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Thomas Wells | Buy at This school lunch tray prepared at Pierce Street Elementary School contains all the components of a healthy lunch: a chicken sandwich on a whole grain-rich bun, sweet potato fries, fresh vegetables, fresh orange slices, canned pears and a fat-free milk.

Thomas Wells | Buy at
This school lunch tray prepared at Pierce Street Elementary School contains all the components of a healthy lunch: a chicken sandwich on a whole grain-rich bun, sweet potato fries, fresh vegetables, fresh orange slices, canned pears and a fat-free milk.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Students in Mississippi’s public school cafeterias will see a few changes on their plates this fall.

“These are being implemented as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” said Lynne Rogers, director of food service for the Tupelo Public School District. The district has slowly been implementing other changes of the act since the 2011-12 school year.

The first change for 2014-15 has to do with fruit at breakfast.

“We have to add an additional 12 cup serving of fruit, so now students will have the opportunity to pick up a whole cup of fruit at breakfast,” she said.

Offerings include items such as a banana, apple or orange, chilled canned fruit, such as pineapple, peaches, pears or mixed fruit, or a half-cup of fruit juice.

“It’s up to them to select two fruits,” Rogers said. “We have to offer two fruits, but they don’t have to pick up a second serving. But they do have to leave with at least one. That’s another part of what’s new this year. So the cashier will be looking to see if there’s at least one fruit on that tray, and two is even better.”

The second change involves both breakfast and lunch, and it falls in the grains department.

“Over the last two years, we’ve had to have only 50 percent of our grains be whole grains, but now everything has to be 100 percent whole-grain rich,” she said.

By the USDA’s definition, 100 percent whole-grain rich means at least 50 percent must be whole grain and the rest must be enriched refined flour.

That means the chicken in a chicken biscuit will have whole-grain breading on the outside of it, pancakes in the sausage on a stick will be made with whole grains, the breakfast burrito with turkey sausage will come on a whole grain tortilla and pizzas will be made with whole-grain crusts.

Sodium is tricky

Rogers said the new fruit and grain rules will be a piece of cake compared to the new sodium restrictions at breakfast.

“The sodium targets are new this year,” she said. “We’ve never had sodium restrictions before. This is the first year and I understand a second level is under consideration for the 2017-1018 school year.”

Thomas Wells | Buy at Lynne Rogers said new sodium restrictions present a challenge for school cafeterias.

Thomas Wells | Buy at
Lynne Rogers said new sodium restrictions present a challenge for school cafeterias.

The new targets for breakfast are 540mg or less for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; 600mg or less for students in grades six through eight; and 640mg or less for students in grades nine through 12.

The problem with sodium, Rogers said, is that it’s just about everywhere.

“Most milk has a good bit of sodium, around 130mg for an 8-ounce serving,” she said. “Fruit won’t have any, but it will be in your meats and breads.”

Rogers said the biscuit the school district has been using for years has more than 600mg of sodium in it.

“The one we had this year is down, maybe only 490, but that’s still not where we need to be,” she said. “We’re looking for one that’s about 330mg – half of what we’ve been serving.”

Rogers said the district has followed fat restrictions for a number of years (less than 10 percent of calories can come from saturated fat and no trans fat is allowed), and never had a problem implementing those guidelines.

“But sodium is going to be a problem,” she said. “We need to find some manufacturers to work toward that for us.”

Rogers said Mississippi is fortunate in that the State Department of Education has a statewide purchasing program that almost all the districts participate in.

“It would be very difficult to do it on your own,” she said. “It gives us new recipe books online and standardized recipes that are a good resource. They also test new products and allow us to test products for them.”

For instance, Rogers said, in May she tested a banana bread slice and a zucchini bread slice on Tupelo Middle School students.

“The kids were crazy about both of them,” she said. “I think they thought they were picking up dessert, but I feel much better when we have students’ input.”

Rogers said all the food guidelines the schools have to follow may sound tiresome and nitpicky, but ultimately the bottom line is education.

