Down Home with the Neelys with Pat and Gina Neely
Expandable Pants (Pat's Three Brothers Drop By For Dinner)
Grilled New York Strip Steak with Beer and Molasses Steak Sauce
Frozen Lemonade Pie
Green Beans with Ham Hock and New Potatoes
How about, instead of being worried about the over-exuberant loveydoviness exhibited by the Neelys, we worry about what's going on in their arteries? It is true that the more we pretend to want to cook and eat low calorie healthier food, the larger we are getting as a nation. So why not just throw caution to the wind and eat with absolutely NO CONCERN whatsoever to nutrition, like the Neely’s?
And why am I pointing this out with them and not my precious Ina, for example? I suppose because, with Ina's recipes, I automatically leave out or cut down the salt. I halve the cream. I substitute olive oil for a lot of the butter and, most importantly, I cut the portion size.
With the Neelys, there really is no recipe left after you've removed the sugar and the fat AND the artificial ingredients, so it would be a challenge to adapt them. A robust, full flavored i.e. fat-laden, absolutely yummy, dish every once in awhile is fine. But it has to be worth it! See if you think these are.
They start with Mama’s Lasagna. Pat chops an onion and garlic and sautés them in a stock pot with olive oil. Gina gets the filling ready. She mixes 2 cups of cottage cheese (or use ricotta, she says) with 2 eggs and a teaspoon of seasoning salt, which is their special mix of paprika, garlic powder and onion powder (both of which I use ONLY in Cajun blackened recipes). Oh, there’s regular salt and pepper too. Gina grates ½ cup of Parmesan cheese on a nifty grater that catches the cheese as it’s grated.
Pat browns 1 pound of ground beef in a stock pot. Curious choice of pot, by the way. That’s why I love a huge sauté pan for stews, chili, sauces and even soup. It guarantees you can BROWN meat properly, without it steaming. The high sides of a stock pot almost ensure that steam will gather up the sides of the pot and wash down on the meat. Brown in a sauté pan or skillet and then, if you have to, transfer the ingredients to a larger pot.
Gina, AKA the spice fairy, adds pepper and spices to the beef. They sure do have fun together. If these are the antics in the kitchen, I don’t even want to think about what’s going on upstairs. Pat chops the parsley. HE’S the parsley fairy. He adds tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste to the meat.
Gina starts the crust for the lemonade pie. She mixes 7 tablespoon of melted butter with ¼ cup sugar and 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from a box… because she’s a working mother.) That goes into a pie plate. She takes the back of a measuring cup and presses the crumbs in the pie dish (just like Ina). She bakes it at 350°F for 7 minutes.
Gina tells us that Mother Neely bakes all the sweets for the restaurant, but Gina says SHE (Gina) is the sweetest. Uh-oh, are you supposed to say that about your M-I-L? Gina takes out the crust and lets it cool. I hope Mother Neely cools down as easily.
Pat sprays the lasagna pan. Gina puts the sauce in the bottom and Pat lays over unbaked noodles. (My spell check changed that sentence to Pat LIES over unbaked noodles…I’m sure Gina would like that!) They add half the fillings plus half an 8 ounce bag of cheddar cheese and half an 8 ounce bag of mozzarella. Pat adds more sauce and adds another layer of noodles and the rest of the filling goes over with the remainder of cheese. He puts it in a 375°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes WITHOUT covering it, a method I always employ.
The next recipe of green beans and ham hocks makes Gina remember her own small apartment with her grandma. (Great great grandma? I’m a little confused.) She and Pat deal with the ends of the green beans. He breaks them off, she cuts them. They go into a pot with the ham hocks that have been cooking for awhile and HALF A CUP OF SUGAR! They simmer for 20 minutes. I’m guessing the green beans will be done by then…no longer green, but done. “Look how they tender they look.” That’s one way of describing them.
They add potatoes and salt and pepper. (Pat’s the spice fairy now.) They cook for 20 more minutes covered. FYI – that would be a total of FORTY minutes for the green beans. Note that the potatoes are cooking for half the time of the beans.
They’re making a New York strip steak for the brothers. For a good steak, they tell us you should always make your own steak sauce. (I’m not sure they should bother, since Pat likes his steak well done and Gina likes her medium.)
Pat chops and Gina sautés 1 chopped onion with garlic. They mix together 2 cups of ketchup, beer, sugar (of course), lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, cayenne, paprika and apple cider. I wonder if they meant apple cider vinegar…I guess not. Gina sprays a measuring cup with Pam before measuring molasses. Smart. She adds that too. The sauce gets stirred into the onion. Pat fairies it up…you know, adds the seasonings. They cook it for 30 minutes over medium low heat and reduce it to 2 cups.
Pat rubs the steaks down with vegetable oil, then salts them. Gina dances over to spice up the steaks. He puts them on a medium grill. Luckily, the recipe tells us to cook NY Strip steak for 3 minutes per side for medium rare and not the well done that Pat prefers.
Gina starts on Mama Neelys Lemonade Pie. I like the sound of that. It sounds really refreshing. I hope the boxed graham cracker crumbs don’t portend something fake and artificial. She stirs in 6 oz defrosted lemonade (that’s ok, I make a wicked Brandy Sour with frozen lemonade) and 14 oz sweetened condensed milk. I’m still with her. A lot of Southern desserts depend on that.
Uh-oh, she takes a 12 ounce container of Cool Whip and stirs that in. I was kinda afraid the dessert would degenerate into that. Oh wait, but it’s ok (NOT!) because “to make it taste more homemade”, Gina’s adding freshly grated lemon zest. She says “we’re going to put this in my FRESH graham cracker pie shell…Nothing store bought here.” Uh, Gina you just made a pie that featured Cool Whip. She piles the whole thing into the prepared crust. It goes into the freezer for 2 hours.
If you’re reading this blog, I probably don’t have to tell you what’s wrong with Cool Whip…not that I ever let that stop me before.
I’m not saying that there’s not a deep, dark side to all of us that could eat a tub of Cool Whip in one sitting and be perfectly satisfied.
BUT, NUMBER ONE, I would never admit to it and NUMBER TWO when you have a cooking show on THE FOOD NETWORK, you shouldn’t be using Cool Whip. Gina, I promise you, your great grandmother didn’t use Cool Whip. I’d like to know what she used back in the day.
The beans are done…well, actually the beans were done many, MANY minutes ago. They look like limp grey versions of their former selves.
The brothers arrive. There are lots of them. 4 in total, counting Pat. Apparently, dinner isn’t being served in the dining room. The food is all on the counter and they dig in. While they’re still actively engaged in their steak dinners, Gina brings out the pie. She puts candied lemon peel (that looks about 3 years old) on top. After a lot of joking from his brothers, Gina says Pat’s not a Mama’s boy. One of the brothers says “Oh, yes he is. He’s just got 2 mamas!”.
What are we going to do with the Neelys? I like them, but I wouldn’t use their recipes. I don’t want to be harsh, because I like the fact that they cook together (which is SO foreign to me). I like their kitchen, I like their family values, but adding ½ cup of sugar to green beans and then cooking them for three quarters of an hour? There’s no way I would do that. You?