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This husband-and-wife duo cooks with love

Posted at | Updated as of 08/01/12 7:45 PM

Gina and Pat Neely star in their own cooking show "Down Home with the Neelys," which feature barbecue and other comfort dishes. Photo: Handout

MANILA, Philippines – There is no love more sincere than the love of food, as the old saying goes. And there is no better example of this than husband-and-wife duo Pat and Gina Neely, who believe that a good meal is made with a happy heart.

Once high school sweethearts, Pat and Gina now have two children, a successful barbecue restaurant, a couple of cookbooks and a hit television show on the US cable channel Food Network titled “Down Home with the Neelys.”

The two believe that cooking is not just about following a set of procedures, saying that it is a great way to express your feelings and connect with others.

“[Love] plays a huge role on how the food will taste,” said Pat, who learned the art of barbecue and Southern slow cooking from his uncle at age 15.

Gina, who manages the catering division of their restaurant Neely’s Bar-B-Que, for her part said: “You eat a good meal and it sorts of gives you a great feeling.”

Pat and Gina are currently in the Philippines to promote the fourth season of “Down Home With the Neelys,” which premieres next week.

They spoke to ABS-CBNnews.com about the appeal of Southern-style comfort food such as barbecue, chowder and chili.

What can viewers in the Philippines expect from your show?

Pat: I think what’ll get them pleasantly surprised is not that we put ordinary United States southern comfort dishes, but the fact that we’re an ordinary family that loves to entertain guests over at our house, and that the true foundation of our lives is food.

Gina: Food, family and fun. That’s what they should watch out for.

What are some of your memories of food growing up?

Gina: My grandmother having a Sunday dinner over at our family. You really cannot miss Sunday dinner at our house. That was, like, a huge tradition, and that’s what we try to do with our girls. It’s nice to know that the tradition carried on.

What inspires your cooking?

Gina: Love, and just how different ingredients affect you, and how food warms the soul. You eat a good meal and it sorts of give you a great feeling.

Pat: You can tell a good meal when someone serves it to you while they cook it with a smile on their face, with love in their heart. This plays a huge role on how the food will taste.

For us, nothing is more rewarding than to cook a good meal for our daughters or for guests who come over. They say ‘oh it was absolutely delicious.’ It just warms your heart.

Pat and Gina's angel food cake and berry trifle is a sweet way to cap off a meal. Photo: Handout

What is your view on the current dining scene?

Gina: I think people eat out less often, that they want to go back to the basics and cook at home. I think people are trying to experiment at home, doing things together. That’s also making a difference on family values, people are spending more time with each other.

How do you explain the appeal of Southern comfort food?

Pat: I think it’s one of the most delicious and creative cuisines that you can have. So much from the south is homegrown, meaning it comes straight out of the ground. In our neighborhood, we literally see cows and pigs and other animals. So it’s really fresh. I think it’s savory and it warms the heart and soul. There’s nothing like a great warm pot of chili or stew or corn chowder.

Our food is nothing complicated and what people learn to appreciate is that they can use the ingredients that they have in their cupboard. You don’t have to go out and say ‘what type of seasoning is that?’ Or ‘let me write that seasoning down, I’ve got to shop at a specialty store.’

Gina: Exactly. It’s very approachable.

What’s your favorite ingredient to work with?

Pat: Unfortunately, mine is kosher salt (laughs). But I cook with salt in layers now as opposed to just applying some salt to my meat, to my protein, my food after it’s cooked. So if you boil the water, you add salt. Then as you add the vegetables you add a little more salt. When you cook like that, it dissolves and it has less of an unhealthy impact.

What’s your favorite comfort food?

Pat: Mine would have to be chili or stew. Or a pork chop soup.

Gina: Give me some devil’s food cake any day. I have a sweet tooth, although it’s not always good for us.

What is the sexiest dish that you can prepare for each other?

Gina: Pat is such a meat and potatoes man so probably like a good steak and potatoes would work.

Pat: We have a dish in here (points to cookbook) that I really like to prepare for Gina. It’s in the Valentine’s chapter and it’s a sexy seafood pasta. There’s shrimp and mussels in it, the red sauce and the noodles. It’s just a sexy dish.

But I also like to do some fish because she loves seafood.

RECIPE: SHRIMP ETOUFEE (SERVES 6)

Pat and Gina's shrimp etoufee is a heartwarming dish. Photo: Handout

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed, and chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • Big dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Big dash of hot sauce
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooked long grain rice, for serving

Procedure:

Add the oil to a large heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, sprinkle in the flour. Cook the roux, while stirring, until it’s the shade of peanut butter. This should take about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic and thyme. Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in paprika, cayenne and white pepper, and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Whisk in the clam juice, stock, fire roasted tomatoes, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to boil, reduce to a low simmer, and cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring on occasion.

After 30 minutes of simmering, give the broth a taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper or hot sauce, if needed. Stir in the shrimp, lower the heat, and cook for 5 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through and bright pink. Stir in the chopped green onions before serving.

Serve in a bowl with a mound of white rice in the center.

“Down Home with the Neelys” season 4 premieres on Tuesday, August 7 at 8 p.m. on Food Network Asia aired over Cignal Digital TV (HD Channel 102). New episodes are aired every Tuesday.