We all have “Katrina Stories.” One of my best – or worse – is about my husband Doug unloading our chest freezer.

Five years before, chefs from all over south Louisiana had gathered with their best presentations of nutria in Baton Rouge. We tasted the “river rat” in pasta, barbecued nutria, fried nutria and more, because some government officials wanted to illustrate that we could eat the frisky rodents and keep them from eating away our land.

For the most part, the meat was smothered to the point that we couldn’t tell what we were eating. Upon leaving, I was handed a dressed nutria in an ice chest for my own cooking experimentation. Needless to say, I stuck it in the freezer and there it stayed for five years.

Doug had already cleaned the indoor freezer when he dove into the huge chest freezer outside. It was filled with seafood, and he could hardly breath when he got to the bottom and found a long, mysterious package. He couldn’t imagine what it was so he peeked inside – it wasn’t a pretty scene.

Needless to say, Doug will never eat nutria.

Perhaps the greatest food story resulting from Katrina what that which inspired cookbooks, including mine, aimed at replacing favorite family recipes.

In the few times we’ve evacuated, we’ve packed photo albums, important papers and keepsakes. I never thought about taking recipes. I still have my mother’s box of handwritten recipes, and if I ever evacuate again, I think I’ll take it.


Stuffed Peppers

8 medium bell peppers, divided
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 14.5-ounce can Roma tomatoes, diced, or 1 cup chopped fresh
ripe tomato
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt, freshly ground pepper and Creole seasoning to taste
Dash or 2 Tabasco
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs, divided
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 eggs, beaten
3 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Slice peppers in halves, cleaning out the white pulp inside. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan and parboil 14 of the pepper halves for about 3 minutes. Place on a large baking sheet or pan. Set aside.

Chop remaining 2 pepper halves. In a large skillet, heat oil and sauté onions, chopped pepper and garlic. Add ground beef and sausage and sauté until brown and crumbled. Add tomatoes and seasonings. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2-cup breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Stir in eggs and mix well. Spoon mixture into pepper shells and top with remaining 1/2-cup breadcrumbs and dots of butter. Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. (Note: If you prefer them browned on top, stick under broiler 1-2 minutes. Also, these freeze well.)

Serves 6 to 8

Stuffed peppers and oyster dressing recipes are from New Orleans Home Cooking by Dale Curry (Pelican Publishing Co.).

Oyster Dressing

1 long poor boy-style French bread, stale
3 10-ounce containers (about 3 dozen
medium) oysters and their liquid
2 cups chicken or turkey stock, homemade
or canned
1 stick butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, white and green parts separated and chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Salt, pepper, Creole seasoning and cayenne pepper to taste

Buy a poor boy loaf in paper, not plastic, several days before making your dressing and let it go stale. In a very large bowl, break up bread into small pieces and cover with strained water from oysters and chicken stock. Let soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet and sauté white onions and celery until soft. Add garlic and sauté a few minutes more.

Add this, green onion tops and parsley to the soaked bread and mix well. Check oysters to eliminate any shell; chop them and stir into mixture. Add seasonings. Place in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, making sure there’s plenty of liquid. Add more stock or water if necessary to make dressing very moist. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until dressing has firmed up and is lightly brown on top.

This can be stuffed into a turkey and baked, but the turkey should be stuffed at the last minute to avoid salmonella poisoning. If baked inside the turkey, make sure the dressing reaches 165 degrees.

Serves 8 to 10

Rosie’s Sweet Potato Pies

3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 large)
1/2 (1 stick) cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons ground nutmeg
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs
4 unbaked 9-inch pie shells
Ice cream or sweetened whipped cream
for serving (optional)

Scrub the potatoes but don’t peel. In a large saucepan, cover them with water, bring to a boil and boil until very tender – about 1 hour. Drain

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

When cool enough to handle, peel potatoes and put them in the large bowl of an electric stand mixer. Add butter, evaporated milk, sugar, nutmeg, vanilla and eggs. Beat until mixture is smooth. (If making filling ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake the pies.)

Pour filling into pie shells and bake until crusts are golden brown and the filling is set – 30 to 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 24 to 32 servings (4 9-inch pies)

This recipe is from Cooking Up A Storm, recipes lost and found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. The recipe, first published in 1997, came from Linda Barry Sevalia, who got it from her mother, Rosie Barry of Detroit. The family made these pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas.