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

For NPR's "How Low Can You Go" family supper challenge, some of the nation's best cooks have each agreed to come up with a budget-conscious, delicious meal for a family of four. The hitch? The meal must cost less than $10 — and the cheaper the better.

Pat and Gina Neely own Neely's Bar-B-Que in Memphis, Tenn., and host the popular Food Network show called Down Home With The Neelys.

Now culinary superstars, the Neelys are also releasing their cookbook, Down Home with the Neelys: a Southern Family Cookbook in May.

But before they hit the big time, both 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.

"We didn't have a lot of money, from Gina's family and mine," Pat says. "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 'em, and we're cooking 'em for our girls as well."

Because the Neelys grew up having to think about money, Pat says the NPR challenge wouldn't "be any problem."

"You can bank on that," he says. "We were doing this challenge long before you guys even starting having it, because we grew up on those kind of dishes."

For the challenge, the Neelys chose to cook a twist on mac 'n' cheese called cheesy corkscrews with crunchy bacon topping — what they call "down-home comfort food."

"It is an incredible way of taking a simple mac 'n' cheese recipe and putting your own spin on it," Pat says.

By their calculations, the Neelys spent $8.96.

Pat says the dish, which he says is simple to make, can be eaten as a side dish or an entree.

Besides macaroni and cheese, another way to be economical, says Gina, is to make big pots of stews and soups.

"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," Gina says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.