Celebrate In Good Taste

By Vera Stewart
Photos by Brent Cline

Over my almost 40-year career, I have had to reinvent myself and my craft many times by creating “twists” that give recipes a new look or taste. Sometimes this even includes creating a new display for a familiar favorite.

As described in my latest cookbook, Occasions, everything starts with polished silver. I love to mix in crystal which gives a special refined elegance to any gathering. My suggestion, especially during this time of year, is to polish more silver than needed. If you display your silver, it will look particulary nice in your cabinet through December, and you may even find yourself using more pieces throughout the month. A good polish will last 30 days.

My holiday recipes and displays are reminiscent of my early catering days and the influence of my mother-in-law, Sue Stewart. A must-try is the Beau Monde Dip, as it is likely the best vegetable dip I’ve ever tasted. For something sweet, Mama’s Fudge is a family favorite! The recipe may seem intimidating, but it can be easily mastered.

Enjoy some of my favorite recipes this time of year and for all the occasions in your life!

Photo of Vera's Sea Island Shrimp by Brent Cline.

Sea Island Shrimp


In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, ice sculptures were the ultimate vessels for displaying foods at wedding receptions. One of our favorite appetizers to serve from an ice shell, this shrimp dish was always a guest favorite. 

Prep Time: 15–20 minutes
Chill Time: 12 hours
Serves: Approximately 12 to 14 as appetizers

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 (3.5 oz.) container capers, with juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. Tabasco® hot sauce
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 lbs. jumbo (21/25) peeled and cooked shrimp
1 1/2 medium sweet onions, cut in small wedges
2 large tomatoes, cored and cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 cup whole black olives, pitted
1 to 2 lemons, sliced

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, vinegar, capers, sugar, hot sauce and salt. Whisk until well combined. 
  2. In a large covered bowl, combine the shrimp, onion, tomatoes and black olives. Mix in the marinade and combine thoroughly. Place the lemon slices on top and cover the bowl with the lid or plastic wrap.  
  3. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours or until the shrimp has marinated and all the flavors are combined. 
  4. Serve, drained, over lettuce leaves with toothpicks.

TIP: When cooking the shrimp bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1/3 cup Old Bay® Seasoning and let boil for about 1 minute. Add shrimp in the shell and stir, turn off the heat, and put the lid on the pot. Let shrimp sit in the hot water for 1 to 2 minutes or until pink. Pour out into a colander and cover with ice.


Mama's fudge by Vera. Photo by Brent Cline.

Mama’s Fudge


Prep Time: 5 minutes 
Cook Time: 30 minutes 
Yield: Makes one 8×8-inch pan (approximately 64, 1-inch square servings)

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted Land O’ Lakes® butter
3 cups granulated sugar
1 (5 oz.) can evaporated milk 
Pinch kosher salt
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
3 Tbsp. light Karo® corn syrup
3 squares (3 oz.) semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with butter. Set aside. 
  2. Lightly brown the 1/2 cup of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium-low heat. 
  3. Add in the sugar, milk, salt, vinegar and Karo® syrup. Blend well to combine. 
  4. Cook over medium-low heat until it begins to boil. 
  5. Add in the melted chocolate; stir well. 
  6. Place the lid on the saucepan and let cook over low heat without stirring until it forms a soft ball in water. The temperature of the mixture should be between 235 F to 245 F when checked with a candy thermometer. The lid can be tilted to one side to allow for the thermometer. 
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and nuts. 
  8. Place the saucepan in a large bowl of cold water to cool. Beat until ready to spread into the buttered pan. The fudge is ready when it begins to thicken and the chocolate has lost its sheen. Work quickly. 
  9. Let cool and set completely before slicing. This is a rich  dessert, so small 1-inch squares are appropriate. 

Beau Monde Vegetable Dip and Sundried Tomato Dip photo by Brent Cline.

Beau Monde Vegetable Dip

The original name of this recipe is Cauliflower Dip; the original recipe card was actually printed in my first cookbook, The VeryVera Cookbook: Recipes from My Table (page 179). Beau Monde seasoning may be difficult to find in your local grocery store. If so, it is available to order online. This dip is great for vegetables or crackers of your choosing. 

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Chill Time: 2 hours
Yield: 2 cups

INGREDIENTS

1 cup sour cream
1 cup Hellmann’s® mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. dry onion soup mix
1 Tbsp. dill weed
1 Tbsp. Spice Islands® Beau Monde seasoning 

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the sour cream and mayonnaise. 
  2. Add in the seasonings and mix well. 
  3. Chill for at least 2 hours, or until ready to serve. Serve with cauliflower, squash, celery, carrots and/or cucumbers. 

Sundried Tomato Dip

This delicious dip has a touch of heat balanced by the texture and sweetness of the sundried tomatoes. It will last for up to one week when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It is a great addition to a charcuterie board. 

Prep Time: 10–15 minutes minutes
Yield: 2 cups

INGREDIENTS

8 oz. (1 block) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3/4 tsp.Tabasco® hot sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped, divided
2 green onions, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, puree the cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, Tabasco®, salt, pepper and most of the sundried tomatoes. Reserve a few of the tomatoes to mix in by hand.  
  2. Add in the green onions and pulse briefly until combined. 
  3. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in the remaining sundried tomatoes. 
  4. Serve with your favorite crackers or vegetables. Enjoy!

Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken Photographed by Brent Cline.

Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken

Using this recipe, you can choose to use boneless chicken breasts or you can brine and fry bone-in chicken pieces. If you’re looking for other ideas on how to use the nuggets, try making mini buttermilk biscuits (you can find a buttermilk biscuit recipe in The VeryVera Cookbook: Recipes From My Table onpage 36) and make mini chicken biscuit sandwiches for brunch!

Prep Time: 15 minutes (plus time for the chicken to brine overnight)
Chill Time: 15 minutes
Serves: Approximately 3 to 4

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup dill pickle juice
1 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
Peanut oil, for frying
1 large egg
1 1/4cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. confectioners’ sugar 
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, about 1-inch pieces. Add the chicken to a large resealable plastic bag and add in the dill pickle juice and 1/2 cup milk. Let the chicken brine in the milk mixture in the refrigerator overnight. 
  2. The next day, drain the chicken pieces. 
  3. Heat a large pot with the peanut oil (or use a fryer), about 2 inches. 
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup milk and the large egg. Add the marinated chicken and gently toss to coat, draining off the excess egg mixture if needed. 
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, confectioners’ sugar, garlic powder, kosher salt and pepper. 
  6. Remove the chicken from the milk mixture and add the chicken pieces into the flour mixture to coat evenly. 
  7. When the oil has reached 350 F, add a few nuggets at a time to the hot oil. Cook until the chicken is browned and crispy, about 3–4 minutes per nugget. Remove the cooked chicken nuggets from the hot oil using a slotted spoon and drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Check the chicken nuggets with a thermometer to make sure the thickest part of each nugget reads at least 165 F. Return any nuggets to the oil if they need to cook longer. Repeat with the remaining chicken nuggets. 
  8. If needed, place the chicken nuggets on a sheet pan to brown or keep warm in the oven. 
  9. Serve hot with condiments of your choice. 

Found in the November/December 2023 issue of Augusta magazine.

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