“What we’re trying to do is educate children for a lifetime,” she said. “The different variety of foods – meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, milk – they may never see at home.”



Breakfast is $1 full price, 30 cents for reduced, or free. It must include four components: milk, two fruits, two grains/breads or a meat and a grain. Students must take at least three of the four components and at least one must be a fruit.

Lunch is $2.50 full price, 40 cents for reduced, or free. It must include five components: milk, breads/grains, meats, fruits and vegetables. Students have to take at least three of the five components and at least one must be a fruit or vegetable.

Thomas Wells | Buy at Robert Skelton never has any complaints when he makes his Stuffed Jalapeños for co-workers at Philips in Tupelo.

Thomas Wells | Buy at
Robert Skelton never has any complaints when he makes his Stuffed Jalapeños for co-workers at Philips in Tupelo.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

TUPELO – When Robert Skelton was a little boy living in Amory, he used to pretend he had his own cooking show on television.

“I was about 11, so this was long before the Food Network,” said Skelton, 40. “The only cooking shows on were the Cajun guy Justin Wilson and maybe an old Julia Child.”

In Skelton’s mother’s kitchen, he would take her leftovers and try to create masterpieces.

“I was acting out my own cooking show called ‘Cooking with Po’Boy,” he said.

“It was all in my mind. I’d take biscuits and roll them out and fill them with taco meat and call it Taco Pie.”

Skelton kept on cooking and when he got to college at Ole Miss, he was the roommate who prepared all the meals.

After he and his wife, Angie, married almost 15 years ago, he took the lead role in the weekend cooking.

“Angie cooks out of necessity – she cooks to feed the family and keep us alive,” he said. “I’m the show-off cook. I like to cook for groups. If there’s more than just us eating, I’m cooking.”

The father of two girls – Chloe and Mia – enjoys cooking so much that for their 10th wedding anniversary, Angie gave him an incredible gift.

“I got to go to Italy and work with different chefs in their restaurants for a week,” said Skelton, who lives in Sherman. “That really got my eyes opened to cooking with seasonal ingredients. All the restaurants there used seasonal ingredients and it was just starting to come into fashion here at that time.”

He learned how to make pasta from scratch, how to use potato and pasta water as a thickening agent and how to plan ahead when cooking for a large group.

“I saw that you don’t have to make everything at the last minute,” said Skelton, the Technical Service Center lead at Philips, formerly Day-Brite, in Tupelo. “There are things you can make ahead and reheat and they’re OK and there are some things that don’t work that way.”

He still remembers the first Roma tomato he tasted in Italy.

“It was amazing,” he said. He was so inspired, he came home and immediately planted his own tomato and pepper plants.

Skelton said he tries to be open-minded about food.

“They say your tastes change every seven years,” he said. “So about every seven years, I try to eat liver, but I still don’t like it. But our daughter, Chloe, is a blessing. She’ll try anything and everything. She’s the only 7-year-old I know that will eat salsa that’s too hot even for me to eat.”

Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to

Thomas Wells | Buy at Stuffed Jalapeños.

Thomas Wells | Buy at
Stuffed Jalapeños.

Pepperoni Chicken

6 large chicken breast halves

20 large pepperoni slices, divided

2 12 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided

Olive Oil

2 cups marinara sauce

Pound chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap until as flat as possible without tearing in the middle. Cover each with 3 slices of pepperoni, overlapping each pepperoni piece by about a third. Sprinkle roughly 13 cup of Mozzarella in a line across the center of the three pepperonis on each piece of chicken. Much like you would roll an eggroll, grab the piece of the chicken long-ways and roll the chicken over the cheese. Fold in the two ends of the chicken toward the center. Finish by rolling the chicken up so the cheese is completely sealed by the pepperoni and the pepperoni is sealed by the chicken. Use toothpicks to pin the chicken closed if necessary (if cheese is exposed it will run out during the cooking process).

