Bethenny Frankel: "Real Housewife," Chef

Bethenny Frankel has a taste for cooking AND the spotlight.

And the breakout star of the hit reality series, "Real Housewives of New York" is a bona-fide foodie.

Her latest cookbook is "The Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life."

And on The Early Show Saturday Edition," Frankel took on a new role - as our Chef on a Shoestring.

She accepted our challenge of preparing a three course, healthy, delicious meal for four on our paltry budget of $40.

Not only that - all our "shoestring" chefs are automatically entered in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition, in which the one with the lowest ingredients costs is invited back to whip up our special, year-end holiday feast.

Frankel's menu on Saturday included a simple arugula salad, pesto lasagna, and a chocolate cake so moist, some question whether it's as healthy as she claims! It has a peanut butter glaze.

The ever-outspoken Frankel has always had a passion for cooking and, according to her official Web site, "a knack for making healthy food taste delicious. That knack, which started out as a hobby and was enhanced with formal training, has elevated her to national prominence as a celebrated natural food chef."

"Early Show" recipes galore!

FOOD FACTS:

Arugula: Also known as Italian cress, rocket, rugula and rucola, arugula is a bitterish, aromatic salad green with a peppery mustard flavor. Though it has long been extremely popular with Italians, American palates often find its flavor too assertive. Arugula (which resembles radish leaves) can be found in specialty produce markets and in most supermarkets. It's sold in small bunches with roots attached. The leaves should be bright green and fresh looking. Arugula is very perishable and should be tightly wrapped in a plastic bag and refrigerated for no more than 2 days. Its leaves hold a tremendous amount of grit and must be thoroughly washed just before serving. Arugula makes a lively addition to salads, soups and sautéed vegetable dishes. It's a rich source of iron as well as vitamins A & C. (Source: Food Lover's Companion)

Pesto: Italian for "pounded," pesto is an uncooked sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan or pecorino cheese and olive oil. The ingredients can either be crushed with mortar and pestle or finely chopped with a food processor. This classic, fresh-tasting sauce originated in Genoa, Italy, and although used on a variety of dishes, it is a favorite with pasta. Now there are "pestos" made from a myriad of other ingredients from cilantro to mint. (Source: Food Lover's Companion)

Lasagna: A wide, flat noodle, sometimes with ruffled edges. Lasagna is a dish made by layering boiled lasagna noodles with various cheeses (usually including mozzarella) with the cook's choice of sauce, the most common being tomato, meat of béchamel. This dish is then baked until bubbly and golden brown. (Source: Food Lover's Companion)

Oat Flour: Made from grouts that have been ground into powder. It contains no gluten, however, so - for baked goods that need to rise, like yeast breads - must be combined with a flour that does. (Source: Food Lover's Companion)

RECIPES

Arugula Salad with Simple Dressing

I think this easy, colorful salad is the world's perfect dish. Because the arugula is so flavorful, it only needs a simple dressing. I love arugula, but use any leafy green you love. Always lightly salt your salad greens.

Serves 2 as an entrée, 4 as a side salad

INGREDIENTS:
6 cups arugula (I like baby arugula for this salad)
1 ear raw corn kernels (yes, raw-you will become addicted to the sweet flavor)
1 avocado, halved, pitted, scored into cubes, and removed with a spoon
2/3 cup pear tomatoes cut in half (or use cherry or grape tomatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil cut in thin strips, for garnish

METHOD:
Arrange the arugula on a platter. Sprinkle the corn on top, then arrange the avocado pieces and tomatoes over the corn. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle the Simple Dressing (see following recipe) over the salad. Garnish with basil.

Simple Dressing

This recipe looks too simple, but trust this dressing. Some of the best things are amazingly simple. The first time I dressed a salad with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, it was a revelation.

INGREDIENTS:
Juice from 1 small lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:
Whisk all of the ingredients together in a bowl and taste. If the dressing is too puckery for you, add a drizzle of honey.

Pesto Vegetarian Lasagna

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:
8 ounces whole-wheat lasagna noodles
1/3 cup packaged pesto
15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
4 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup toasted pine nuts (toast gently in a dry skillet until golden)

METHOD:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions (or use no-boil noodles). Set aside.
2. In a bowl combine the ricotta, basil, and pine nuts. Set aside.
3. Spray an 11 1/2 X 3 7-inch baking pan with cooking spray (or any other pan that fits the lasagna noodles you have- this was the size that my recipe tester used). Spread one-third of the pesto in the bottom of the pan. Cover with half the noodles. Spread half the herb-ricotta mixture over the noodles. Repeat with another one-third of the pesto, the remaining noodles, the remaining herb-ricotta mixture, then cover the whole thing with the remaining pesto. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until heated through and bubbling. Let sit for about 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

For Bethenny's scrumptious chocolate cake recipe, head for Page 2.

How-Is-This-So-Moist Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Glaze

When I first made this recipe, my fiancé and I stared at each other for days afterward, marveling at how moist and delicious this cake was. We couldn't believe it. I even accused him of dumping a stick of butter into the batter when I was in the bathroom. I kept looking at the recipe trying to figure out what made it so moist. It really is the dessert mystery of all time, as far as I'm concerned.

This recipe is wheat-free, vegan, and easy. I make this cake in a loaf pan so that each slice has just a little bit of the delicious peanut butter glaze, but you could also make it in a round or square cake pan or a release pan, or you could make cupcakes. Just be sure to use plenty of cooking spray and parchment paper. Make this recipe for any special occasion or just because you want chocolate cake.

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/4 cups oat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raw sugar
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (the darker and higher quality, the better)
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

METHOD:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir until combined.
2. Pour the batter into a loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through the baking time. When a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, it's done. However, I like my cake a little bit underdone and gooey. If some moist crumbs cling to your toothpick, you can consider that done.
3. Let the cake cool completely, and then top with Peanut Butter Glaze (recipe follows). Slice and serve.

Peanut Butter Glaze

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup raw sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
2 tablespoons soy milk
2 tablespoons creamy 100% peanut butter (the natural kind, no added sugar)

METHOD:
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix with a hand blender until the sugar crystals are dissolved. If they aren't dissolving, you can gently heat the mixture until they do (heat on low on the stove or on 50 percent power in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds). Spread the glaze on the cake.

So, how did Bethenny fare in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition?

She made it onto our leader's board!

Arugula Salad
arugula $2.98
corn kernels $.66
avocado $1.00
tomatoes $1.99
basil $1.50
lemon $.40
total $8.53

Lasagna
lasagna noodles $2.69
ricotta $3.49
pine nuts $3.18
pesto $3.99
mozzarella $2.49
total $15.84

Chocolate Cake
oat flour $2.96
cocoa powder $4.69
apple cider vinegar $.89
soy milk $1.49
peanut butter $3.29
total $13.32

Our leaders board:

1. Kelly Liken $37.20
Restaurant Kelly Liken

2. Stephen Kalt $37.40
Fornelletto

3. Bethenny Frankel $37.69
"The Skinnygirl Dish"