in tact, with glass front and a photo. already in place. The photo can be flipped to serve as the backdrop for your new photo.
  2. Open the back of the frame by carefully sliding the wedge underneath each nail and bending it toward upward to release the content of the frame. Some nails may break, that’s okay. You can replace those nails with the identical nails you’ve purchased. If you don’t want to preserve the old nails, simply remove all the nails and replace them all.
  3. Once the nails have been opened or removed, take out the photo, cardboard, backdrop, glass or whatever contents fill the frame. Carefully set them aside.
  4. Take the wodden outer frame, clean it with warm water and mild soap. Dry the frame thoroguhly. Spray paint the frame if you wish.
  5. Clean both sides of the glass with a mild window cleaner. Try not to get your fingerprints on it.
  6. Fill the frame with your new photo, which can be attatched the the reverse side of the old photo.
  7. Secure the nails by wedging them back into place or by gently hammering new nails into the back of the frame.

The Results

I enjoyed this project not only because the process was simple and fulfilling, but also because I repurposed something that had already been repurposed by someone else. This frame could have ended up in a landfill at any point in its many lives. But instead it lives on, freshly painted and newly cherished.

How’s The Food In: Maryland’s Eastern Shore

What do you do with a weekend and an urge to get out of the city? Easy, you take a day-trip! August was full of projects and work days that went well past 5 pm. So I was due for a getaway this September.

Handy Chef Lex (left) and partner Kaia (right). Pictured in “Guesthouse in Easton”

The weather isn’t quite beach-friendly, as autumn approaches. But the leaves aren’t quite crisp enough for apple picking yet. So, my getaway destination needed to be fit for this early September dilemma. After some research, Eastern Shore rose as the perfect destination. And it’s only an hour and a half away from DC!


My partner, Kaia, and I found a chic Airbnb guesthouse in Easton, Maryland. And we were pleased to find such a wide selection of dining options. Our Airbnb hosts were expert locals who confirmed all the worthily hyped restaurants and warned us against the over-hyped tourist traps (shoutout to Kevan & Chris.)


Rise Up Coffee is a regional chain of coffee shops that we initially didn’t consider for breakfast. But after hearing rave reviews about Rise Up’s breakfast burrito, we decided to give it a try.

When we arrived the shop was packed with local folk. The vibe was communal and home-y. As we were standing in line, the waitress from a restaurant we visited the day before spotted us. She came over, coffee in hand, and joked, “You guys still enjoying the town, yeah?” Clearly, we were right at home in Easton.

Not only was the environment friendly and pleasant, the food was well worth the wait! I ordered the Banana Splat bowl, which was a banana parfait. My partner, always opting for a more savory item than me, ordered Rise Up burrito with cheesy potatoes. Either the burrito was just really really tasty, or I enjoyed it more because I had to sneak bites from Kaia’s plate when they weren’t looking. Probably both.

And of course, the coffee was great too. I drank a hazelnut iced latte with Oat milk. Rise Up met all my breakfast needs: good coffee, good folks, and good food.

Wine & Beer

No matter where we go, we’re determined to find where the locals keep their good wine. Because whether it’s hidden away or in plain sight, there is always good wine. We had a disappointing glass of overly-sweet red wine at one winery. But a local Marylander pointed us to a wine bar we were guaranteed to love.

Snifter's Beer and Wine Bistro. Black craft beer
Handy Chef Lex (right) holding craft beer, with partner Kaia (left) holding sparkling wine.

We pulled up to Snifter’s Craft Beer and Wine Bistro right after lunch time. We entered and met a man named Joe who poured us some delicious flights of wine and beer. My flight of beers included one of the most creative and satisfying beers I’ve ever tasted, the Coffee N’ Cream ale from Burley Oak Brewing Company. Burley Oak is a local brewer which I had never tried before. But I was blown away by this ale. I will be back to Snifter’s, if not only for that Coffee N’ Cream beer aand Joe’s friendly handshake.

St Michaels

This small, bayside seemed to be the “hip” town on the Eastern Shore. Boasting a main street full of boutiques that sell everything from fine cigars to cheesy tourist trinkets, this was a town we could not skip over. We sat in rocking chairs and puffed cigars, waving a folks as they strolled past the cigar shop’s front porch. Kaia and I both have roots in small, southern towns so we relished in that small town feeling.


At the recommendation of friendly locals, we stopped by Awful Arthur’s for a quick lunch. The atmosphere had the same seaside charm I loved about St Michaels. My fish and chips was pleasant, but had a bit more breading than I prefer. The best part about this lunch date was sitting on the front porch of the restaurant and watching the passers-by as Kaia and I slurped down our mussels.


In each shop we entered, leading up to our 8 pm reservation, locals affirmed our dinner selection. Whenever we mentioned the name of the restaurant, we got responses like:

“Gosh I love that place. You’re gonna have a great meal!”

“Nice, that’s my special occasion restaurant. You know: anniversaries, birthdays, etc.”

Needless to say, Limoncello is a restaurant loved by many in St Michaels. After our lovely meal in the Italian restaurant, I can now be counted in the number of Limoncello lovers.

Kaia and I split a big bowl of mussels as an appetizer. The mussels (not pictured) came atop an incredible red sauce. After devouring the mussels, we ordered the salmon and Branzino. Our fish entrees were expertly prepared, with the perfect flaky texture I always attempt at home but can never quite replicate.

My dimly lit photos do Limoncello no justice; the meal was truly delicious. On my next trip to Eastern Shore, Limoncello will certainly be on my itinerary.

Have you ever vacationed in a small town? What did you discover?

The Best Vegetarian Tacos You’ve Never Tried

Mexican street tacos have always held a warm place in my heart (and belly.) But since becoming vegetarian, I’ve learned quickly that Mexican Taqueria’s are not heavily invested in making quality veggie options. And why would they, when most folks want those tasty carne asada and al pastor tacos anyhow?

But don’t fret! I, The Handy Chef, have taken the issue into my own hands and crafted these perfect Mushroom Asada tacos. The true feat here is actually the mushroom marinade, which can be applied to any dish where beef is substituted for mushrooms: Mushroom Philly Cheesesteaks Subs, Portobello steaks, etc. So now you can enjoy your Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday on the same night.

Mushroom Carne asada marinade. Lex Handy Chef
Raw mushrooms in the marinade.


3 Large Portobello Mushroom caps
3-6 White corn tortillas
1/3 cup Vegetable oil
1/4 cup Soy sauce
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 tbsp Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika

For Garnish
1 Onion
1 Lime
Handful of Cilantro
Mushroom Carne Asada. Meatless Tacos Marinade
Mushroom Asada marinade ingredients.


  1. Rinse and dry the mushroom caps. Removed at least half of the gills on the underside of the mushrooms. (The gills tend to hold moisture, so they would prevent the mushrooms from achieving the desired crisp char.)
  2. Slice each mushroom cap into wide strips, no longer than your pinky finger and about as wide as your thumb. Place the mushrooms into a large bowl. *Don’t worry about the pieces being too large, they will shrink over the high heat.
  3. In a smaller bowl, mix together the oil, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and spices. Pour this over the mushrooms pieces and stir gently. Let his marinade in the fridge for at least an hour.
  4. After the mixture has marinaded, pre-heat a cast iron skillet over HIGH heat with a tsp of vegetable oil. Once heated, add the mushrooms to the hot skillet. Tip: Use a slotted spoon to drain the marinading liquid from the mushrooms.
  5. Cook the mushrooms on HIGH for 5-7 minutes, or until they are dark and crisp on all sides. To form a steak-like crust, don’t stir the mushrooms, let them sit and fry in the oil.
  6. While the mushrooms cook, prep the tortillas by warming each one in a separate skillet.
  7. Prepare the onion topping: finely dice the onion and cilantro then toss together.
  8. Finally assemble the tacos with single or double tortillas, the cooked mushrooms, onions, and a squeeze of lime.
Mushroom asada tacos. Vegetarian. Lex Handy Chef
Mushroom Asada Tacos

This recipe transforms ordinary mushrooms into a meaty and savory filling for the tacos. So for any other vegetarians out there who are tired of tofu tacos, give these a try!

What’s your go-to taco filing?

How (and Why) I Take Care of My Indoor Plants

In classic millennial fashion, I proudly call myself a Plant Mom. While I don’t have any roommates, I am accompanied by my many indoor plants. I’ve had most of my plants for over a year. Needless to say, they were all long overdue for some TLC.

Lex The Handy Chef. Black lifestyle blog
Me, holding my Snake Plant

For the past few weeks, many of my indoor plants started drooping and browning. My largest plant is a **corn plant that sits on my living room floor. It was losing life with each passing day. I was confounded by what could be killing my plants. I hadn’t changed my watering schedule or light levels. Then it dawned on me, it’d been a full year and I had not fertilized or re-potted my plants!

So I took a trip to Home Depot to buy a few new pots, potting soil, and all-purpose plant fertilizer. Then I spent the afternoon carefully re-potting my plants.

**Okay, the corn plant died. But I stealthily replaced it with another from Home Depot.

Why I Keep Indoor Plants

Lex the Handy Chef. Indoor plants

For me, and droves of other millennials, caring for plants is a way of grounding my life. I work in a field where everything I create is digital. After working all day, I have no finished product that I can physically touch. With most of my day happening behind a screen, plants provide a tangible outlet.

When properly watered and cared for, they liven up my space, freshen my air, and bring me joy. When neglected, they droop as if literally disappointed. This is real; it’s concrete. And having these plants’ lives depend on me is an anchor to a reality that doesn’t require software updates, but may require some debugging.

I grew up surrounded by lush greenery, often eating things directly from the soil instead of the grocery store. Moving to an urban landscape has been rewarding in every possible way. But I miss that connection to the Earth. So I keep my living room full of as many plants as I can keep alive. While I haven’t started growing my own vegetables yet, I’m excited for the small amount of dirt that I do get to play in.

How many house plants do you have?

The Tea Latte That Could Replace Your Morning Cup-o-Joe

The Unsung London Fog

If you’re like most people, you start your day with a hot cup of coffee. Whether you prefer a strong Americano or a mellow cup of tea, the London Fog is a perfect start to your morning. Best of all, it’s incredibly easy to make.

Handy Chef, London Fog Tea
Enjoying a London Fog before heading to the office.

The London Fog is a classic tea latte made with black tea and milk. While it has a creamy, mellow flavor, the black tea provides a hefty dose of caffeine in case you need an extra kick in the morning.


  • 2 oz warm milk (Dairy, Almond, Oat, any)
  • 4 oz hot water
  • 2 bags of Earl Grey tea, or 2 tea spoons of loose Earl Grey tea
  • 1 splash of vanilla simple syrup
  • Honey, to taste


  1. Combine the milk, water, and vanilla in a 16 oz mug.
  2. Add the tea bags, let steep for up to 5 minutes. Stir in honey to taste.

I get an early start every day, waking around 5:30 am. Looking forward to the having a London Fog makes getting up at that hour a little easier for me. The first time I had one of these was at a DC cafe called Bakehouse. Their London Fog was perfect! It had loose leaf earl grey, fresh vanilla, and the perfect creaminess.

But that shop has long since closed down, leaving me on the hunt for the perfect London Fog in DC. I still hadn’t found one quite as good as Bakehouse’s, so I figured why not just make my own at home!

Have you ever tried to copy your favorite restaurant’s recipe?