Cover the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil. Chop up the remaining 2 pieces of pepperoni and cook over medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Place 3 chicken rolls in pan seam-side down and brown; flip over to brown the other side, about 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a 9×13-inch baking dish and repeat steps with remaining 3 pieces of chicken.

Once all chicken is done, cover all pieces with marinara. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 12 cup Mozzarella and bake for an additional 5 minutes.

Sweet Bacon Potatoes

3 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled

4 strips bacon

2 tablespoons molasses or Golden Eagle Syrup

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Wash and dry potatoes and cut into cubes. Boil potatoes for 5 minutes, drain in a colander and set aside.

In a large skillet, cook bacon. Remove bacon and crumble when cool. Add boiled potatoes to skillet with bacon grease and brown for about 5 minutes. Remove potatoes to an oven-safe baking dish and bake them until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle with molasses or syrup. Sprinkle with bacon bits and parsley and toss to coat well.

Stuffed Jalapeños

6 to 8 large or 10 to 12 medium jalapeños

1 pound mild Italian sausage or breakfast sausage

112 cups shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

1 (8-ounce) tub onion and chive cream cheese

Wash and split jalapeños in half long ways and remove seeds and membranes (for hotter peppers, leave some of the membranes). Brown sausage and drain. Add cream cheese and 1 cup Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly. Stuff mixture into jalapeños halves. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Cook 5 more minutes or until cheese melts.

Note: Use gloves when preparing peppers. And if you want to make a mixture of hot and mild peppers, leave the stems on one of the two sides of some of the peppers when splitting them to distinguish hot from mild.

Veal Saltimbocca

8 pieces of veal scaloppini

8 pieces of prosciutto

16 sage leaves


Pound the veal as flat as possible and cover each piece with 1 piece of prosciutto. On the prosciutto side, use toothpicks to pin sage leaves about one-third of the way from each end through both pieces of meat (2 leaves per piece). Melt some butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Working in batches, place 4 of the pinned pieces sage-side down and cook for 1 minute. Flip the meat over and cook for another minute. Remove the first batch and cook the second batch using these same steps.

Easy Apple Dumplings

2 Granny Smith apples, each peeled, cored and cut in 8 pieces

2 cans crescent rolls

2 sticks butter

112 cups sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 can Mountain Dew

Separate crescent rolls into triangles. Roll each apple slice into a crescent roll triangle, starting at smallest end and working to largest end. Place each dumpling in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir the sugar and cinnamon slowly into the pan until completely mixed. Pour mixture over the apple dumplings. Then pour Mountain Dew over dumplings. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Lemonade Pie

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 (8-ounce) carton of whipped topping

1 (6-ounce) can of frozen lemonade, thawed

1 large graham cracker pie crust or 2 small

Combine condensed milk and whipped topping. Add lemonade and mix well. Pour into graham cracker crust pie shell(s). Chill for at least 30 minutes in the freezer.



In my book, rainy days and Crock-Pot meals just go together, even in summertime. So on Friday, as I was doing some work from home, I decided I’d put something on to cook so I’d have a no-fuss meal ready for supper.

Of course, the first thing that came to mind was a pot roast, but I’ve never had much success with them, even as others profess them the easiest things ever to make in a slow-cooking vessel.

Maybe in the past I’ve used the wrong cut of beef. Most pot roasts call for the inexpensive chuck roast, so I think that’s what I’ve always chosen.

Maybe I’ve used too much liquid. Before, I’ve had roasts that swam in liquid and so they were tender, but dry (that’s the best way I can explain it).

And there were times when the vegetables cooked to mush and others when they were as hard as a rock.

Suffice it to say, my family never got really excited when I announced I was cooking a pot roast.

But Friday was different. I found a recipe online that is fool-proof, even for me. Some reviewers said theirs was too salty, so I cut the size of the dry package ingredients (I used all Kroger brands) and even used a reduced-sodium brown gravy mix that I found.

I tinkered with the recipe a bit, adding a bit more water than called for, rubbing the roast with the seasoning mix instead of sprinkling it on once the meat was in the pot, and putting a little vinegar on top to help tenderize the meat.

