Tastes of home preserved in cookbook inspired by Katrina evacuees

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina families in south Louisiana struggled to put their homes and lives back together.

As homes were cleaned up and rebuilt the families looked for anything that would help bring normalcy back to their lives. Many cooks were able to cook from memory, which was fortunate since recipe after recipe had floated away with the storm waters.

As leaders in New Orleans looked for ways to get news out to South Louisiana they turned to their newspaper, the Times-Picayune.

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The Times-Picayune began printing again eight weeks after the storm. Two weeks after the first printing, the food section began printing again and in late October 2005 food editor Judy Walker began a section called “Exchange Alley.”

In this section, letters were printed from readers looking for favorite recipes that had been lost. Soon Walker found that she was getting letters from not only locals who were trying to rebuild but also from displaced Louisianans who missed their gumbo, red beans and rice and bread pudding.

As the project grew the newspaper realized this was something growing beyond the boundaries of their newspaper and they brought in cookbook author Marcelle Bienvenu, known for her own cookbooks and the four she has co-authored with Emeril Lagasse.

From this came a fabulous new cookbook called “Cooking up a Storm.” This new book is perfect for anyone who lost recipes in the storm and its aftermath or for any home cook who is looking for a compendium of South Louisiana favorites.

Not only is filled with recipes, it also tells you story after story of people who survived the storm and are looking for a way to regroup and rebuild their lives, beginning with their family meals.

Masson Restaurant was opened for 40 years before it closed its door in 1993. Over the years the Masson family had given out many of its restaurant’s recipes, including this one for oyster and artichoke soup. One reader wrote in looking for this recipe and in no time another reader realized they had it and sent it in.

Masson’s oyster and artichoke soup

1/3 cup butter

1 bunch green onions, green and white parts, chopped

Pinch of dried thyme

Small pinch of cyenne pepper

3 bay leaves

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 14-ounce can of chicken broth

2 cups oyster liquor, I used the liquor of my oysters and then used clam juice to make up the difference

1 pint small freshly oysters

1 14-ounce can of artichoke heats, cut up

3 sprigs fresh parsely, chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream


In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the green onions, thyme, cayenne and bay leaves until the green onions are soft. Add the flour and stir well with a whisk to blend. Add the chicken broth and oyster liquor, stir well and simmer 15 minutes. Add the oysters, artichoke hearts and parsley. Simmer for 10 more minutes, remove the bay leaves. Season with salt to taste.

Chicken and sausage jambalaya

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about a pound total), cut into 1 inch chunks

1 1/2 teaspoons Creole or Cajun seasoning

1/2 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

3 cups water

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped green onions, green part only

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot. Season the chicken pieces generously with the Creole or Cajun seasoning. Add the chicken to the pot and cook, stirring, over medium heat until evenly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the onions and peppers and cook, stirring until soft and golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the water, tomato paste, parsley and green onions. Stir and bring to a boil.

Add the rice, cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid, 15 to 20 minutes. Do not stir. Fluff the mixture with a fork before serving.

Christina Hall writes a weekly column for The Democrat. She can be reached at christina.hall@natchezdemocrat.com.