Fresh, healthy recipes that are distinctly Southern.
Southern Gena Knox’s way means fresh, healthful, distinctly Southern recipes, and food that gets the whole family to gather around the table. All of this is on full display in her newest cookbook, Southern My Way: Food & Family. Growing up in a tiny town with limited access to grocery stores and restaurants, Gena understands the importance of incorporating readily available ingredients, and has crafted a book with recipes that are as attainable as they are beautiful. These recipes remind us that when you start with a quality product, it doesn’t take a lot—be it time, money, or advanced technique—to make something exceptional. Gena knows from experience that these are the recipes that turn into family favorites and from family favorites to family traditions.
How is Southern My Way: Food & Family different from your first cookbook, Southern My Way: Simple Recipes, Fresh Flavors?
When I came out with the first book, I immediately thought that was it. With little ones and a book tour, I thought, well, I won’t be doing that again. But fast forward two years, and I have been overwhelmed by the success of the first book and how readers have responded to it. Everyone tells me it’s their go-to book because the recipes are easy and the ingredients can be found anywhere. People have really responded to my fresh, modern approach to Southern food. And that’s why I’ve decided to build a cookbook series around Southern My Way. The first book focused on fresh flavors, whereas this cookbook focuses on bringing families to the table and how traditions surround the food we eat. But both have approachable recipes with as much photography as we could fit in, as well as plenty of stories and recipe inspiration.
What is one dish you can’t imagine not being on your family’s holiday table?
Definitely my grandmother’s caramel cake. It’s a staple at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. It’s obviously not an everyday recipe to prepare. Making a good Southern caramel cake is quite a task. But it’s a holiday staple. And since both sides of my family are avid hunters, we have quail for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve supper every year.
What’s the best advice your mother gave you for preparing meals for your family?
It’s not so much advice she gave me, but what she showed me. She led by example. A home-cooked meal is something you take for granted when you’re younger, but we always had something delicious on the table, mainly because we didn’t have options for going out. There were no restaurants unless we drove 20 miles. My husband and I both grew up in families where the shared meal was very important.
Are your children picky eaters? If so, how do you get them to eat healthful and varied meals?
It depends on the day, but it’s impossible to always have your kids like what you fix for them. But I just keep trying. The other night I got home and decided to make homemade loaded potato soup with cheese and bacon. What kid’s not going to like that? And, of course, my almost 4-year-old and almost 2-year-old threw a fit over it. Huge breakdown. But what I’ve been doing lately is asking them for two polite bites. And sometimes, after the first bite, they decide they actually like it. And sometimes not, but I’ve learned that introducing my children to new foods, whether they eat them or not, is good. I’m always surprised as to what they end up liking.
What’s your family’s favorite dinnertime dish?
They’re just like other kids, and no matter all the fantastic ingredients I expose them to, their absolute favorite meal is macaroni and cheese. But I usually make it homemade. And nearly every day, I put out fresh bread, olive oil, and good cheese, and we’ll nibble on it throughout the night. My kids are just crazy for it. They love bread and olive oil after bath time. You never know what your kids will like. They may throw a fit over some potato soup, but beg for more goat cheese and olive oil!
Homemade recipes for pantry essentials pepper the pages of this book. How important is it to make your own staples like mayonnaise and pasta sauce?
It’s rewarding to make your own food. I don’t think it’s possible for all of us to do it all the time. But it makes me feel good when my son asks me where the crackers he’s eating are from and I can say, oh I made those. But since I work Monday through Friday, I like to enjoy my weekends, too. I don’t spend my entire Saturday cooking for the next week, but I try to use Sunday afternoons to get at least a few things made for the first part of the week when things are the most hectic.