By Beth Donze
Nine years ago, Emily Abry Barré found herself in the middle of a literal crossfire on the streets of New Orleans.
When two men began shooting at one another from their respective vehicles, Barré was the innocent – and unlucky – driver lodged between them.
She walked away unharmed, but shaken.
“The first thing that went through my head (during the gunfire) was, ‘If I die, my children won’t have any of my recipes,’” said Barré, a parishioner of St. Rita Church in Harahan, explaining that daily, home-cooked meals around the table with her husband and two daughters are sacrosanct.
One day after her brush with mortality, Barré saw a commercial on the Food Network touting an online cookbook-publishing service and truly realized it was time to get down to business. She spent the next eight months typing in her recipes – some scrawled on napkins – and preparing each one for taste-testing by friends and family. She also photographed every completed dish as a visual guide for future recipe users.
“I pushed to have it ready for Christmas,” said Barré of her 130-recipe self-published cookbook “Food is Happiness,” initially planned as a gift for her daughters. “Everybody saw it and wanted it, and I ended up selling about 250 of them!”
Barré, an alumna of St. Mary’s Dominican High who grew up in Metairie, spent 30 years as a professional photographer, is a sixth-generation employee of Abry Brothers, the New Orleans construction and house-shoring business established by her family in 1840. When it came to selecting a few meatless recipes to share with the readers of Holy Smoke, Barré admitted she was in a dilemma.
“For us growing up, Fridays in Lent wasn’t (eating) seafood; it was peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese or crackers. We did the true sacrifice,” she said. “So I said, let’s play like it’s a Friday in Lent and we have to plan a fantastic meal for guests. What would we want to serve them? So, we started throwing out things that we liked.”
Barré’s meatless hits include a pasta salad of tricolored rotini, boiled shrimp, cubed cheeses, egg, artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes tossed with ranch dressing freshened with minced cucumber. She perks it up with her go-to seasoning mix – Boone’s Texas Shake – available online and a sweeter-than-Tony’s combo of sugar, cayenne, paprika and celery seed.
Barré also shared her husband’s coveted potato salad recipe, a dish that pairs well with ham sliders at Easter and shrimp salad on Lenten Fridays. Whenever Barré hosts or attends a crawfish boil, she takes an extra sack of potatoes to boil and take home with her to make this dish.
“Potatoes by themselves have no flavor. They’re like mushrooms – they soak up what you give them,” said Barré, who adds olives to her potato salad rather than pickles or relish. Although Barré favors Blue Plate mayonnaise, she has begun making her own mayonnaise from scratch.
“It’s so easy and tastes so much better because you have no preservatives,” she said.
Other meatless favorites include grilled or baked zucchini pizzas – a low-carb alternative that “tastes just like pizza and is fresh and healthy and wonderful!”; and shrimp and corn soup, ideally prepared with an easy-to-make shrimp stock that Barré freezes in one-cup portions for easy access.
“This soup is really, really hearty. It’s delicious!” she said. “Most people think of soup as a winter thing, but this is an awesome summer soup because we buy fresh corn and grill it.”
While not appropriate for meatless Fridays, Barré’s bacon, cheese and sausage stuffed jalapeños took first place in the “Taste of the NFL” cook-off held in Miami the week of Super Bowl 2010 – the year the Saints took home the Lombardi Trophy.
Other tips from the award winning cook:
ä Plan your meals. Barré and her family decide on the coming week’s meals at dinner on Friday; shop for the ingredients on Saturday; and chop the vegetables and place them in baggies on Sunday. “When you work full time, if you don’t plan your meals and you don’t have food available, it’s very easy to just pick up drive-through or eat popcorn,” Barré said.
ä Grow your own “living basil” in a pot rather than buying it from the store. Pinch the leaves above double nodes to spur regrowth, and if you have an extra stem that you’re not using, put it in a jar of water on the windowsill and pot it after it roots. “Fresh basil is just so different than dried basil because you actually get to eat the leaf,” Barré said.
ä Use the internet to source out new recipes. Barré simply types in a leftover food item she has on hand, along with the keyword “ingredient,” and numerous recipes will pop up. For example, when Barré realized she had a several croissants that were about to go stale, she discovered a bread pudding recipe that incorporated croissants. “Leftovers in my fridge always became something else,” she said.
For a selection of Barré’s recipes, pick up the March 24 issue of the Clarion Herald.