The Neelys Get Playful With A $9 Mac 'N' Cheese The Neelys, who own Neely's Bar-B-Que in Memphis, Tenn., took NPR's "How Low Can You Go" family supper challenge and created a twist on mac 'n' cheese: cheesy corkscrews with a crunchy bacon topping. Both Pat and Gina Neely grew up in families that had to be economical, so they joked that the challenge would be no problem.
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The Neelys Get Playful With A $9 Mac 'N' Cheese

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The Neelys Get Playful With A $9 Mac 'N' Cheese

The Neelys Get Playful With A $9 Mac 'N' Cheese

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. And now it's time for the final installment of our "How Low Can You Go?" budget cooking challenge. It's where we ask chefs to make a meal for four on $10 or less.

Patrick and Gina Neely own Neely's Bar-B-Que in Memphis, Tennessee, and they're the hosts of the popular Food Network show called "Down Home with the Neelys."

(Soundbite of television program "Down Home with the Neelys")

Ms. GINA NEELY (Chef): Now, we're going to get started on our fried green beans.

Mr. PAT NEELY (Chef): Ooh, yes.

Ms. NEELY: So we're going to use one pound of green beans. We're going to have to use the whole thing. We can get started on these.

Mr. NEELY: And we're just cutting off the woody stems on each end.

Ms. NEELY: Right.

NORRIS: The Neelys are now culinary superstars. Their "Down Home with the Neelys" cookbook comes out next month. But before they hit the big time, Pat and Gina grew up in households where their families had to come up with all kinds of creative ways to stretch the grocery budget.

Mr. NEELY: We didn't have a lot of money, I think from Gina's family and mine, and we all played football, me and my brothers, and my mother cooked big, hearty meals. So it was always stews and spaghettis, and all types of casseroles, and all of these very economical dishes that were passed down from my grandmother to my mother. And now Gina and I are cooking them, and we're cooking them for our girls as well.

Ms. NEELY: And that's why we try to make big pots of stews and soups because those are dishes that you can make a big pot of. It doesn't matter who drops in, who comes over. There's always plenty to go around. And of course, it's very economical.

Mr. NEELY: So this challenge won't be any problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEELY: You can bank on us because…

Ms. NEELY: We got that. We got that.

Mr. NEELY: …we were doing this challenge long before you guys even started having it…

Ms. NEELY: Yeah.

Mr. NEELY: …because we grew up on those kind of dishes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: So, for our family food challenge - your show is called "Down Home with the Neelys," so it's not surprising that you chose something that is down home comfort food, macaroni and cheese.

Ms. NEELY: Michele?


Ms. NEELY: You sort of have to say it like, "Down Home with the Neelys."

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Oh, excuse me. Excuse me. I - I gave you the NPR version of that.

Ms. NEELY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

NORRIS: "Down Home with the Neelys."

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: I'm sorry. I didn't put my foot in it, is what you're telling me.

Ms. NEELY: Oh my God, you (unintelligible) the show.

Mr. NEELY: Oh, yeah. You watch the show.

Ms. NEELY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: So what you got for us?

Mr. NEELY: Well, we have a corkscrew…

Ms. NEELY: Corkscrew, yeah.

Mr. NEELY: …macaroni and cheese. And it is an incredible way of taking a simple macaroni and cheese recipe and adding your own spin to it. Honey, what do we put on it?

Ms. NEELY: Okay. First of all, let me just tell you, this dish is exactly $8.96. So, basically, you would take, instead of your elbow noodles, you would use a cavatappi noodle, which is sort of like a corkscrew, and this is sort of where you kind of help the cheese grasp a hold of the pasta. And it is just like making traditional macaroni and cheese, except you changed the noodle, and you also use sharp cheese, cheddar cheese.

I mean, you can also add a little Monterey if you want to kind of spend a little extra. That depends if you've got a coupon or whatever you can. (Soundbite of laughter)

But other than that, you can use the sharpened(ph) cheddar, make the macaroni and cheese the regular way, but the real fun here is to sort of give it a little difference, and I thought to kind of add a little crunch because everybody in our family gave us a macaroni and cheese recipe, but it just tastes too bland and too simple.

So we take kettle potato chips, which has more crunch, a little more texture to them. And then we top it off, because you know, we've got to always have a little pig in there, and you top it off with a little smoked bacon, and you have an amazing, fulfilling dish.

Mr. NEELY: You know, what's incredible about it is the fact that you've got some meat in there in your bacon. You've got the crunch from the chips and the saltiness from the chips, and so you've taken a basic macaroni and cheese and you know, it can be eaten as a side dish, or it can be eaten as the entrée…

Ms. NEELY: Right.

Mr. NEELY: …because it's a complete meal all in one, and it's very simple. Once you mix everything together, crunch the chips and the bacon on top, you slide that baby in the oven, and you know what? You are done until it comes out.

Ms. NEELY: Yeah. And pasta's very fulfilling. So that's really like a main entree.

NORRIS: So, and you have a little bit of extra cash. So you could spend that on some greens.

Ms. NEELY: Yeah, some greens. Exactly.

Mr. NEELY: Right. We'll get you a little salad, and then you're good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Patrick, Gina, thank you so much for joining in our challenge. All the best to you. Happy eating.

Ms. NEELY: Happy eating.

Mr. NEELY: Happy eating.

Mr. NEELY: Thank you.

Ms. NEELY: Thank you. Bye-bye.

Mr. NEELY: Bye-bye.

NORRIS: That's Patrick and Gina Neely. They're the hosts of "Down Home with the Neelys" on the Food Network, and they have a new cookbook coming out next month. It's called "Down Home with the Neelys: A Southern Family Cookbook." You can find their recipe for cheesy corkscrews at our Web site.

And to everyone who's taken part in our "How Low Can You Go?" supper challenge, thanks for sending in those budget meal recipes. We've had hundreds of suggestions. And it's not too late for you to submit your recipe for a meal for four that costs $10 or less. Just go to for the instructions. And in the coming weeks, we're going to chat on the air with some of the people behind those recipes.

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