This roast was delicious, if I do say so myself, and the vegetables were cooked perfectly. The recipe said you could use any type of roast (chuck, English, rump) but I chose a sirloin tip, and even though it was more expensive, it was money well-spent to have a roast that was not only edible but also enjoyable.

Best-Ever Pot Roast

1 (3-pound) beef roast

1 (.87-ounce) package reduced-sodium brown gravy mix

1 (.6-ounce) package Italian salad dressing mix

1 (1-ounce) package ranch dressing mix

10 to 12 small red potatoes

3 large carrots, peeled and cut in thirds, then halved

3⁄4 cup water

1 tablespoon white vinegar

Pat roast dry. Combine dry mixes and rub over both sides of roast. Place potatoes and carrots in bottom of Crock-Pot and sprinkle with some of the remaining seasoning mix (you don’t have to use it all). Place roast on top of vegetables. Pour water around edges of roast. Sprinkle roast with vinegar. Cook on low for 7 to 8 hours. Remove top and turn roast over once during cooking process.

Serves 6 to 8.

Ginna Parsons is the Daily Journal’s food/home/garden editor.

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By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

SHANNON – Brit Harris and Billy Humphries knew they wouldn’t always be apartment dwellers. But they thought their first house would be ultra-modern, maybe a pre-fab LVL home with lots of glass, sleek lines and modular rooms.

“That’s where we were style-wise,” said Harris, 37. “And we ended up with the exact opposite of what we were looking for.”

What they ended up with was a big old Southern home complete with gables, columns and a big L-shaped front porch in downtown Shannon.

“We were told that the house was built in 1865 and that it’s one of the oldest in Shannon, but we don’t have any documentation,” said Harris. “We’ve done research, but nothing has turned up yet.”

“We would really love an old photograph of it,” said Humphries, 38.

When the couple bought the home in October 2010, the previous owners had put a new roof and siding on the home and replaced all the old windows.

“I wish they had left the chimneys, though,” Humphries said. “They chopped them off at the roofline and covered them with the new roof.”

But the two had bigger problems to worry about. There were holes in the ceilings, layers of linoleum on the floors, rotten floorboards in the kitchen and bathrooms and cracks in the walls.

“We told people, ‘It’s not going to take years, it will take months to get it in order,’ but it does take years if you do it yourself and have full-time jobs,” Humphries said.

Today, the house is a showplace in downtown Shannon and a place the guys are proud to call home.

Original floor plan

For a year, Harris and Humphries lived off-site and worked on the house after work and on weekends. When they got the kitchen and bathrooms in working order, they moved in to complete the rest of the work.

They replaced all the floor joists in the kitchen and bathrooms, and Humphries’ father spent weeks patching and repairing walls.

“We spent three months doing nothing but hand-scraping old paint off of every piece of wood in the house,” Humphries said.

“We didn’t know anything about the work we were doing,” Harris said. “We just jumped in.”

They refinished all the original oak floors in the home that were salvageable and marble covers the ones in the mudroom, kitchen, laundry room and butler’s pantry. White Carrara marble is in the bathrooms.

They hired workers to replace all the plumbing and wiring and the central heat and air unit.

“In everything we did, we wanted to keep the house as original as possible,” Harris said. “We didn’t mess with the floor plan. We did make some single doors into double doors to create some wider spaces.”

That moved turned up a pleasant surprise.

“We were expecting to see something neat hidden somewhere,” Harris said. “What we found was a Civil War soldier’s coat button. It had a nail driven through it and it was in the edge of a baseboard next to a door we widened.”

The home, with 2,400 square feet, has 12-foot ceilings throughout and a dogtrot-like hall runs through the middle of the home. On one side are the kitchen, laundry room, butler’s pantry and dining room, and on the other are two bedrooms, a sunroom off the master, and two bathrooms. The living room runs across the entire front of the house and a mudroom anchors the back.

“It’s essentially one story with an unfinished attic,” Humphries said. “The attic adds another 1,000 square feet.”

