With 25+ years as a catering dynamo, cookbook author, culinary instructor, farmer of Woodson Ridge Farms, and mastermind behind the culinary brand Debutante Farmer, Elizabeth Heiskell is nothing short of a Southern food maven. Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, her culinary prowess is rivaled only by her warm and vivacious personality, which has won her distinctions over the years like a high-profile position as the “TODAY” show’s food contributor. She has also released multiple cookbooks including, What Can I Bring?: Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up. Today, Elizabeth is sharing recipes for three of her favorite crowd-pleasing dishes, so we’ll never have to show up empty-handed. Take it away, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Heiskell

Cookbook author of What Can I Bring?: Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up, Elizabeth Heiskell | Image: Alison Miksch; Prop styling: Kay Clarke; Food styling: Karen Rankin

How often have life’s occasions left you wondering to yourself, “What can I bring?” Well, in my book I answer that enduring question for pretty much any occasion life serves up, so you’ll never arrive empty-handed again.

I’ve got you covered whether you’re headed to a casual potluck or to visit a friend who is bringing home a new baby. If your husband gets invited on a hunting trip with the guys or the two of you get the Super Bowl of all invitations — an invitation for a weekend getaway at a friend’s vacation home — never fear. I’ve got you. Wonder what to take to a tailgate, a sick friend, or a housewarming party? Don’t fret! I’ve got the recipes your family and friends will beg you to bring again and again.

No matter the invitation or occasion, I am well aware that we all need simple, beautiful recipes that can be made ahead, are delicious, and travel well so that a repeat invitation is as good as guaranteed. Today, I’m sharing three home-run recipes: my caramelized onion dip, my winter salad with versatile vinaigrette, and my heavenly chocolate cola cake. Enjoy!

Caramelized Onion Dip

This recipe is best served in a classic fashion with Ruffles potato chips. When caramelizing the onions, don’t add any sugar; the key is salting them. Adding salt during the cooking process will extract the water from the onion and deepen the natural sweetness.

Elizabeth Heiskell

Caramelized onion dip | Image: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Food styling: Margaret Dickey; Prop styling: Cindy Barr

Caramelized Onion Dip

Elizabeth Heiskell
This caramelized onion dip is a total crowd pleaser! It is best served in classic fashion with Ruffles potato chips.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 10 mins
Total Time 1 hr 25 mins
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Servings 10

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ⁄4 cup olive oil
  • 2 ounces 1⁄4 cup salted butter
  • 2 large onions very thinly vertically sliced (about 7 1⁄2 cups)
  • 3 ⁄4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 ⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 1 ⁄2 cup sour cream
  • 1 ⁄2 cup mayonnaise such as Hellmann’s
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Potato chips such as Ruffles

Instructions
 

  • Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium; cook until butter melts. Add the onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is caramelized, about 50 minutes, reducing the heat as needed to prevent the onion from burning. Remove from the heat; stir in salt and pepper, and cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Coarsely chop the onion mixture.
  • Combine the cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth; fold in the onion mixture. Refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. Serve with the potato chips.
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Winter Salad

This salad was born because I was so sad that summer was coming to an end. I was craving a panzanella salad in the worst way but refused to make it with out-of-season tomatoes. I made this salad for one of the first parties I catered in Oxford. It was a huge hit and helped put us on the map!

Elizabeth Heiskell

Winter Salad | Image: Alison Miksch; Prop styling: Kay Clarke; Food styling: Anna Hampton

Winter Salad

Elizabeth Heiskell
This delicious salad was inspired by a summer panzanella.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 25 mins
Course Salad
Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 1 10-ounce loaf rosemary or garlic ciabatta bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 ⁄4 cup olive oil plus 3 tablespoons
  • 2 1 ⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 small about 2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 5 cups)
  • 4 medium beets about 1 1⁄2 pounds, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 3 medium turnips about 1 1⁄4 pounds, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 4 medium carrots about 3⁄4 pound, peeled and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 1 ⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 ⁄2 cup Versatile Vinaigrette
  • 4 cups loosely packed arugula mixed greens, or mizuna
  • 4 ounces goat cheese crumbled (about 1 cup)

