Food & Drink

There’s a dish for every occasion. Here are four for tailgates and gatherings.

The Carmelized Onion Dip is served with potato chips. Elizabeth Heiskell shares family stories with most recipes in her new book, “What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up.”
The Carmelized Onion Dip is served with potato chips. Elizabeth Heiskell shares family stories with most recipes in her new book, “What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up.” Courtesy of Time Inc. Books

With one hand outstretched in welcome and the other clutching a cocktail, Delta-based chef Elizabeth Heiskell stands ready to embrace stressed-out home cooks and absolve them of their fears of inadequacy for not always cooking from scratch.

“It’s more important to be there for friends and family than to worry about whether you used some shortcut to make dinner,” says Heiskell, author of the new cookbook, “What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up,” which is available at booksellers this week.

“The fact is, we all lead busy lives, and we all have struggles,” she adds during a call from Woodson Ridge Farms, where she and her husband supply restaurants from Oxford, Miss., where the farm is located, to Memphis, Tenn. “My recipes are all about being able to pull things together, using what’s available, so you can get it on the table.”

Elizabeth Heiskell
Elizabeth Heiskell, a contributor to “Today” and Southern Living, is author of the new cookbook, “What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up.” A great drink is essential for a successful tailgate, Heiskell says. She’s partial to her father’s Bloody Mary recipe. Courtesy of Time Inc. Books

Heiskell will share her tips in the Triangle next week as part of an extended book tour. As a caterer, culinary entrepreneur and contributor to both Southern Living magazine and NBC’s “Today” show, she knows that it’s no easy feat to get supper on the table or feed a friend in need.

Her approach to creating satisfying meals with some processed ingredients, and staging them amid pretty tablescapes, brings to mind Sandra Lee, a former Food Network star famous for her “Semi-Homemade” show and reliance on pre-packaged products. While some culinary critics reject such time-savers, Heiskell appreciates that not everyone has the resources or desire to be part of the farm-to-table movement.

“I’m lucky to live on a farm and get the very best, freshest produce you can imagine. But I also live in a small town where the grocery store does not carry every imaginable ingredient,” she says. “If you can’t get it at the Piggly Wiggly, it’s not in my book.”

Rather than spend hours trying to boil rock-hard beans into submission, for example, Heiskell gives her readers permission to substitute canned. She also pardons home cooks from the perceived sin of using a boxed cake mix as a springboard for better things, like her Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake, which also calls for instant pudding mix and a container of sour cream.

Heiskell shares heartfelt and humorous family stories with most recipes, with a whopper saved for the book’s last entry. Her great-aunt, also a caterer, was frustrated at not being able to locate ladyfingers, small tender-crisp sponge cakes, for a recipe. Instead, she wound up making a showstopper dessert with Twinkies.

“When it comes down to it, that’s really not so different from layering ladyfingers and cream,” she says, still amused by the ingenuity. “Listen, there are plenty of cookbooks that have recipes for great pie crusts. I’d rather you buy one and make a great chicken pot pie to enjoy with your family than be so intimidated about making the crust that you never make it at all.”

Heiskell organizes her recipes by occasion, such as welcoming new babies, weekending with friends or bidding farewell to loved ones at funerals. Her chapter on tailgating and game-day eats is especially timely. While her group gathers at Davis Wade Stadium at Mississippi State for SEC matchups, there is much to tempt ACC fans who gather at Duke’s Wallace Wade or other temples of Triangle sports.

“Stick with things that you can pick up and pop in your mouth, like a creamy dip with crunchy crudités,” Heiskell advises.

Offer pre-made sandwiches instead of a deli tray, and tuck a damp paper towel under the deviled eggs to keep them from tipping during transport.

A great drink is essential for a successful tailgate, Heiskell says. She’s partial to her father’s Bloody Mary recipe, though you can make it even easier by purchasing a bottle of her premade mix under her Debutante Farmer label. Or try the frosty Bourbon Slush between nibbles of these savory dips.

“It should be about what’s easy to eat and drink so you can focus on enjoying time with your friends before the game,” she said.

Details

“What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up” is available at booksellers this week. Here are the author’s upcoming appearances in the Triangle:

▪ Oct. 25, 6-8 p.m.: Heiskell will teach a class at Southern Season at University Place, 201 S. Estes Drive, Chapel Hill. Participants will sample tastes of four recipes from her book with wine pairings. Register online or call 877-929-7133.

▪ Oct. 26, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A book signing, tasting and Q&A at the Garden Hut, 1004 Old Honeycutt Road, Fuquay-Varina. RSVP to reserve a copy at 919-552-0590 or at nelsasgardenhut.com.

▪ Oct. 26, 6-8 p.m. Meet-and-greet book signing event at Whisk, 213 Colonades Way, Suite 214, Cary. Light bites and wine will be served. Reserve your spot at whiskcarolina.com or call 919-322-2458.

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 the onions. Adding salt during the cooking process will extract the water from the onion and deepen the natural sweetness.

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)

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.

Yields: 10 servings

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.

Blue Cheese and Bacon Dip

My husband, Luke, and I have been married for 20 years. I only wish I had a dime for every time I heard Luke say, “I don’t want blue cheese.” This is one of his favorite dips. Even if you aren’t a blue cheese lover or even a blue cheese liker, you will still love this dip. Trust me.

4 bacon slices

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

2 ounces blue cheese, softened (about 1⁄2 cup)

5 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives

1⁄2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

1⁄2 cup chopped roasted smoked almonds

Sliced pears

Assorted crackers or crostini

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the bacon until crisp and done; remove and reserve about 1 teaspoon of the bacon drippings from skillet. Crumble the bacon.

Beat the cheeses and heavy cream with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Gently stir in the crumbled bacon, reserved bacon drippings, chives, Worcestershire and pepper. Spoon into a lightly greased 1- to 1 1⁄2-quart baking dish.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cheeses are melted and the mixture is heated through, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the top with the smoked almonds, and serve with the sliced pears, crackers or crostini.

Yields: 8 servings

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.

Daddy’s Bloody Marys

All Southern girls think their daddies make the best Bloody Mary. I am no exception. When we were growing up, as soon as Daddy left the Baptist church on Sunday morning, he would head straight for the kitchen to make up this wonderful concoction. This is my favorite hostess gift. Most hostesses who are getting ready for a lovely party have been running around all day, hardly had time to eat a bite of food, and it’s doubtful she’s gotten her eight glasses of water. This is the perfect remedy and a most-wanted gift in an adorable basket. In the basket, place a bottle of Bloody Mary Mix, bottle of vodka, limes, pickled okra, BC Powder, Rolaids, and coconut water ... Hangover Helper!!

4 cups vegetable juice

3⁄4 cup fresh lime juice (from 7 limes)

1⁄4 cup prepared horseradish

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper

1 1⁄2 cups (12 ounces) vodka

1 teaspoon celery salt

Lime wedges

Celery stalks

Pickled okra spears

Spicy pickled green beans

Combine the vegetable juice, lime juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper in a pitcher. Stir in the vodka just before serving.

Sprinkle the celery salt on a small plate. Run a lime wedge around the rim of each glass; invert glasses onto celery salt so salt adheres to rim of glasses. Fill each glass with ice and about 1 cup vegetable juice mixture. Garnish with the celery stalks, pickled okra spears, and spicy green beans.

Yields: 6 servings

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.

Bourbon Slush

All I have to do is take one sniff of a glass of bourbon and I’m transported to a cool, fall day in Starkville at Davis Wade Stadium. I can hear the crowds and feel the excitement. Daddy never missed a game and neither did I. This drink is subtle and absolutely drinkable, and it will quickly become your most favorite game day or party go-to. It couldn’t be any easier either, plus it freezes beautifully. You can make it months ahead so it’s ready when you are.

8 hours chilling

6 cups hot brewed tea

1 cup granulated sugar

1 (12-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate

6 ounces frozen orange juice concentrate (from 1 (12-ounce) can)

2 cups bourbon

Combine the hot tea and sugar in a heatproof bowl; stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemonade concentrate and orange juice concentrate; stir until blended. Let stand until cool, about 1 hour. Stir in the bourbon. Pour the bourbon mixture into a large freezer-safe container, and freeze until almost firm, about 8 hours or overnight. Let stand at room temperature until partially thawed, about 1 hour. Spoon into glasses, and serve immediately.

Yields: 10 servings

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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