Warm colors, antiques

It’s what the couple did with the house that makes it so special.

For one thing, they painted the whole thing in soothing shades of whites, grays and blues.

“Every room in the house has been painted at least twice,” Humphries said.

“We tried color but we determined we’re neutral people,” Harris said.

In the dining room, the top half of the walls are painted Oyster White and the bottom half are Mindful Gray, all colors from Sherwin-Williams, where Harris works as an assistant manager. The fireplace and ceiling are a darker gray called Anonymous and the trim, windows and elaborate crown molding are all white.

“Typically, we have three colors in a room – the trim, the walls and the ceiling – but we wanted to be more dramatic in the dining room, so we have the dark gray ceiling,” Harris said. “All the other ceilings are pale shades of blue and all the doors in the house are painted Black Fox.”

For another, they have filled the home with antiques, from beds and chests to desks, tables and lamps.

“Slowly, over time, we have been collecting antiques,” Harris said. “We make weekly trips to antiques stores in the area. Our style is kind of rustic formal. We don’t just stick to one area. We just buy what’s appealing to us. We kind of want it to look like it’s always been here.”

The kitchen is breathtaking with its marble floors and stainless steel appliances. The upper cabinets are original and the new cabinets built below were meant to complement them. Exposed cupboards show off white dishes and a kitchen chandelier from Pottery Barn features what look like old milk bottles in a tin carrier.

“The kitchen island was an old office bureau that we got at Building Blocks in Tupelo,” said Humphries, a bookstore manager. “We raised it up to counter height and reworked the doors and topped it with a piece of marble. Because the bureau was so cheap, we could splurge on the top.”

Still more to do

The guys are hardly through with the home, which is hard to believe because everything in it seems so purposeful and perfect. But it’s largely the outside they plan to tackle next.

“In the very far future, we want to take the vinyl siding off the house and see the condition of what’s underneath,” Harris said.

They also want to put a circular drive in front of the house (they currently have no real parking) and a formal garden in the back.

They already have a start with 10 large arborvitae planted along one garden wall and smaller arborvitae interspersed with boxwoods planted along another. A fountain situated closer to the back porch was a spring break project.

“My dad walks through here and says, ‘You know you need to … you know you need to …’ and I say, ‘Yes, I know, Dad,’” Humphries said. “’It’s on the list. It’s just a very long list.’”

Adam Robison | Buy at Billie Freeland Epler has picked up where her late husband, Jim, left off, making Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes for friends.

Adam Robison | Buy at
Billie Freeland Epler has picked up where her late husband, Jim, left off, making Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes for friends.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

RED BAY, Ala. – Billie Freeland Epler is finally a free woman.

Her last day at Red Bay Hospital, where she worked in the food services division, was July 4, and her children gave her a little party that evening, compete with fireworks.

“It was my independence day,” said Epler, 66.

But that doesn’t mean she’s going to stop cooking – it fact, she’ll probably be doing even more.

“I’ll probably cook every day now that I’m retired,” said Epler, whose husband of 40 years, Jim, died in 2011. They had two children and four grandchildren.

The main person she’ll be cooking for now is her new husband, Paul, whom she married in November. He’s the minister at Saucer Creek Church of Christ on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.

“He had just come to interview for the job in May 2013 and I missed his preaching that Sunday because I had to work,” she said. “He got the job and one Sunday when I didn’t have to work I went to hear him and I invited him back to the house to eat with us – my son and his family ate with me that day.”

He showed up for lunch, one thing led to another and the two started courting.

“We dated for about four months,” she said. “Paul was ready to marry before I was. I wanted to have time to get adjusted to the idea and to give my children time and to give the church time to think of us as a couple.”

It’s obvious when watching the Eplers interact that the two are deeply in love. She enjoys filling the role of a preacher’s wife and he’s thankful to have her by his side.

When they talk about their former spouses – Paul lost his wife of 50 years – they laugh and they cry and they console one another. And they like to tease.

