Culinary expert Lucia Ferrara Bettler teaches an array of cooking classes based on holidays and cultural milestones, but one of her favorite presentations is on the food traditions of Mardi Gras.

“I love to talk about Louisiana cooking because my father is from New Orleans,” Bettler said. “When I give a talk on New Orleans cooking, it’s partly about my family’s history and the food they love to eat.”

Bettler, who will be in Galveston in April as a featured speaker at the Celebrating Women conference, also teaches a Leisure Learning cooking class focusing on dishes that keep the fat in Fat Tuesday.

“For Mardi Gras, I’m using recipes that are very rich,” she said, citing a menu of Crabmeat Lafitte, Shrimp Remoulade, Shrimp-stuffed Green Peppers and Bourbon Balls.

For centuries, the food eaten on Fat Tuesday was the epitome of indulgence, and the last chance to eat many foods that would be forsworn during the six weeks of Lent.

“Diets were very austere during Lent, even for those who had plenty of food,” Bettler said. “Those last few days leading up to Lent were a time to use up all the butter and cream before doing without for a while.”

Bettler said many of the food traditions of Mardi Gras actually predate Christianity and the observance of Lent.

“It hearkens back to the Romans and their Saturnalia celebrations,” Bettler said.

Like Mardi Gras, the Roman holiday featured masks, kings and queens chosen for the celebration period and a broader standard for public behavior.

“There’s a time for simplicity, and these indulgences can help people accept the knowledge that it’s time to cut back,” Bettler said.

That return to simplicity affects Bettler as well, as her presentation at the Celebrating Women conference at Moody Gardens will focus on the healing properties of herbs.

“I’ll be describing how we can do home remedies using herbs and essential oils to enhance your health,” Bettler said.

“There’s a weed, cleavers, growing in yards right now that you can pick, soak in vodka for three weeks and then use as a tonic or blood purifier.

“There’s also a plantain herb — not the banana — that is fabulous for making a tea for congestion.”

Bettler also will explain how to use herbs in aromatherapy.

“I have a certification in aromatherapy, but I don’t treat people,” she said.

“I prefer to teach them how to use the healing herbs themselves.”

Bettler’s appearance at the women’s conference is one of the components of a day packed with inspiration and information.

In addition to Bettler, the roster of speakers includes Aisha Tyler, host of “The Talk,” and luminaries from the medical and fashion worlds. Tyler, the author of two best-selling books, will present the keynote speech.

Jewelry designer Kendra Scott also is scheduled to speak, giving insights into her rapid rise from small-time sales to a multimillion dollar company.

The event also features a daylong expo and a post-conference after party.


Crabmeat Lafitte

SERVES: 4 appetizers

1⁄4 pound margarine OR butter

2 green onions, chopped

1⁄4 medium onion, chopped

1 pound lump crabmeat

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 ounces sherry

4 pieces toast, cut diagonally

1 dash paprika

1 cup Hollandaise Sauce

Prepare the Hollandaise Sauce and keep it warm.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and saute the green and white onions until limp. Add the crabmeat, salt and pepper and blend. Add the sherry and simmer.

Slice each piece of toast in half again diagonally twice. Place two pieces of toast on each plate.

Spoon the crab mixture on top and cover with the Hollandaise Sauce.

(SOURCE: Recipe from the Andrew Jackson Hotel, New Orleans)


Hollandaise Sauce

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

6 to 8 ounces very soft unsalted butter

1 dash cayenne pepper

Salt, to taste

Fresh ground white pepper, to taste

Place a bowl of cold water near the stove.

Whisk the yolks, water and lemon juice in the saucepan for a few moments, until thick and pale.

Set the pan over moderately low heat and continue to whisk at a reasonable speed, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan where the eggs tend to overcook.

To moderate the heat, frequently move the pan off the burner for a few seconds then back on.

If the eggs seem to be cooking too fast, set the pan in the bowl of cold water to cool the bottom, then continue.

As they cook, the eggs will become frothy, increase in volume and thicken. When you can see the pan bottom through the streaks of the whisk and the eggs are thick and smooth, remove them from the heat.

By spoonfuls, add the soft butter, whisking constantly to incorporate each addition. As the emulsion forms, you may add the butter in slightly larger amounts, always whisking until fully absorbed. Continue incorporating the butter until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you want.

Season lightly with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper, whisking in well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding droplets of lemon juice.


Bourbon Balls

MAKES: 36

1 cup pecans

2 cups vanilla wafer cookies, finely crushed

1⁄2 cup confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

11⁄2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1⁄4 cup bourbon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the oven rack in the center of the oven.

Put the pecans on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Let the pecans cool completely and then finely chop.

Process the vanilla wafer cookies in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the crumbs to the chopped pecans.

To this mixture, add the confectioners sugar and cocoa powder and stir until combined. Add the corn syrup and bourbon and mix well. Add more bourbon if necessary. Chill the batter and then shape into 1-inch balls.

Roll the bourbon balls in confectioners sugar, finely chopped nuts or cocoa powder. If dipping in chocolate, put about 3 ounces of chopped dark chocolate and 1 teaspoon of shortening or butter in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water.

Once melted, remove from heat and dip the balls, one at a time, in the melted chocolate, making sure the entire ball is coated with chocolate

With two spoons or a dipping fork, remove the bourbon balls from the melted chocolate, allowing any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl.

Place the chocolate-covered balls on a baking sheet. When all the balls have been dipped in the chocolate, place them in the refrigerator until the chocolate has set. Once the chocolate has hardened you can drizzle the bourbon balls with melted white chocolate.

The balls can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Serve at room temperature.

(SOURCE: Recipe from “The Joy of Baking,” by Stephanie Jaworski)


Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

MAKES: 8 servings

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1⁄4 cup flour

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

11⁄2 pounds cooked chicken breast, cut into 1-inch strips

1⁄2 pound Andouille sausage, cut 1⁄2-thick and browned

1 cup onions, chopped

1 cup carrots, chopped

1⁄4 cup celery, chopped

1⁄2 medium carrot, grated

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 stalks scallion, chopped

1 whole bay leaf

1⁄2 teaspoon thyme

1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons hot sauce

1 cup okra, sliced into 1⁄2-inch pieces

Add the oil to a large pot. Heat pot over a medium flame. Stir in the flour.

Cook, stirring constantly, until the flour begins to turn golden brown.

Slowly stir in all the broth using a wire whisk and cook for 2 minutes. The mixture should not be lumpy.

Add all of the ingredients except the okra. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Add the okra and let cook for 15 to 20 more minutes. Remove the bay leaf.

Serve hot in a bowl over rice.

(SOURCE: Recipe provided by the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland)

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