Cookbook author Gena Knox grew up on farmland near Reynold, Ga. Chores were part of her daily life. She sold peaches and peanuts in town and prepped vegetables and fruit for her family's meals.
Grandmother and mother made sure Knox was never bored.
Knox became acutely aware of where dinner came from and it wasn't a menu.
Her childhood shaped her attitude about food and created her strong desire to eat locally grown produce.
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Knox will share that food philosophy at a cooking demonstration on April 24 for The Pastoral Institute auxiliary's Women Helping Women Luncheon. She'll prepare recipes from her new cookbook "Southern My Way: Simple Recipes, Fresh Flavors."
Tickets for the luncheon at the RiverMill Event Centre cost $35 per person or $300 for a table of eight. Proceeds go to the Samaritan Fund which helps provide counseling to women and children who otherwise couldn't afford it.
Knox, now an Athens resident, is excited to share her Southern recipes with Columbus women. She enjoys taking traditional Southern ingredients and making healthy versions of classically Southern meals.
"There are so many stories and traditions behind Southern foods," Knox said.
She wants to help people honor their family traditions and be healthy.
"As we learn more about health, we need to enjoy some of these great Southern dishes in a new way. Take out the cream of mushroom soup and make a fresh corn and lima bean casserole. I like to take the foods I grew up with and freshen and lighten them up a little bit," she said.
She advocates moderation.
"Some desserts are just not going to be good without butter," she said.
One simple way people can create more flavorful meals is to use the fresh ingredients when they're in season.
"In April, eat strawberries. They will be delicious," she said.
The mother of a 2-year-old boy and a 3-month-old girl encourages families to sit down together for dinner at home as often as possible, but she knows it's challenging.
"Try simple things. Sweet potatoes with a little maple syrup and olive oil. Avoid poor quality deli meats. Avoid fastfood. I've made a goal for myself recently to only eat out twice a week. When you eat at home you really save money and you know what goes into your food," she said.
Busy moms need to be less tough on themselves, she said.
"It is hard. If you can set a monthly goal or set small steps to buy more quality meats, you're doing great."
Staying within your family's budget is also important.
"You don't need to buy organic everything. Look for organic strawberries and things that will absorb pesticides. Skip organic bananas, the peels protect them," she said.
Moms with picky eaters need patience.
"Every kid is different. My 2-year-old is picky. He would prefer pizza everyday... One week, he loves sweet potatoes and the next he doesn't. Don't get discouraged. There will be things they don't like," she said.
For those nights she just can't win, she heats up Amy's organic pizzas. Sometimes, she sneaks vegetables into mashed potatoes and purees zucchini with chicken broth to use a sauce.
"With kids, it's about exposing them to new flavors. If they don't like something, wait a couple weeks and try again," she said.
She enjoys working with her son in the vegetable garden and showing him how to do simple kitchen tasks. As he grows, she plans to teach him how to cook and create simple meals for himself. She sees a lot of lemonade stands in his future.
"It's really important to get the kids to help you in the kitchen. They can help set the table at age 5. Involve them," she said.
Learn more about Knox including her favorite and least favorite foods and the kitchen gear she can't live without at Dawn's Dish blog.
Here are a few recipes from her cookbook.
Shrimp Burgers with homemade tartar sauce
These decadent burgers, found at seafood dives along the coast, are the South's version of the Maryland crab cake. Don't forget the homemade tartar sauce--it's a must.
PREP TIME: 25 minutes, plus chill time
COOK TIME: 8 minutes
YIELDS: 4 servings
1 ½ pounds fresh shrimp, peeled
¼ cup finely chopped celery
3 tablespoons light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Zest of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 whole-wheat burger buns
Lettuce and sliced tomatoes
Tartar Sauce (see below)
FIRST: In a food processor, pulse shrimp until half is coarsely chopped and half is finely minced, about 8 or 9 quick pulses. Set shrimp aside.
NEXT: Combine celery, mayonnaise, green onion, parsley, mustard, zest, and seasonings in a large bowl. Fold in shrimp until combined. Add bread crumbs to mixture and gently stir until well incorporated. Form mixture into 4 equal-size patties and place in a small baking pan lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
LAST: In a medium skillet, preferably cast iron, heat oil over medium heat. Cook burgers for about 3 to 4 minutes per side until nicely browned, flipping only once. Serve on whole-wheat buns with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce.
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
YIELDS: generous ½ cup
½ cup light mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
2 teaspoons capers, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
Tabasco to taste
FIRST: Combine all ingredients. Serve with shrimp burgers, crab cakes, or fried vegetables such as zucchini.
Key Lime Parfaits
Key lime pie goes hand in hand with hot summer nights. I love serving this individual version when I entertain; they're so sweet that a few bites are all you need.
PREP TIME: 25 minutes plus chill time
COOK TIME: 6 minutes
YIELDS: 6 servings
½ cup graham cracker crumbs
1 ½ tablespoons melted butter
4 egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup Key lime juice (about 8 to 10 Key limes)
4 egg whites
Pinch cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
Special equipment: 6 (5-ounce) ramekins
FIRST: Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine cracker crumbs and butter in a small bowl. Divide evenly among ramekins and press into bottom of each. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and gradually add condensed milk, whisking until mixture is smooth. Stir in lime juiceand divide mixture evenly among ramekins.
NEXT: Using a stand mixer or handheld mixer, whip egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and whip until stiff peaks form. Spoon meringue onto each parfait, mounding on top.
LAST: Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5 to 6 minutes, until meringue begins to brown. Once cool enough to handle, refrigerate, uncovered, for 3 hours or until set.
Note: You can make this recipe even speedier by spreading lime curd into a pre-baked graham cracker pie crust. Fresh Key limes can sometimes be hard to come by, but bottles of Key lime juice are available in most supermarkets.
Georgia Caprese Salad with lime vinaigrette
This Southern spin on an Italian classic screams summer. When it's made with fresh, local peaches, you can't top it.
PREP TIME 15 minutes
YIELDS 4 servings
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 (4-ounce) balls fresh, water-packed mozzarella
4 ripe peaches, unpeeled, each cut into 8 wedges
½ cup fresh basil leaves
FIRST: To prepare dressing, combine lime juice, zest, vinegar, water, honey, and salt. Slowly whisk in olive oil and set aside.
NEXT: Cut cheese into 1-inch pieces and gently toss with peaches and basil leaves.
LAST: Whisk mint into dressing and toss about 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) with salad.
Season with freshly cracked pepper and serve.
Note: For a greener salad, toss with baby arugula or spinach.