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On Cooking Southern: Graduation Season’s Here — Let’s Party



A lick and a promise: The amount of attention and effort a person puts into getting something checked off the must-do list before heading for the airport and a long-awaited vacation on the Mediterranean coast. One might say “perfunctory”… or “just enough to get by”…

Some of the lower grades around Lafayette County still have a week or so to go before the young’uns can roam free, but school’s out for the collegiate set. This parental unit, for one, is ecstatic. No. 2 Offspring Walked the Walk last Saturday, having crammed four years into six at Ole Miss, the school nobody ever wants to leave.

The University of Mississippi Class of 2015 graduated May 9 in the Tad Smith Coliseum.
The University of Mississippi Class of 2015 graduated May 9 in the Tad Smith Coliseum.

All week long the community was abuzz with university-level pre-commencement activities. By the weekend, Oxford and Lafayette County were afloat with visiting families here for the two-day festivities honoring almost 2,800 undergraduate and graduate candidates for Spring diplomas, along with more than 1,200 candidates for August diplomas. About 900 of those degree candidates, including my Numero Dos, were in the College of Liberal Arts, where a classical education remains supreme.

Dr. Rich Forgette, Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, kept it short and simple during the lead-up to awarding the liberal arts diplomas. He noted:

“The College of Liberal Arts has been the heart of this venerable university since its founding in 1848, and the values we in the College hold close have sustained this university for nearly 170 eventful years.”

He went on to recite the creed adopted in 1998 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities:

“A truly liberal education is one that prepares us to live responsible, productive, and creative lives in a dramatically changing world. It is an education that fosters a well-grounded intellectual resilience, a disposition toward lifelong learning, and an acceptance of responsibility for the ethical consequences of our ideas and actions. Liberal education requires that we understand the foundations of knowledge and inquiry about nature, culture and society; that we master core skills of perception, analysis, and expression; that we cultivate a respect for truth; that we recognize the importance of historical and cultural context; and that we explore connections among formal learning, citizenship, and service to our communities.”

This statement complements the Creed of the University of Mississippi, found in the Commencement program and all other materials pertaining to the school.

In summary, “The University of Mississippi is a community of learning dedicated to nurturing excellence in intellectual inquiry and personal character in an open and diverse environment….”

I now understand why so many Ole Miss alumni have gone on to greatness in service to the nation.

Meanwhile, local high school seniors also graduate during the next two weeks. So let the graduation party continue (safely). Only Cromwellians would begrudge us a bit of celebration… and we liberal arts majors all know what happened to them.


The recipes this week are designed to keep the cook out of the kitchen any longer than necessary in order to join in the festivities.


Made by combining iced tea with lemonade, an Arnold Palmer is the perfect non-alcoholic beverage on a hot summer day. To make great iced tea, bring cold water to a boil in a large stainless or glass cooking pot. I always use a large stockpot. Once the water has come to a boil, remove the pot from heat and add the appropriate number of tea bags (2 large family-sized bags for 8 cups of water). Let the bags steep in the water until lukewarm. For sweetened tea: remove tea bags before the liquid cools and pour into container over 2 c of sugar for every 8 c of water. Stir well; OR combine cooled, steeped tea with simple syrup made by heating equal parts water and sugar until sugar dissolves. For instructions on making fantastic homemade lemonade and simple syrup, click here.

arnoldpalmers-DSCN0674Tall glass of ice

1 part lemonade

1 part iced tea (either sweetened or unsweetened)

Which goes in first over the ice affects the appearance of the Arnold Palmer. If the tea is poured over the lemonade, the beverage retains two layers. If the lemonade is poured over the tea, the two beverages mix, and should be stirred.


Here’s a hint regarding grilling boneless skinless chicken breasts: Lightly pound the breasts to flatten the thickest parts. This allows the meat to cook more evenly. Prepare the grill by cleaning it and oiling it before lighting the fire. Cooking on medium-low heat may take longer, but the chicken breasts will be less likely to dry out.

grilledchkn-wlemoncapersauce-DSCN06824-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Ground black pepper

1 stick (1/2 c) butter

Juice of 2 lemons

Zest from the 2 lemons, reserved

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 head of romaine lettuce, cleaned

1 red bell pepper, cut into about 8 segments

1 green bell pepper, cut into about 8 segments

4 slices of red onion

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

12-oz jar of capers, drained

1/4 c crumbled queso blanco or feta cheese

Soak the chicken breasts in a saltwater brine for about 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and lightly sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Prepare the grill; allow about 15-20 minutes for the charcoal or gas coals to heat up.

While chicken is resting in its rub, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the minced garlic and lemon juice; simmer about 2 minutes; set aside but keep warm until the chicken is ready to serve.

Grill chicken breasts on medium-low grill (around 300°F) for approximately 15-30 minutes, moving it over the coals and flipping it as needed to cook it evenly. Grill until center temperature of the meat reads 160°F.

Remove the chicken to foil and drizzle with a small amount of the lemon-garlic butter. Wrap foil tightly and warm the chicken in oven preheated to 300°F. Place veggies on a grilling tray and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Turn and repeat to coat both sides. Place tray on open grill and cook until veggies just begin to char. Turn and repeat.

Position veggies on a large platter. Place the cooked chicken over the veggies and drizzle remaining lemon-garlic butter. Sprinkle with a liberal amount of crumbled cheese and capers.


Ingredient amounts may vary according to taste. For example, I don’t use the entire can of water chestnuts.

rotinisalad-DSCN067216-oz box of garden rotini

1 T salt

4 qt water

1/4 c chopped red bell pepper

1/4 c chopped pickled banana pepper rings

1 c chopped Roma tomatoes, skin on

1/4 to 1/2 c red onion

1/4 c green onion, chopped

5-oz can of sliced water chestnuts, drained and loosely chopped

16-oz pkg of frozen edamame, steamed and hulled

1 carrot, grated

16-oz bottle of Italian dressing OR homemade (see below)

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Prepare the rotini pasta by dropping into 4 quarts of salted boiling water and simmering until al dente (pasta is the same color all the way through when cooked). Drain and allow to cool.

Combine the remaining veggies in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the pasta until blended. Add the Italian dressing or your own mixture made up of 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, and kosher salt and ground pepper to taste. Toss to coat completely. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill until ready to serve.


This is a perfect way to repurpose leftover ham and potatoes. It’s also acceptable to purchase slices of baked ham from the local deli.

ham&potatosalad-3 c cubed, cooked and peeled baby Yukon Gold and baby Red potatoes

2 c cubed baked ham

1 c shredded marble cheese

1 c steamed green peas, chilled

2 T bacon pieces

1/4 c chopped green onion

3 T mayonnaise

1-1/2 T Dijon mustard, to taste

2 T honey

1-1/2 T white balsamic vinegar

1 T chopped parsley

Salt and black pepper to taste

Chill the potatoes ahead of time so they don’t fall apart during preparation. Combine the cubed potatoes, ham and cheese in a large mixing bowl. Toss gently. Toss in the peas, bacon and green onion. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until blended. Pour over the potato-ham mixture and toss until completely coated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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