Friday, February 23, 2007

Pantry Raid

I believe in a well-stocked pantry, full of both staples and exotic items. And I consider my refrigerator, freezer, and spice rack to be part of the "pantry" as well. With a wide assortment of ingredients on hand, it's easy to put tasty and interesting meals together.

Some people consider Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to be a staple, along with canned corn and boxes of Lean Cuisine. I suppose that's fine for people who neither like to cook or to eat, but I'm not a fan of either. I do not advocate the lazy, "semi-homemade" style of mealmaking, using canned cream soups, canned chicken meat, artifical whipped topping, and instant rice. It's not difficult or time-consuming to make a proper bechamel, or to make a cream soup using actual cream. However, I am not above utilizing the convenience of rotisserie chickens, canned Thai red curry paste, and refrigerated tortillas rather than taking the far more-involved effort to make them at home.

I have a small galley kitchen with little storage space. When we moved in, there was no pantry to speak of. We bought a pine cabinet, about 6' high, 3' wide, and 15" deep, a perfect fit for the wall in our kitchen between the basement door and a cut-in corner, and use that for our dry goods. The shelves are always bulging with ingredients: boxes of tea; bottles of sauces; dried grains, fruits and nuts; boxes of stock; an assortment of curry pastes, coconut milk, and chutneys; bottles of various oils and vinegars. We fill it through trips to the local supermarket, plus visits to Asian markets and gourmet shops. On any given night, we can whip up some home-made soup, a nice pasta dish, or something more exotic, with what we have on hand.

Here are items I consider some of the most indespensible for my pantry.

This is pretty much a given, no? We always have a big bottle of extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings and to drizzle over pasta, but there's also a bottle of light olive oil for cooking. For instances when we want something less-flavorful with a higher smoke point, we also keep a small bottle of something neutral, like canola, on hand. Once in a while we buy a flavored oil and particularly like Golden Whisk Star of Siam Thai oil, deeply flavored with chiles and lemongrass. Truffle oil is nice to have around as well, but it goes rancid faster than we can use it.

Tomato Paste
My mom always bought Contadina brand, but I've found most brands to be uniformly good. I just make sure to buy plain tomato paste, not one flavored with garlic or basil or other herbs as the added elements tend to be bitter and somewhat overwhelming. Less versatile as well. Tomato paste can be put to work in sauces, marinades, dressings, and soups, and works as both a flavor agent and thickener.

I like to keep several different types of vinegar on hand. Not only are they good for making salad dressing, they are flavor enhancers for a wide variety of foods.

A splash of Balsamic vinegar can be added to a pasta sauce to brighten the taste. For instance, my friend Kate and I made an eggplant sauce from a cookbook by a certain un-favorite tv personality of mine. It was, of course, quite tasteless, but with a generous splash of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar, the sauce became a Sicilian-style sweet and sour delight. "Yum-O" indeed.

In addition to the balsamic, I also like to have a bottle of rice wine vinegar around; it's an essential ingredient in dipping sauces and Asian noodle dishes and gets used more often than balsamic. There are also funky fancy vinegars in my pantry right now, including Golden Whisk Smoky Lapsang Souchang and Earl Grey tea vinegars, tomato vinegar, Chinese black vinegar, sherry vinegar, honey vinegar, strawberry vinegar, plus good old white and apple cider vinegars.

Peanut Butter
Hey, we like Jif, but it's ok if you would prefer to keep some natural style peanut butter in your pantry. Personally, I don't like having to stir in the oil, the gummy texture, or the fact that it gets rancid after a time. Give me chemicals, sugar, and stabilizers! Jif has good peanut flavor and its smooth texture blends well in sauces. Not only do we enjoy a schmear of it on toast in the morning, we also use it for Asian noodle dishes and for peanut soup. (Yes, I said Peanut Soup.)

Essential for baking (and for chocoholics), chocolate and cocoa products have a prized spot in my pantry. The Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa pictured makes some mighty fine brownies, and terrific hot cocoa. We also have regular cocoa, unsweetened baking chocolate, and semisweet chips on hand.

Lest you think chocolate and cocoa is only for sweet stuff, I also like to use it to deepen the flavors of a pot of chili, in mole sauce, and the occasional fresh salsa.