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the bread cubes with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven until dry and just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.
  • Toss together the squash, beets, turnips, carrots, pepper, and remaining 1⁄4 cup olive oil and 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt; divide between 2 rimmed baking sheets, and spread in an even layer. Bake at 400°F until tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes, stirring twice during baking. Cool completely on baking sheets on wire racks, about 20 minutes.
  • Toss together the bread cubes, roasted vegetables, and Vinaigrette in a large bowl until combined. Let stand 10 minutes.
  • Place the arugula on a platter; top with the roasted vegetable mixture, and sprinkle with the goat cheese. Serve immediately.
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Versatile Vinaigrette

At every restaurant in the Mississippi Delta, you hear one thing as you walk to your table past all the other diners: “I’ll have the Ranch,” “Do you have Ranch?” or “You know, how about a little Ranch on the side?” Now don’t get me wrong, I love Ranch just as much as the next gal. When all you could get at the Piggly Wiggly was a head of iceberg lettuce, Ranch was a necessity. There is a time and place for Ranch, but it’s not every single day on every type of salad. We can get beautiful lettuce now, so a vinaigrette is a must. There are a couple of things in life that everyone should know how to do: change a tire, come in out of the rain, and make a vinaigrette. This one can be used as many ways as good ol’ Ranch can!

Of course, it’s the perfect dressing for a heap of greens, but it can also add a flavorful boost to roasted veggies. Brush it on toasted bread to make a tasty sandwich. Don’t stop there: It makes a great marinade for chicken or pork, the perfect dip for blanched asparagus or green beans, and a lovely sauce for poached seafood or fish.

Versatile Vinaigrette

Elizabeth Heiskell
This is the perfect dressing for a heap of greens, but it can also add a flavorful boost to roasted veggies. Brush it on toasted bread to make a tasty sandwich, or use it as a great marinade for chicken or pork.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 5 mins
Servings 3 cups

Ingredients
  

  • 3 ⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard*
  • 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 1 ⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 ⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 ⁄4 cup olive oil or canola oil

Instructions
 

  • Whisk together the vinegar, honey, mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl.
  • Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, until smooth.

Notes

You can use a food processor to combine the oil and the acid, but it’s easy to overprocess the liquids and they can become thicker than gravy. If the dressing gets too thick, add water to thin the dressing; do NOT add more oil, because that will only make the problem worse. *Most vinaigrette recipes call for some kind of mustard. It acts like a marriage counselor: It keeps two things together that don’t want to stay together.
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Cola Cake

Miss Elizabeth Louis is one of the best cooks in the Delta. She was a master at canning fig preserves; her meatballs would make you swoon, and her RC Cola Cake was just fantastic. This cake recipe is very much like her signature chocolate cake. When I was in high school, I asked her for the recipe. I had become very interested in cooking and was dying to make her famous cake recipe. Miss Louis responded by saying, “Just call me, I will be happy to make you a cake any time.” I know this was a very nice way of saying, “I am not even thinking about sharing my recipe.”

Elizabeth Heiskell

Cola cake | Image: Time Inc. Books/Time Inc. Food Studios

Cola Cake

Elizabeth Heiskell
This chocolaty, moist sheet cake is rich and tasty.
3.45 from 9 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 45 mins
Course Dessert
Servings 15

Ingredients
  

CAKE

  • 1 16.5-ounce package Swiss chocolate cake mix (such as Duncan Hines)
  • 1 1 ⁄4 cups water
  • 1 ⁄2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 3.4-ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix (such as Jell-O)
  • 2 large eggs

ICING

  • 4 ounces 1⁄2 cup unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons cola such as RC Cola
  • 1 16-ounce package powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans optional

Instructions
 

  • Prepare the Cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the cake mix, 1 1⁄4 cups water, vegetable oil, pudding mix, and eggs in a bowl; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Coat the bottom and sides of a 13- x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 29 minutes.
  • Prepare the Icing: Cook the butter and cola in a medium saucepan over medium until just boiling, about 5 minutes; remove from the heat. Combine the sugar and cocoa in a bowl; add to the butter mixture, and stir well. Stir in the pecans, if desired. Spread evenly over the warm cake; cool completely, about 1 hour.
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Thank you for your wonderful recipes, Elizabeth!

Excerpted from What Can I Bring? by Elizabeth Heiskell. Copyright © 2017 Oxmoor House. Reprinted with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Time Inc. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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