“I’m a very frugal person,” Epler said. “If I make too many potatoes, I’m going to have a potato casserole or make potato salad.”

“That’s what she does all right,” Paul chimed in. “But she can really make those leftovers sing.”

The Eplers eat their big meal in the middle of the day and eat a little lighter in the evenings. On Sundays, she cooks a big meal for her family, like pork roast with gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, corn, cornbread or biscuits and a pie for dessert.

“At the hospital, I cooked every shift, either breakfast and lunch if I was working days or supper if I was working nights,” she said. “This is our first week together since I retired, so we don’t know what our schedule is going to be yet. I’ve been blessed to have this wonderful, new life.”

Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to

Adam Robison | Buy at Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

Adam Robison | Buy at
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

Pear Preserves

6 cups sugar, divided

3 cups water

1 gallon sliced pears

Combine 3 cups sugar and water and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Add pears. Add remaining 3 cups sugar and cook until pears turn kind of clear. Seal in pint jars while hot.

Vinegar Slaw

1 medium cabbage, grated

1 small onion, chopped

1 small bell pepper, chopped

1 cup vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon salt

Combine cabbage, onion and bell pepper in a large plastic bowl. Heat vinegar, sugar, celery seed and salt and pour over vegetables. Cover bowl with a lid and refrigerate. Will keep for over a week.

Beef and Fritos Casserole

1 pound ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (15-ounce) can chili with beans

112 cups grated cheese

Crushed Fritos

Brown beef and onion in a skillet until beef is browned. Drain well. Heat tomato sauce and chili and add to beef mixture. Pour into a greased casserole. Sprinkle cheese on top and add enough crushed Fritos to cover casserole. Bake at 350 degrees about 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Canned Tomatoes

1 gallon peeled, quartered tomatoes

1 medium onion, chopped

12 cup chopped bell pepper

34 cup sugar

2 tablespoons salt

Combine all ingredients and cook until tender. Place in sterilized jars and seal.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

2 cups brown sugar

1 (20-ounce) can sliced pineapple, drained

1 jar maraschino cherries

1 stick margarine, melted

1 box yellow cake mix, prepared

Generously grease glass casserole or cake pan with shortening. Sprinkle brown sugar over the bottom and top with pineapple slices. Place a cherry in the center of each pineapple ring. Pour melted margarine over all the brown sugar and pineapple slices.

Prepare cake mix according to package directions and pour batter evenly over the pineapple slices. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Invert cake onto a serving dish.

Chicken ‘N’ Dumplings

1 whole chicken or 4 chicken breast halves

1 rib celery, cut in 3 to 4 pieces

1 small onion, quartered

1 tablespoon salt

13 cup shortening

3 cups flour (plain or self-rising)

Reserved chicken broth

Salt and pepper

Boil chicken until tender with celery, onion and salt. When chicken is done, remove from meat from bone and cut into cubes. Discard celery and onion pieces.

Cut shortening into flour with a pastry cutter and add enough hot broth to make a stiff dough, similar to biscuit dough. Roll dough out on a floured surface and cut into 1-inch strips and then into 1-inch squares (a pizza cutter works well).

Bring broth to a rolling boil and drop the dumplings in. Add the chicken when the dumplings are cooked and cook a bit longer. Season with salt and pepper.

Orange Congealed Salad

16 ounces whipped topping

1 large box orange gelatin

8 ounces cottage cheese

1 (16-ounce) can crushed pineapple

1 can mandarin orange sliced, drained

2 cups miniature marshmallows

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into a serving dish. Refrigerate to congeal.



One morning last week, my co-worker Leslie Criss told me about an awesome summer salad she had made. The recipe came from a mutual friend of ours, John Bedford, who is a good cook in his own right.

Leslie said this is one of those salads that’s better the second day, but I couldn’t wait that long. So I went home at lunch and put all the vegetables together and refrigerated them. Then that night after work, maybe seven hours later, I cooked the pasta and put the salad together.

It’s hard to beat the combination of these fresh flavors of summer. A friend had given me the tomatoes, the onion came from the Civitans and the herbs are from my deck garden. Leslie used only green olives in hers, but I like black olives, too, so I added both.

Charlie and I ate this that night with a half-pound of steamed shrimp for some protein. The next day, we took leftover salad for lunch and it was even better.

Two days later, we roasted salmon and had the spaghetti salad as a side. On Sunday, we stood at the sink and shared the last of it, slurping down long strands of pasta.

If you don’t make any other seasonal salad this summer, make this one.

Spaghetti Salad

1 pound tomatoes, chopped

1 Vidalia onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

13 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

14 cup olive oil

14 cup red wine vinegar

Green olives with pimientos, chopped

Black olives, chopped (optional)

6 to 8 ounces spaghetti

Salt and pepper

Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, basil, oregano, oil, vinegar and olives. Refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, remove from fridge and let come to room temperature. Boil the pasta. Combine tomato mixture and hot pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6 to 8.

Ginna Parsons is the Daily Journal’s food/home/garden editor.

Lauren Wood | Buy at Maia Miller of Holly Springs says you can’t be a Vicksburg native unless you can make a proper tomato sandwich, complete with a special mayonnaise.

Lauren Wood | Buy at
Maia Miller of Holly Springs says you can’t be a Vicksburg native unless you can make a proper tomato sandwich, complete with a special mayonnaise.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

HOLLY SPRINGS – Maia Miller has come a long way in the culinary world since she wed some 34 years ago.

“I didn’t cook much when I first got married,” she said. “I know Mark was worried. But now, it’s my therapy.”

Indeed, today Miller is in the kitchen every day, preparing food for a party, for friends or for the evening meal.

“Last night, I made country fried steak and gravy, tomatoes and cucumbers, lima beans, squash casserole, potatoes and chocolate cobbler,” said Miller, 54. “I guess I felt like I had to cook every vegetable I could find.”

Miller is a sixth-grade teacher at New Albany Middle School, so during the school year, meals are much simpler. She and Mark usually have something like catfish or salmon with roasted vegetables.

“But when I’m out of school, I really enjoy my home cooking,” she said. “In the summer when the vegetables are fresh, I just can’t pass them up.”

Miller, the youngest of three girls born to Joyce and Bob Walker, was born and raised in Vicksburg. She and Mark met at Ole Miss, married in 1980 and moved to Holly Springs. They have two children and one new grandchild.

“I didn’t cook much at home when I was young but my sisters and I grew up helping my parents get ready for bridge parties,” she said. “We’d get out the linens and the silver and serve the guests and then it was time for us to go to bed.”

After she married, she started trying recipes from Southern Living magazine.

“I’d try new dishes out on Mark,” she said. “I hate to call him a critic. Let’s say he was a willing tester.”

Now, she tries new recipes on fellow teachers.

“The sixth-grade teaching team are my samplers,” she said. “They love everything.”

One of Miller’s favorite dishes used to be crab cakes, but when she discovered she had a shellfish allergy, she had to change tack.

“I started making catfish cakes,” she said. “I just needed something to take the place of the crab. And I don’t think there’s anything better than Comeback Sauce.”

One thing that makes meal preparation easier for Miller is her freezer, which is stocked – and stacked – with packages of cooked chicken.

“When there’s a sale on chicken breasts, I may buy 15 or 20 packs,” she said. “I boil them in good chicken stock and then I pull the meat off the bone and put it in the freezer in 4-cup packages. I may put 70 cups of cooked chicken in my freezer in one day. When I come home, I can make a chicken casserole or poppyseed chicken or if there’s been a death, I can come home and put something together in no time to deliver.”

The one thing Miller is sure to make in the summertime is her crustless tomato sandwich with special mayonnaise.

“I grew up in Vicksburg,” she said, “and you can’t hardly live there with all the bridge clubs and supper clubs and social clubs and not learn how to make a good tomato sandwich.”