You can't make a good curried chicken salad without mayonnaise, nor a proper BLT. It's also important for dips and creamy salad dressings. Most people swear by Hellman's or Best Foods brand (although I've read that they're reformulating), but my favorite is Kewpie mayo from Japan. It's got a slightly thinner texture than jarred mayonnaise, but has a richer flavor closer to homemade than the usual commercial stuff.

My husband is a pastaholic, so it's imperative that we have several varieties of this dried starch on hand. His specialty is spaghetti and meatballs, but sometimes he'll whip up something he calls Pasta Verde, a broccoli-based sauce recipe found printed on a pasta box some years back. Of course we make our macaroni-and-cheese from scratch, and once in a while, I like to make an as-yet-unnamed dish of pasta tossed with Mexican chorizo, sundried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, onions, and chicken.

Of course, there's plenty more in the pantry than the above items. And lets not forget the variety of meats in the freezer (as of today: a leg of lamb; pork tenderloins; boneless and skinless chicken thighs; salmon, sole, and halibut filets; and a bag of raw shrimp) and the selection of condiments in the fridge (Sriracha, Dijon mustard, pickle relish, Chinese bbq sauce, black bean sauce, mango chutney, brinjal pickle).

So what's for dinner tonight? I know we have a big slab of leftover flank steak, so my DH is going to make a homemade red sauce with canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and lots of fresh garlic, toss in the meat, and serve it over pasta. A green salad with a bit of vinaigrette (I put a half teaspoon of Dijon mustard into a custard cup with a squeeze of clover honey, a pinch of salt, a glug or two of Earl Grey tea vinegar, and a splash of olive oil--contrary to popular belief, a dressing doesn't need to have a larger proportion of oil to vinegar to taste good--and some freshly ground pepper, and mix vigorously with a fork) will make a nice accompaniment.

What's in your pantry?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Steak Continental

This was my mother's most-used cookbook. As a young wife and mother, she consulted this venerable tome for all of her American-style cooking needs - meatloaf, pot roast, fried chicken. (The authority for Polish cooking was my grandmother, of course, who lived downstairs.) Over time, she added recipes that she found elsewhere, like this one for "Steak Continental." (See it typed out on the pages pictured?) It was one of my favorite meals, and I would often beg Mom to make "flank steak." God, it was good.

2 lb flank steak or 3/4" thick round steak
1 clove garlic, quartered
1 tablespoons salt
2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves

Score flank steak or trim all fat from round steak. Mash garlic with salt; add soy sauce, tomato paste, oil, pepper, and oregano. Mix well and rub into steak. Wrap in waxed paper and let stand in refrigerator 6 hours or overnight. Broil 5 to 8 minutes each side. 4 to 6 servings.

I found the recipe printed in various places on the Internet, no credit given, often with ketchup replacing tomato paste, but otherwise verbatim. Where did this recipe come from originally? Who deserves credit for this simple and delicious method of meat preparation?

I made this last night, without the oil and oregano (it's not enough oregano to make a difference, and who needs the extra oil?) and using 3 cloves of garlic. (Yeah, you wusses probably will want to stick to the recommended 1 clove, but 3 or 4 makes for a far superior flavor.) Despite Tony Bourdain's aversion to the gadget, I love my Pampered Chef garlic squoosher, so omitted the whole garlic/salt mashing mess (it's not so great for a knitter's hands to smell garlicky). And six hours really isn't enough time to allow the marinade to penetrate the meat - I recommend a good 24-hour period (take flank steak out of the freezer on Friday, marinate on Saturday, cook and serve on Sunday).

The meat is garlicky, with a nice char on the edges, and tender within (if cooked to medium-rare). It's a versatile dish, that if made for two, gives up lots of tasty leftovers. The flavor profile is one that goes equally well with a mound of mashed potatoes or a pile of Asian-style sesame noodles. Sliced cold, it's tasty on a salad. And it works just as well on the grill as in the broiler, so it's perfect for summertime entertaining.

