Rouquette’s ‘Sassy Seniors’ love to cook

Whenever Joyce O’Brien makes fudge, she harks back to a “kitchen disaster” from her childhood.

After O’Brien had prepared “the best fudge in the world” and set the platter temporarily in the sink, her uncle washed his hands in that sink, accidentally “watering” his niece’s sugary confections.

“Needless to say, we had to start over with the fudge,” said O’Brien, 77, who still cracks up at the recollection decades after the fact.

To prevent cooking-related anecdotes like these from being lost in the annals of family history, O’Brien and her fellow residents of Rouquette Lodge in Mandeville named their 2011 cookbook “Sentimental Journey: A Collection of Favorite Recipes Compiled by the Sassy Seniors of Rouquette Lodge.” On the dedication page, the cookbook of 499 recipes encourages readers to bring smiles to future generations of their families by jotting down their own memories of Grandma’s Sunday biscuits and the time they “burned the pork chops.”

“We needed to do a big fund-raiser, and the biggest way we can do this is to sell cookbooks,” said Rose Marie Bosch, 73, who oversaw the 2011 effort during her recent term as president of Rouquette’s residents’ council. The tree-shaded complex of independent living apartments, operated by Christopher Homes, currently serves 239 residents, many of whom cook for themselves, their friends and their families in Rouquette’s kitchen-equipped apartments.

Bosch said residents actively embraced the idea of a new cookbook after the resounding success of two prior ones, published in 2005 and 2007. The proceeds fund Rouquette’s active slate of social events, which include a post-Easter crawfish boil and a summer luau, at which the seniors line dance in grass skirts.

“We are always needing to do a money-maker, but there are only so many things you can do,” O’Brien said. “Some of us who are older, you know, are dilapidated, so we can’t go out and beg for things for raffles and the like. I’m pretty good on a computer, so we just decided we would do a cookbook. Everybody got on the bandwagon.”

Bosch described herself as an avid cook who is always coming up with her own spins on classics, such as gumbo.

“When (residents) started giving us recipes, they’d say things like, ‘This is the recipe my great-grandmother made on her wood stove back 1913,” said Bosch, who grew up in Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in New Orleans and attends Mass at both Rouquette Lodge’s in-house chapel and at Most Holy Trinity Church in Covington.

“At one time, we were so poor, my father would make spaghetti with hard-boiled eggs in the red gravy, so you’d have your protein,” she said.

Although her foray into fudge-making had a rocky start, the Baptist-raised O’Brien, whose children attended St. Rita Catholic School in New Orleans, went on to specialize in pastry-making and help run the family-owned Cinderella Catering for 21 years. One of Cinderella’s appetizers – a hot dip of artichokes, asparagus and spinach called Baked Triple Veggie Dip – is included in “Sentimental Journey.”

“Most of the hot dips you see (contain) a lot of mayonnaise and garlic, and maybe a little bit of crabmeat,” O’Brien said. “But this is strictly a vegetable dip.”

During Lent, Bosch likes to prepare the cookbook’s Alabama Caviar.

“It marinates a day or so and you can’t stop eating it,” she said of the appetizer submitted by Pat Falor.   

Other meatless favorites include Shrimp and Corn Chowder – served to the family of Bernice Sparacio for years – and Rose Prattini’s Crawfish Casserole, which calls on the shortcuts of canned soups and Ro-Tel tomatoes. But no one will guess it, Bosch winks.

“There’s no cooking down of seasoning involved,” Bosch said. “(Prattini) swears by this recipe. She has cooked it many, many times.”

Dessert recipes are well represented, including one that is repeatedly requested by residents: Verna Legere’s Magic Bars.

“It’s got butter; it’s got graham cracker; it’s got pecans; it’s got coconut. What cannot be bad?” O’Brien said. “You just layer it down and cook it. We used to freeze ours and cut it in long, thin bars.”

Bosch submitted her own, aptly named “Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies,” noting that her children and grandchildren like the recipe because it is not too sweet.

Rita Mackenroth’s eponymous raisin bread is sweet, thanks to the brilliant addition of pineapple juice.

“Whenever she makes it, it goes so fast. The pineapple juice adds a moistness to it,” Bosch said. “(Rita) likes to put a little bit of butter on top and warm it in the microwave.”

To order “Sentimental Journey,” priced at $20, call Jeanne Vest, (985) 626-4224 or Virginia Tellez, (985) 624-5465. Each cookbook comes pre-wrapped in a gift bag. Cookbooks can be shipped for an additional fee, or picked up at Rouquette Lodge, 4300 Highway 22, Mandeville.

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