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The Sun Shines On Simple Brunches

Chef Sunny Anderson likes variety in her life. She served in the Air Force, became a hip-hop deejay, built a successful catering business and, starting Sunday, hosts "Cooking for Real," a series on the Food Network.

Anderson specializes in uncomplicated dishes with affordable, easy-to-find ingredients.

In accepting The Early Show's "Chef on a Shoestring" challenge, she made a brunch for four, on a budget that won't break the bank - $40.

Her menu: Wilted Romaine Salad with a Bacon Vinaigrette; French Toast with Caramelized Pecans; and Strawberries and Cream Frozen Fruit Smoothies made with Yogurt, Bananas, and Raspberries.

How did Anderson do with the $40 limit?

For the first course, she bought romaine lettuce, bacon and cider vinegar. For the second course, strawberries, heavy cream, cream cheese, a brioche, and pecans. For the third course, bananas, raspberries, milk, yogurt, orange juice and honey.

The grand total: $38.14!

FOOD FACTS

Romaine Lettuce: Unlike most lettuces, romaine is tolerant of heat and will stand up in many warm dishes. The thick ribs down the center of the leaf, especially on the older, outer leaves, should have a milky fluid that gives the romaine the typically fine-bitter herb taste. The interior leaves are paler in color, and more delicate in flavor.

French Toast: French toast originated as a way to use day-old or stale bread (some breads, and especially French bread, become stale after one day). Whereas a stale, crunchy bread might seem unappetizing, soaking the bread in eggs and frying it solved that problem. In France, Belgium, New Orleans, and several other places, a similar but distinctive food is called pain perdu, or "lost bread," since it's a way to reclaim stale, "lost" bread.

Brioche: Brioche is a highly-enriched French bread, whose high egg and butter content give it a rich and tender crumb. It has a dark, golden, and flaky crust from an egg wash applied before and after proofing. Brioche is so delicate, light and buttery that it's just one tiny step removed from being a pastry. Plain brioche bread is delicious on its own, toasted, or with loads of jam. But brioche dough also makes an ideal casing for all kinds of fillings, both savory and sweet.

RECIPES

Wilted Greens with Bacon Vinaigrette

4 hearts romaine, chopped
4 slices bacon
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup vinegar (Sunny prefers cider vinegar)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the chopped romaine in a serving bowl. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until it is crispy. Remove the bacon and crumble over the greens. In the same pan the bacon was cooked in, add sugar and vinegar, and simmer until sugar is dissolved, scraping up bacon bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper to taste. Pour hot dressing over greens and toss. Serve immediately.

French Toast with Caramelized Pecans, Strawberries and Cream

1 pound fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 (1 1/2-inch) thick slices stale brioche
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar

Special equipment: food processor

In a medium bowl, mix together strawberries and 1/2 cup of sugar. Set aside.

In a food processor, blend together the heavy cream, cream cheese and 1 tablespoon of sugar until thick and creamy.

In a baking dish, whisk together the eggs, milk, cinnamon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Next, place the bread slices in the baking dish and soak on each side until well coated and soaked through. In a large skillet or griddle over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Remove and drain the bread slices. Place on the skillet or griddle and cook until golden brown turning once, about 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat, add the pecans, brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir until sugar has melted and pecans are coated and sticky. Serve the French toast with dollop of cream, sticky pecans and strawberries.

Frozen Fruit Smoothies

2 frozen bananas, peeled and sliced
4 cups frozen Raspberries
2 cups milk
1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
4 tablespoons honey or to taste

Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.

You can substitute raspberries with other fruits like strawberries or cherries.