Take it from me, it's great. Go make some.
Parenthetically Yours,

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Crespelle di Mare e Pesto

Back in 1999, for our first Valentine's Day, I concocted a rich dish of seafood-stuffed shells in a pesto cream sauce. My darling hubby still counts that as one of the best meals I've ever prepared. Unfortunately, I never wrote down the recipe. I tried to re-create it a few years back, and I suppose it turned out ok, although nothing ever matches the first time. This year, I decided to try again, but with definite added twists. It's a bit of a pain to have to boil shells, separate them, dry them, and store them until ready to fill in my tiny counter space-challenged kitchen. Then a month or so ago, I made crepes for breakfast. They were delicate, yet strong, and I thought they would make an excellent "noodle" for a homemade cannelloni-type dish. Plus they were a snap to make and store.

In the original recipe, I mixed shrimp and crab into a bechamel sauce and added lots of cheese. The pesto went on the bottom of the baking dish, mostly so the shells wouldn't stick. And the shells were messy to fill. This time, I would put additional flavors in the seafood mixture - mushrooms and spinach. The bechamel would be a topping, and the pesto would flavor the sauce.

Presenting the fruits of my labor:
Crespelle di Mare e Pesto

1 recipe Crespelle (following)
1 recipe Besciamella (following)

1/2 large onion, chopped
3 or 4 large buttom mushrooms, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Handful raw baby spinach
1/3 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, chopped into large chunks
1/2 lb crabmeat (because most supermarket crabmeat, even in Maryland, doesn't seem to be from the hallowed blue crab and is pretty tasteless, I use claw meat, which has more flavor)
1/4 grated parmesan cheese
olive oil
chopped parsley
chopped scallions

Prepare crespelle; refrigerate until ready to use.

Make filling: Saute onion and mushrooms in a bit olive oil until golden. Stir in garlic and baby spinach, cook until spinach wilts. Add shrimp and cook until no longer translucent. Salt and pepper to taste. Gently fold in crabmeat. Put seafood mixture into large bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

About 45 minutes before you want to serve dinner, make the besciamella. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F. Remove filling and crespelle from fridge. Lightly coat the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan with a few tablespoons of warm besciamella. Place a single crespelle on a plate; put 2 heaped tablespoons of filling across one end and roll up jelly roll-style. Place filled crespelle in sauce-coated pan. Repeat with remaining crespelle to fill the baking dish with neat rows. If there is filling left over, sprinkle it over the filled crepes. If there are crepes left over, freeze the extras for a future use.

Spoon the besciamella over the crepes to cover. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon of parsley. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until well browned and bubbly.

Serves 6.

Crespelle (Italian Crepes)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
5 Eggs
1/2 teaspoon Salt

Put flour in a large mixing bowl and slowly drizzle with milk, stirring constantly to avoid making lumps. Add eggs one at a time beating with a fork until a thin batter is formed. Add salt and let stand 20 minutes. Spray non-stick skillet or pancake griddle with cooking spray and heat pan over medium heat until hot (but not smoking). Add 3 or so tablespoons of batter to the pan, spreading it quickly with the back of a spoon or ladle to make a round about 6" in diameter. Cook until crespelle is set (top will look dry), about 30 seconds. Remove from pan and place on place. Cover with a sheet of waxed paper. Stack subsequent crespelle in the same manner. Repeat until batter is gone.

Cover plate with plastic wrap and store in fridge until ready to use.

Besciamella di Pesto (Bechamel, or White Sauce)

5 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons pesto sauce
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Heat butter in a medium saucepan until melted. Add flour, stirring or whisking until smooth. Cook over medium heat until lightly golden, 6-7 minutes. Slowly add milk, a little at a time, whisking continuously to incorporate. Continue whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil and cook until it thickens. Remove from heat. Add pesto and parmesan whisking until smooth. Season with nutmeg; salt and pepper to taste.

Note: There will be extra besciamella left over.
You may skip the crespelle and use sheets of fresh pasta instead. Or, if you hav more space than I do, large shell pasta or manicotti tubes are also fine.

Besciamella and Crespelle adapted from recipes by Mario Batali

Friday, February 09, 2007

Winter Restaurant Week: True

True's Restaurant Week menu looked particularly delicious to both Neal and I, so we were eager to make it our second RW meal this week. Unlike many fine Baltimore area restaurants, True doesn't use Open Table to take reservations online. And, they're only open from Wednesday through Saturday, from 5 - 10, dinner only. A leetle inconvenient. But I called them on Wednesday afternoon to make a reservation via the phone. It rang and rang until a machine picked up, the message suggesting that I leave my name, number, and day and time I wish to dine there. I did just that, leaving both home and work numbers, and awaited their call. I got none, so assumed that all was well.

Thursday night, we arrived at 5 P.M. on the dot for our reservation. The place was deserted, barely open, and they couldn't find a reservation under my name.

"Did you get a confirmation call?"
"Well, we've been getting over one hundred calls per day about Restaurant Week and we are booked tonight. But...we can squeeze you in now, or at 8:30."
"Ok, how about now?"
"Well, our server isn't in yet. Can you go wait at the bar until about 5:15?"

So we went to the bar. I ordered a glass of merlot and Neal had a SoCo rocks. The place smelled of bleach-cleaned bathroom, not pretty. I was hungry and the wine was strong. After 20 minutes or so, the host (who reminded me of Isaac Mizrahi a bit--scattered and a bit fey) came to take us to our table. Now, to get to the dining room, one needs to pass this narrow counter in front of the coat closet, a tiny room with an ill-hung, too-large curtain over it. Then comes a larger square room, containing a round table, some coffee urns, various bric-a-brac, some chairs, and a couple of random pieces of furniture. It looked like a storage room, or an attic, and not something that customers should have to pass through to get to the restaurant. True is in a hotel, so perhaps that area is for guests' continental breakfast, I don't know. But it was in a bit of a shambles, and gave the impression that the restaurant was disorganized. And judging by the reservations policy, it is. How was I supposed to know that if I didn't hear from the restaurant, my reservation wasn't on the books? They should call each and every person back, either to confirm a table or to apologize for being completely booked. My needing to be a mind-reader was a real strike against the place.

Once seated, we were greeted by our waitress, who had arrived when we were at the bar. Nice, when the restaurant opens at 5, to have the waitstaff arrive at 10 minutes after. Our menus were already on the table - they were just serving the Restaurant Week selections and nothing else. That was fine, as we already knew what we wanted. Neal opted for the "Lobster Bisque with a Tarragon Cheve Crouton and Sherry Roasted Lobster" and the "Venison Medallions Pan Seared over a Potato Gallette Finished with Blackberry Demi Glace and Creamy Great Hill Blue Cheese." I had the "Grilled Diver Scallops with a Mango Gastrique over a Potato Nest finished with Chive Vinaigrette" and the "True Duo Petit Filet Mignon with Cabernet Proscuitto Demi Glace and a Maryland Crab Cake with Saffron Aioli." We also ordered a Pinot Noir whose name I forget.

The wine came, but no bread. I started my second glass of wine and soon grew tipsy. Our appetizers came after a bit of a wait. Neal's bisque was a shallow bowl of pale orange, cream-thickened, lobstery goodness crowned with a crouton and chunk of lobster meat. It had real lobster flavor and was first class. My scallops were fine - three half-dollar-sized morsels topped by baby greens. The "potato nest" was a small scattering of fried potato sticks pushed over at the side of the dish, not nest-like in any way. There were also tiny circles of an orange liquid on the four corners of the plate - possibly the mango gastrique, although it didn't have any discernable flavor. The greens were dry, so I'm thinking they forgot the chive vinaigrette. The scallops were perfectly cooked, however, a little crusty on the outside and tender within, and the potato sticks were nicely crunchy and tasty.

Two other parties had come into the restaurant by the time we got our appetizers. They got bread baskets, so I requested one when the waitress removed our plates. It contained three square French rolls, buttery and delicious. I'm betting they came from either Atwater's or Bonaparte. I immediately buttered one up and wolfed it down to help absorb the alcohol.

After another wait, our entrees arrived. I realized that we had not been asked how we wanted our meat cooked when I overheard the waitress say "everything is medium-rare" to another table. I'd say more medium than medium-rare, but either is to our liking. Neal got a generous portion of pink-centered venison slices, with a dollop of mashed potatoes rather than the advertised gallette, and broccoli. The meat was extremely lean, very tender, and flavorful. The blue cheese and berry sauce were perfect accompaniments. My True duo included a 4 oz (or so) filet mignon topped with bits of prosciutto and an equally-sized crabcake drizzed with the saffron aioli. The same mashed potatoes and broccoli decorated my plate. The beef was tender and as flavorful as a bland cut like filet can get. The crabcake was not lump crab, possibly not even blue crab, but it was broiled nicely and had good flavor and little breading. The potatoes were nothing special, and the broccoli was undercooked.