Ro-Tel Tomato Tarts

1 can Ro-tel tomatoes, drained

1 cup mayonnaise

1 (3-ounce) package real bacon bits

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

3 packages mini-phyllo shells

Combine tomatoes, mayonnaise, bacon and cheese. Fill shells and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.


Caramelized Bacon

12 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

12 cup chopped pecans

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

18 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

12 pound thick-sliced bacon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top.

Combine sugar and pecans in a food processor and process until pecans are finely ground. Add salt and both peppers and pulse to combine. Add syrup and pulse.

Cut bacon in thirds and place on wire rack. Top each with some of the sugar mixture (use it all). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until very browned but not burned. (If you don’t cook it long enough, the bacon won’t be crisp.) Cool on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve at room temp.


Mississippi Catfish Cakes

6 tablespoons butter

34 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

12 teaspoon salt

12 teaspoon pepper

12 teaspoon dry mustard

1 pound Mississippi farm-raised catfish fillets, poached

112 cups finely chopped bell peppers (use a mix of colors)

12 cup finely chopped green onions

12 teaspoon Tabasco

112 cups seasoned bread crumbs

Panko bread crumbs for coating

Butter for pan frying

Seasoned salt

Melt butter, add flour and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, while roux bubbles. Add milk slowly, stirring until cream sauce is thick. Add salt, pepper and dry mustard.

Flake poached catfish into a bowl and add cream sauce. Add bell peppers, onions, Tabasco and seasoned bread crumbs and mix well. Using a small scoop or spoon, make small catfish cakes. Coat them in Panko. Place cakes in a heavy skillet with some melted butter. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and sauté until brown. Serve with Comeback Sauce.


Comeback Sauce

1 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise

3 tablespoons chili sauce

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

12 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon horseradish

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to use. Good on catfish cakes, salads, chicken, saltines and just about anything else!


Tomato Sandwich Mayonnaise

1 large white onion

1 quart Hellman’s mayonnaise

Fresh lemon juice

Using a microplane or small grater, grate white onion. Combine onion and its juice and mayonnaise. Add lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate for a day or two before using. Serve on tomato sandwiches.




The problem with having too many cookbooks – if that’s possible – is that there are quite a few on my shelf I’ve never even opened. And there are even more that I look through once and never pick up again.

I need to get in one of those supper clubs where everyone buys the same cookbook at the beginning of the year and they cook out of it every month, trying five or six recipes each time. They say that really gives you a feel for a cookbook and the types of dishes it has to offer.

When I was interviewing Maia Miller in Holly Springs for the Cook of the Week last Wednesday, she pulled down “Come On In” from the Junior League of Jackson. It was first published in 1991 and I think I received my copy as a gift about 10 years ago.

I don’t think I’ve ever cooked anything out of it.

Maia flipped through the cookbook, pointing out different recipes she’d tried, all with great success. In particular, she recommended ones for Cinnamon Pepper Chicken, and Crunchy Catfish with Lemon Parsley Sauce.

I decided to try the chicken recipe on Sunday because Maia pointed out that you had to plan to be home for two to three hours to make this dish (it has to be basted occasionally).

I was skeptical of the chicken/cinnamon combination, as was my husband, but we gave it a try. Oh my. Just as Maia said, this chicken fell from the bone. The cinnamon and allspice gave it an exotic quality, which made it even more special. I’m sure this dish is an even bigger hit during the Christmas holidays, with the smell of cinnamon wafting through the house.

I served it with brown rice and a dish made with sautéed pattypan squash, yellow squash and leeks sprinkled with fresh basil and feta cheese.


Cinnamon Pepper Chicken

1 whole chicken (4 pounds)

112 teaspoons salt

12 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Clean chicken and season well, inside and out, with salt, peppers, cinnamon and allspice. Bake, uncovered, 21⁄2 to 3 hours, basting occasionally with pan juices.

Note: The recipe did not call for this step, but after the chicken had cooked about an hour, I brushed the skin with a couple of tablespoons of melted butter.

Ginna Parsons is the Daily Journal’s food/home/garden editor.