World Chefs: Former radio DJ puts global spin on comfort food

NEW YORK, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Celebrity chef Sunny Anderson has put her travels in Europe and Asia to good use in her first cookbook, “Sunny’s Kitchen,” by combining unusual ingredients she discovered while living and working abroad with comfort food.

Anderson’s taste for global cuisine dates back to her childhood in Germany, where her father was posted with the U.S. Army for three years. She continued her travels after joining the U.S. Air Force as a broadcast journalist and radio disc jockey while stationed in Seoul, South Korea.

After leaving the military Anderson moved to New York City, opened a catering company, and landed a television cooking show, “Cooking for Real” on the Food Network.

The 38-year-old who was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, spoke to Reuters about her passion for food, adding personal stories to her recipes and tips to jazz up her dishes.

Q: What is the one thing that you want people to take away from the book?

A: That it’s easy. It’s simple. It’s not intimidating. The reason why I told a little personal story with every recipe is that every time you eat (you should) think about life and make it a moment.

Q: What are the most under-used ingredients in the home kitchen?

A: Any kind of soups and stock. There are a lot of recipes that call for water, which you use for flavor for making rice. When you have pasta that has tightened up after sitting in the fridge after two days, you could loosen it up with stock. Why use water? I think stock is everything. If you don’t have anything to marinate, you could marinade some chicken in chicken stock, which is made with vegetables and aromatics.

Q: How has your family inspired your love of food?

A: The kitchen was the heart of the house. I know it was my mom’s laboratory. When she is in the kitchen, you leave her alone so she could work her magic. Then all of a sudden she would say, ‘It’s time to eat.’ I heard that every night.

When we went out to eat, it wasn’t for mommy to take the night off, if was for her and daddy to try something new. For me, the kitchen is really important, mostly because it was the was the same everywhere we moved. When we moved it, it was the first thing we would unpack because it was the most important. Growing up and sitting at the dinner table, the conversation was usually about the food.

Q: Describe your career change from being a radio host to a television chef.

A: In a word, it was scary ... When I left radio, radio wasn’t done with me. I wanted to chase down this career in food, but I wasn’t getting jobs in food. I was getting offers from radio. It took a lot for me to say no. I did a lot of side jobs. I worked at a kennel. I worked in a loan company. I did those things because I knew they would make me totally uncomfortable. They would make me focus on what I really wanted to do.

Q: Based your own experiences, any career advice?

A: It’s a cliché but you have to be willing to do it for free. You are asking people to take a chance on you. You’ve got to show you believe in yourself.

Pumpkin Pecan Pie French Toast with Butterscotch Syrup

For the batter

4 eggs

½ cup whole milk

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

½ cup pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

For the coating

3 cups cornflakes (an American cereal), crushed

1½ cups finely chopped pecans

Kosher salt

For the French toast

8 slices stale Texas toast,

1½ inches thick

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for frying

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying

For the syrup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup butterscotch liqueur

¼ cup pecan liqueur

1 cup grade A maple syrup

Kosher salt

1. Make the batter. In a shallow dish, whisk together the eggs, milk, pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin puree and sugars.

2. Mix the coating. In another shallow dish, combine the cereal, pecans, and a pinch of salt.

3. Place the bread slices in the egg dish and soak on each side until well coated and soaked through, but not soggy. Immediately place the bread in the coating and press down on both sides and the edges to coat. Repeat with the remaining slices, place on a parchment-lined plate, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

4. Make the syrup. In a small pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the butterscotch and pecan liqueurs and bring to a simmer, then add the maple syrup and stir. Taste the syrup and season with a tiny pinch of salt. Keep warm over low heat.

5. Fry the bread. In a large skillet or griddle over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. Remove the bread slices from the refrigerator and cook until golden, turning once, 5 to 7 minutes per batch. Add 1 more tablespoon of butter and oil for each batch, if needed.

6. Serve. Serve warm with the butterscotch syrup. Refrigerate any remaining syrup in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Tip: If you want to make your own pumpkin pie spice blend, start with cinnamon, then add a little ground allspice, ginger, and nutmeg until you like your personal blend. (Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney)