Some people just love to cook. Collette Weaver of Slidell is like that.

She cooks Italian (red sauces and veal parmesan), country (white gravy, and chicken and dumplings), Cajun (white beans, rice dressing and brown jambalaya) and New Orleans (red jambalaya and stuffed mirlitons).

Her husband Rick, a quiet, dignified, white-moustached retired U.S. Air Force guy, readily admits that’s why he married her.

Collette, a Type A firecracker beams back at her hubby.

“He’s my trophy husband — my arm candy,” she said.

Rick just smiled.

“I enjoy her cooking, especially anything with a gravy — brown, onion or white,” he said.

“He loves when I make chicken and dumplings,” Collette said. “I make my own dumplings. He’s also my help.”

She patted him on the back while he peeled shrimp for her stuffed mirlitons.

“Cooking is a form of stress relief,” Collette said. “Fishing is another. Rick and I fish a lot; we try to go out every weekend.”

She glanced out the window at the cruiser named Wet Vette, which was docked in the canal forming part of their backyard.

“We bought the boat instead of a second Corvette,” Collette said. “Plus Rick is a veteran.”

Nana’s Dirty Rice Dressing

“This recipe brings me back to my family, Christmas morning and Thankgiving,” Collette Weaver said.

Watching her prep the chicken gizzards and livers for the dressing was humorous, though.

“I don’t like liver and I don’t like gizzards; they are nasty,” she grimaced as she labored over her cutting board trimming gizzards. “When I was a kid, everybody loved liver and onions. Mom would cook a steak for me.

“But I love this dish. It was my grandma Winona Higgenbotham’s dressing for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She was a Red Cross nurse during World War II and was a great cook — fabulous.

“Her cooking is carried on for Thanksgiving every year. My daddy, Pratt Landry, cooks the dressing then. My sister, Amy Bodet, cooks stuffed mirlitons (see next recipe) and pork meat balls.”

Dirty rice dressings are Cajun to the core, as authentic Cajun as sauce piquants and étoufées.

While Grandma Higgenbotham lived in the Gentilly section of New Orleans, a decidedly non-Cajun environment, her maiden name gives her heritage away. 

It was “Robichaux.” 

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. chicken gizzards

1/2 lb. chicken livers

3/4 cup flour

3/4  cup oil

2 cups chopped onions

1/2 cup chopped celery (with leaves)

1 cup chopped green onions

1 cup chopped parsley

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups water 

1 tbsp. salt

3/4  tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

8 cups cooked rice

3 dozen oysters, chopped

PREPARATION:

Cut the gristle from the gizzards and place them in a food processor or meat grinder. Add the livers and chop or grind them. Set aside. In a microwave safe dish, mix the flour and oil together for a roux. Cook in a microwave on high for 18 minutes, until the roux is a deep caramel color. Stir the roux frequently during cooking. When the roux is done, add the onions and celery, stir and cook on high 5 minutes. Stir in green onions, parsley, garlic and livers and gizzards and sauté 10 minutes. Add in water, salt and pepper, rice and oysters. Mix thoroughly. Pour into a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Serves 10-12.

Stuffed Mirlitons with Shrimp

Like the Nana’s Dirty Rice Dressing, this is a family dish. This one, though, is classical New Orleans through and through. 

“This was Maw-Maw Jeanne Deville Landry’s recipe,” Collette Weaver explained. “She lived in Gentilly, too — on Grand Route Saint John Street across from the old Bell Theater. She was Dad’s mom.

“She was fun, a blast to hang out with. She called us grandkids, ‘guttersnipes.’”

Weaver moved a lot with her U.S. Air Force husband. Everywhere she went, she took her Louisiana cooking, but ingredients were not always easy to find.

“When we lived in northern California, I got aggravated because we couldn’t find mirlitons,” she said. “You think that every place has the foods you grew up with. I have to have mirlitons for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

“I finally found out that mirlitons are the same thing as chayotes. The skin on theirs is prickly, but the taste is the same.”

The holidays were a big thing for Collette’s family, and both sides of the family would come together to cook and eat.

“The biggest thing on those meals was family — being together,” she said. 

INGREDIENTS:

6 large mirlitons

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped green onions

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 slices bread, moistened

2 lb. small shrimp, peeled

1 tbsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/8 tp. Cayenne pepper

Seasoned bread crumbs

PREPARATION:

Wrap each mirliton individually with plastic wrap and cook them in a microwave oven on high for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. In a 3-quart casserole dish, sauté onions and celery in oil for 5 minutes in the microwave. Stir in green onions, garlic and parsley and sauté 5 minutes. Cut mirlitons in half lengthwise, remove seeds, and scoop the flesh from the shells, being careful not to tear them. Set the shells aside. Add the mirliton flesh, bread, shrimp, salt and pepper to the casserole dish and blend well. Cook on high for 10 minutes. Fill the mirliton shells with the mixture and place them in a baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serves 4-6.