The Art of Living: What Can I Bring?

Southern Food For Any Occasion Life Serves Up

 Elizabeth Heiskell

Elizabeth Heiskell

Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography courtesy of Time Inc. Books, Alison Miksch, Hector Manual Sanchez & Iain Bagwell.

With every invitation received, from a dinner to backyard barbecue, the first question you ask is “What can I bring?” Now you have the answer, thanks to Elizabeth Heiskell, a Delta-born chef, caterer, and frequent Today Show contributor. The cookbook guides readers to greet any party or gathering with the perfect covered dish, sweet treat, or gift from the kitchen that ensures you’ll be invited back time after time, year after year.

Based on the popular Southern Living magazine column, What Can I Bring? offers more than 100 recipes that family and friends will beg you to bring again and again.

From housewarmings and garden parties to weddings and simply putting food on your own table, this book is packed with delicious appetizers, mains, sandwiches, drinks, and desserts.

“I’ve got you covered whether you’re heading to a casual potluck or visiting a friend who is bringing home a new baby,” Heiskell says. “For those of you who don’t cook but still wonder, “What can I bring?’ I included ideas that don’t require a stove or a spoon. After all, What Can I Bring? is about knowing what your family and friends need even before they do and having it at the ready.”

Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, Elizabeth Heiskell’s culinary journey started in her Mama and Daddy’s Delta kitchen, where food and fun went hand in hand—a tradition she is passing down to her three daughters. She went on to serve as Lead Culinary Instructor at Viking Cooking School in Greenwood, MS. Today she owns a bustling vegetable business with her husband, Luke, selling beautiful vegetables to the best restaurants in the South. Heiskell’s long-time love is her catering company, Elizabeth Heiskell Catering, where she has served the famous and not-so-famous for 20 years. In her spare time, she produces The Debutante Farmer line of Bloody Mary mixes (available at Buster’s and Social in Memphis or you may order online: at dubutantefarmers.com). Find her on Instagram at @elizabethheiskellcatering.

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What Can I Bring? is all about knowing what your family and friends need even before they do and having it at the ready.

VIP: I love your cookbook and the title, which is an old Southern saying.

Elizabeth Heiskell: If you were raised properly, what should I bring should be the first question out of your mouth. It’s so important for the person who invited you to show that you are gracious and that you appreciate the invitation. …I think the best way to be gracious is to cook something for that person. It may not be for the meal they are serving you. Don’t try to add anything to the meal unless the hostess specifically asks you to do so. It’s nice to bring something for the host or hostess to use the next day like pound cake or breakfast muffins. Oxford and the Mississippi Delta are two of the most Southern places on earth where “What can I bring?” is never an afterthought.”


VIP: What are two of your favorite summer recipes in your cookbook?

EH: Marinated Vegetables and Summer Salad are two favorite summer recipes. The only time you can make the Summer Salad is when tomatoes are fantastic and add cucumbers and avocado. It’s divine! You can make Marinated Vegetables year round.


VIP: Have you adjusted to living in Oxford, Mississippi?

EH: We moved about six years ago to Oxford, which is really growing by leaps and bounds and is a foodie town. Oxford was the best decision we could have ever made. I miss the Delta every day and I love it, and it will always be my home. But Oxford has really embraced and supported us beyond anything I could have ever imagined.


VIP: What differentiates the Delta from other areas of the country when it comes to entertaining? Do you entertain more often and/or more casually?

EH: I think the bottom line is in the Delta you really have to make your own fun. We don’t have wonderful theaters on every corner or lovely restaurants, so we entertain ourselves. We invite people over. My great grandmother, grandmother, mother and my father do that. If you don’t know how to entertain in the Delta, you won’t get invited anywhere and your life will be very boring. Just invite people over for a drink or a full seated dinner for 60 in your home. It’s just what we do, and we are very comfortable with it. The more you entertain and the more you go to people’s homes the more comfortable you will be entertaining. I attended my first cocktail party when I was seven years old. Delta folks think nothing of driving 70 miles to a home, a restaurant or a dinner party. The Delta really is just one big town! Our restaurants are fabulous. You may drive from Rosedale to Greenville for a good steak or drive from Rosedale to Leland for the best pizza you’ve ever had or over to Greenwood for a wonderful pompano.


VIP: What is your philosophy about entertaining? Keep it simple?

EH: Absolutely. The main thing is if you or your hostess are not having fun, your guests are not having fun. Do as much as you can ahead of time. These people are coming because they love you, not to judge your house or dust bunnies under the couch. They are coming to enjoy your company. As long as you keep that as your main focus, then all of that worry and anxiety should just melt away.


VIP: I love some of your to-die for recipes like Yoste Roast, The Best Lasagna Ever and your Creamy Chicken Enchiladas.

EH: I prepared Yoste Roast on the Today Show and it went around the world. It was printed on the website of the New York Times. It was one of their best recipes of the year for the Today Show. It is so unbelievably good and so simple. You can throw 3-4 ingredients together in 5 minutes in the morning and come home to one of the best pot roasts in your life! And Smith Lake Cake is the sleeper of the book. It is the finest cake you’ll ever make!


VIP: What’s next on your drawing board?

EH: I am working on The Southern Living Parties Cookbook at Oxmoor House, a re-make of the 1973 “Southern Living Parties Cookbook.” I have more Today Show appearances and lots and lots of wonderful catering events this summer and this fall.