“What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up.” By Elizabeth Heiskell. Oxmoor House, 2017. $30.

It’s almost shocking no one has thought of this title before for a cookbook because it’s a question we’ve all asked, or been asked. And, if your extended family resembles mine, “What can I Bring?” usually elicits the same boring, unsatisfying response. Salad.

Now I have plenty of Mississippi Delta-born ideas, that look as good as they taste, thanks to “Today Show” food contributor Elizabeth Heiskell. Her brightly illustrated cookbook is divided into themes like “Potluck,” “Weekend Getaway” and “Four Quarters & Food” (think tailgating with bourbon and style).

Each recipe comes with a little back story, a few of which made my Yankee-trained daughter cringe, like:

“Mama was hosting a Daughters of the American Revolution luncheon…” or “This recipe was Mama’s go-to when it was her turn to feed the men at Rotary Club,” or the intro to the “Boys Will Be Boys,” section where Heiskell says, “I used to cry when Luke would leave for duck camp. … Now that I understand the joy of controlling the television remote, I actually help him pack.”

So maybe I’m not ready to move down South.


But this cookbook has at least a dozen recipes I want to try. The few hard-to-find ingredients – like the liquid crab boil needed for that cold shrimp salad Mama made for the DAR luncheon – could be easily obtained with an Amazon order.

I opted to give Pasta Jambalaya a try. This one had another back story with a heavy dollop of what my oldest daughter would term gender bias. Heiskell said the men at duck camp like this one-pot dish because all they have to do is heat and eat so they can get back to “drinking scotch, cleaning guns, and talking about how much they miss their wives.”

But when I saw it was a one-pot dish that included shrimp, chicken and wonderfully spicy andouille sausage I poured myself a drink and got started. Cooking that is. Not cleaning a gun.

A couple of heads-ups about the recipe. It says it serves six. I guess duck hunters have big appetites. In my experience, serves 12 is more accurate. Because of that, Heiskell is correct in calling for a “large” Dutch oven. My 11-inch stainless steel skillet with 3-inch walls is plenty big enough to work a double-batch of Zatarain’s Jambalaya but it wasn’t big enough for this dish, particularly when it called for you to toss the ingredients at the very end. The best I could do was turn with a spoon and make a mess of the stovetop. Finally, I substituted the Creole seasoning in the cupboard for Cajun seasoning, which made for a milder kick. Come to find out I could have mixed up a close approximation of Cajun spice with a combination of paprika, peppers (red, black and white) and garlic and onion powders. Next time. And there will be a next time.


Be sure to pre-chop the ingredients.


Serves 6

1 lb box of penne pasta

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

6 teaspoons Cajun seasoning

12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch pieces


1 pound andouille sausage, cut into half-inch slices

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (about 3 garlic cloves)

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained


1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 ounce fresh Parmesan cheese, grated with a Microplane grater (about 2/3 cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water; keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high. Sprinkle the shrimp with 2 teaspoons of the Cajun seasoning and add to the Dutch oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the Dutch oven; sprinkle chicken with 2 teaspoons of the Cajun seasoning. Add the chicken to the Dutch oven, and cook, turning to brown on all sides, until done, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the plate with the shrimp. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven; add the sausage, onion, and bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the sausage is brown and the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic; cook 1 minute. Add the stock, and cook 30 seconds, stirring and scraping to loosen browned bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven. Add the tomatoes, thyme, and remaining 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning; cook about 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream.

3. Add the reserved shrimp, chicken, pasta, and 1 cup of cooking water to the Dutch oven; toss to combine. Cook until the mixture is thoroughly heated and the sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and add the Parmesan and basil; toss to combine.

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