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Home grown & healthy
Cookbook author shares her secret for using local ingredients in traditional dishes
Simple adjustments turn a traditional Italian Caprese salad into a local dish by using Georgia-grown peaches and mint.

To kick flavors up a notch in the kitchen, cookbook author Gena Knox says that home chefs don't need a cupboard filled with fancy spices.

Instead, she says they should turn to their own gardens.

"When you use really fresh ingredients, it makes you look like a really good cook," said Knox,

"When you use produce that is at its peak, you don't have to do much to it. The natural flavors just pop."

The only thing that's better than using fresh produce in your dishes, is using fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs, Knox said.

This week, local cooks will get the opportunity to get recipe ideas straight from the source. Knox will be the featured speaker Thursday at the monthly WomenSource Brown Bag Lunch at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville. She will be sharing ideas with the group about how to prepare easy, flavorful and healthy meals.

"Growing up in Reynolds, we didn't think much about, ‘Oh, let's make sure we use local ingredients.' It's just what we did," Knox said.

"We were a small farming town (in middle Georgia) and if you weren't growing tomatoes, well your neighbor was. Over the last several years, people have really started to focus on buying locally, which I think is great.

"When you support local farmers, it's great for the local economy. And when you buy local, you know you are getting the freshest, most flavorful food possible."

Knox's thoughts aren't just a personal bias. According to the Farmer's Almanac, certain crops, especially sweet corn, loses some of its flavor the longer it sits idle after being harvested.

"When you use fresh ingredients, it turns out to be a healthier way to cook," Knox said.

Turning fresh ingredients into healthy and easy dinners is an issue that's close to her heart.

"I work a day job, but I still want to be able to come home and cook for my family, so naturally I try to stick to simple recipes because they are what work for my lifestyle," Knox said.

"I want to know what's in their food and I want them to be healthy. The meals are easy to prepare, but they're not being cheated on flavor."

Knox has shared some of her recipes in two cookbooks, "Southern My Way: Simple Recipes, Fresh Flavors" and "Gourmet Made Simple: A Fresh Approach to Flavor with Gena Knox."

In her books, Knox includes recipes for dishes like the "Georgia caprese salad with lime vinaigrette." The dish is a spin on the traditional Italian version. Knox replaces the usual tomatoes with peaches and the basil with mint.

"When it's made with fresh, local peaches, you can't top it," Knox said.

While some of her recipes are fresh approaches to classic dishes, others, like the sweet corn chowder, are very traditional.

"This soup transports me straight back to my childhood days, selling just-picked Silver Queen corn from my parents' farm," Knox said.

"It takes time to cut corn off the cob (for this recipe), but the sweet, juicy payoff is worth every minute."

"Simple, fresh recipes are what work for my lifestyle," Knox said.

"I believe in letting the natural flavors of food shine through, keeping recipes simple and using a few, fresh herbs to enhance flavor."