Being a Chef / Being a “Food Assembler”

One of the things I hear most often from my clients and students is how difficult it is to create healthy meals quickly when time is limited and cooking skills are minimal.  I am happy to say that one does not have to be a chef to create healthy and delicious meals – it is simply a matter of “mindful assembly” of handy ingredients.  For example:  Here is a picture of my son, Joseph John Ciotola, MD (Orthopedic Surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD) who enjoys being an amateur chef in what little spare time he has between his patients and his two children.  The photo below illustrates his chef skills including the recipe for a delicious cake which he made and served at a family gathering.

Prune cake with Armagnac and walnuts

Recipe from Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

Serves 12

1 packed cup/250 g pitted prunes, quartered

½ cup/120 ml Armagnac (or brandy)

Finely grated zest of 1 orange (1 ½ tsp)

2 ½ cups/300 g all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ cup plus 2 tbsp/200 g unsalted butter at room temperature plus extra for greasing

1 cup/200 g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 cup/230 g crème fraiche, removed from the fridge 30 minutes before needed

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting


(The Bracketed weights are for the 9-inch/23-CM round springform pan; the salt remains the same in both)
¼ packed cup/40 g light brown sugar (or ½ packed cup plus 1 tbsp/60 g)
2 tsp ground cinnamon (or 1 tbsp)
½ cup/40 g walnut halves (or ½ cup/60 g), roughly chopped into 1/4 –inch/0.5-cm pieces
½ tsp salt
  1. Place the prunes in a bowl with the Armagnac (or brandy) and orange zest. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature overnight to soak, stirring a few times.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Grease and flour a 9-inch/23-cm Bundt or 9-inch/23-cm round springform pan and set aside.
  3. To make the crumble, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, walnuts and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a bowl and set aside
  5. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Turn the speed to low and add the flour mixture alternately with the crème fraiche, beginning and ending with the flour mixture to stabilize the mixture and prevent it from curdling. Remove the bowl from the machine and, using a rubber spatula, fold in the soaked prunes along with their syrupy alcohol.
  6. Spoon half of the cake batter into the pan and sprinkle over the nut crumble. Follow this with the remaining batter. Bake for 50-55 minutes for the Bundt pan, or 60-65 minutes for the springform pan, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes in the pan. If using a Bundt pan, invert it onto a cake plate, or simply lift it out of the springform pan onto a plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if serving warm, or set aside to come to room temperature before dusting and serving.

Recipe from Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh