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!

Ingredients

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

Steps

  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?

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?

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?

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.”

Conclusion

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?

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!

Easton

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.)

Breakfast

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.

Lunch

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.

Dinner

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?

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.

Ingredients

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.

Steps

  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?

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Steps

  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?

Beyond Meat has released a vegetarian bratwurst worth writing about. Much like the Beyond Burger, the brand’s sausage is surprisingly meaty in texture and could satisfy even a devoted meat-eater. So obviously I had to make some classic chili cheese dogs. After all, who said vegetarian food has to be healthy?

Ingredients

Ingredients for Beyond Sausage Chili Cheese Dogs. Morning star farms grillers crumbles, goya black beans, beyond meat beyond sausage.

The Chili

1 can Black beans
1 can Diced tomatoes
2 cups Vegetarian Ground “Beef” Crumbles
1 Onion, chopped medium size
1 tbsp Tomato paste
1 cup Water
1 Bay leaf
1 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Garlic powder
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Black pepper
1/4 tsp Red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsp Corn starch, for thickening

The Dogs

1 package Beyond Meat Brat Sausage
4 Hot dog buns
2-3 tbsp Shredded cheddar cheese
1 Green onion, for garnish

Steps

Cooking Beyond Meat Brat Sausage
  1. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of oil over medium high heat. Add the chopped onion. Sear until onions are translucent, then add all the spices. Stir together.
  2. Add in the beef crumbles and stir until evenly coated with spices. Pour in the diced tomatoes, black beans, and tomato paste. Bring this to a soft boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Remove the lid and stir the chili. If you’d like a thicker result, stir in a cornstarch slurry (2 tbsp corn starch mixed with 2 tbsp water.)
  4. Now that the chili is prepared, heat a nonstick skillet on high heat for the hot dogs. Add a tbsp of oil for a crisp exterior.
  5. Place the dogs in the hot skillet, cook on all sides until they reach a crisp, brown exterior.
  6. Assemble: Place the hot dogs in the buns, top with chili, and sprinkle with shredded cheese and green onions.
Beyond Meat, Brat Sausage chili cheese dog

Roasted vegetables are a staple in my kitchen. But that perfect char evades many home cooks. I had a reader tell me they couldn’t re-create my Cauliflower Steak recipe. Their cauliflower came out tasty, but not quite roasted. Here are the tips I gave them for better roasted veggies:

1. Dry Them Thoroughly

Of course you should rinse the food before roasting it, but be sure to dry it completely. Water left on the vegetables will produce moisture inside the oven, thus steaming the vegetables. Skipping this step will result in vegetables that are soft and might as well have been cooked on top of the stove.

2. Space Them Apart on the Baking Sheet

When roasting a large amount of vegetables, it’s tempting to crowd the baking sheet. But you must resist the urge! Roasting requires direct contact between the food and the baking sheet in order to create a crispy surface. That crispy surface will never happen, if the vegetables are in one big heap.

3. Never Use Frozen Vegetables

While frozen veggies are a reliable shortcut in most cases, they’re not suited for roasting. As they melt on the baking sheet, they will produce liquid. Similar to tip #2, the liquid will cause them to steam in the oven instead of roasting.

4. Salt After Roasting

So you have the correct oven temperature and completely dry veggies, but your roasted dishes still lack oomph. Often times home cooks will season vegetables only before roasting. But for optimal flavor, you should apply non-salt seasonings (cumin, paprika, herbs, etc) before roasting. Then sprinkle coarse salt over the roasted veggies immediately after removing them from the oven. Not only will this amplify flavor, but finishing with flaky sea salt enhances presentation as well.

Roasting Broccoli in oven. The Handy Chef

5. Crank Up the Heat

Your oven should be at least 400 degrees for roasting most vegetables. At lower temperatures, the veggies will cook through just fine but they’ll never achieve that crispy roasted texture.

Perfect Roasted Broccoli, crisp.

Whether you plan to sit poolside or lounge on your couch with the air conditioner on full blast, an ice cold beverage is just what you need to stay cool this summer. And I’ve got just the thing…

The Ingredients

4 oz coconut sparkling water, I prefer the Waterloo brand

4 oz Ginger beer

1 Lemon

1 tsp Honey

1 thumb Ginger

Fresh mint leaves

Steps

  1. Cut two thin slices from the lemon, save the rest of the lemon for later. Peel the ginger root, then cut two slices from that as well.
  2. Squeeze the juice from half of the lemon into an 8 oz glass. Add the honey, the ginger slices, and 2-3 mint leaves. Muddle this mixture with a muddler, or the bottom end of a wooden spoon.
  3. Once the fresh ingredients are muddled in the glass, add ice cubes. Then pour the sparkling water and ginger beer into the glass.
  4. Garnish with the lemon slices. Enjoy!

This dish combines my two favorite things, roasting vegetables and intentionally calling vegetables “steak.” Hope you enjoy this fun twist on roasted cauliflower. Click here for a few pointers on how to achieve the perfect roasted texture.

Smoky Southwest Cauliflower Steaks

Cauliflower with spices and chipotle aioli.

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp Garlic powder

1/2 tsp Chili powder

1 tsp Cumin

Salt & Pepper

Steps

  1. Slice cauliflower into 1 1/2 inch thick slices. Set aside. Pre-heat your oven to 450°F.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the spices and oil together.
  3. Pat cauliflower slices dry with a paper towel or kitchen towel. Leaving moisture the surface of the cauliflower will result in a limp cauliflower instead of a crisp crust around the “steaks.”
  4. Brush the spicy oil mixture onto each slice. If you don’t have a kitchen brush, then gently massage the oil onto the cauliflower slices.
  5. Place on a baking sheet or cast iron pan, bake for 12 minutes on each side.
  6. Finish with cilantro for a bite of freshness!

Teriyaki Glazed Cauliflower Steaks

Asian Teriyaki cauliflower steaks.

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup Teriyaki sauce (homemade if you’re fancy)

Steps

  1. Slice cauliflower into 1 1/2 inch thick slices. Set aside. Pre-heat your oven to 450°F.
  2. Brush olive oil onto the cauliflower slices and season to taste with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  3. Place on a baking sheet or cast iron pan, then bake for 12 minutes on each side.
  4. If you choose to make your own teriyaki sauce, as I have, then now is a great time start making that. If you’re using store bought, simply relax until your “steaks” are all done!
  5. Remove from the oven and brush the teriyaki sauce evenly over all the cauliflower steaks. Enjoy!