When the waitress came to clear our plates, she recited the evening's dessert menu. Neal opted for a very light cheesecake, and I had what she called a chocolate souffle cake, but was really a molten chocolate cake. Both were quite tasty, and a nice ending to the meal.

While our waitress was fine (except for the bread omission), the front-of-the house was abysmal, and the dining room was slightly depressing. True is in the basement of the Admiral Fell Inn, an historical building dating from the 1770's. The walls are of exposed old stone and there are small transom windows on the front wall. There was an odd centerpiece in the room - a round table, topped with two wooden crates draped with a lacy crochet schmatta, two ridiculously huge peppermills, and some silk roses in a tiny vase. The overall effect was "ugly and cheap." Fortunately, the food was very good, and definitely worth the $30.07 per person.

I'm glad they could "squeeze" us in - when we left at 7:30, there were three whole tables occupied, and two parties waiting to be seated.

True on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Winter Restaurant Week: Brasserie Tatin

Baltimore’s first winter edition of Restaurant Week started yesterday, February 5th, a day that was a veritable food orgy for me. Or could have been. You see, I had lunch with three friends at Ze Mean Bean, a “Slavic fusion” café in Fells Point. Knowing I had a dinner reservation for Brasserie Tatin, I wisely limited myself to a bowl of their excellent borscht and to nibbling on the hriby dip, salad, pierogies, and placki (potato pancakes) ordered by the other ladies. Oh, and the apple pie and chocolate mousse cake too. Ze Mean Bean has a number of interesting things on their menu, besides the Polish/Ukranian foods I grew up with, and I really should get there for dinner sometime.

But back to Restaurant Week. Neal and I have decided to try two places we’ve never been to before. First off was Brasserie Tatin, the French restaurant in the former Jeannier’s space at the Broadview apartments on 39th Street.

We had an 5pm reservation, because we like to eat early (although with my lunch, we could have eaten at 6) and were the first persons in the restaurant. The space, decorated in orange and turquoise, is much livelier and certainly more colorful than the somewhat stuffy and old-fashioned Jeannier’s. We were given the Restaurant Week menu along with the regular menu and wine list, plus a supplementary list of wines available by the glass. We stuck to the RW menu and Neal chose: Carpaccio de Canard (carpaccio of duck breast with orange/vanilla glaze & a warm truffle & frisée salade); Feuilletté de Saumon Grillé (grilled salmon on puff pastry topped with lobster mousse & beurre rouge); and the Marjolaine Le Bec Fin (layers of chocolate mousse, hazelnut buttercream & chocolate ganache). I had the soupe du jour, a crab bisque; the Poulet Rôti & Pommes Frites (roasted chicken served in a rich brown sauce reduction with French Fries & seasonal vegetables); and Tatin’s signature Tarte Tatin, served with caramel sauce, house made green apple sorbet and crème fraiche. We chose a $30 2005 Pinot Noir “Les Vins du Moulin” from Burgundy to accompany the meal.

We entertained ourselves with the bread basket while waiting for the appetizers. Unfortunately, there was only insanely crunchy baguette to be had, impossible to eat without leaving a pile of crumbs on the butter dish, the tablecloth, and oneself. Our appetizers arrived after a short wait. My crab bisque was a dark orange concoction capped with snowy crabmeat. I mentally compared it to the best crab bisque I have ever eaten, that of Fells Point restaurant Louisiana, a decadent delight, full of crab flavor and, I imagine, thickened only with heavy cream. Tatin’s bisque was probably roux-thickened, so it was heartier, and although it had a lovely seafood flavor, I couldn’t swear that it was crab I tasted. The crabmeat garnish was generous, however, and there was the delightful crisp texture of fresh corn kernels in the soup.

Neal’s carpaccio was a Spartan affair: five or six microscopically thin slices of duck breast, seared along the edges and raw in the middle, each no bigger than the top joint of a man’s thumb. The duck was glazed with an interesting orange and vanilla sauce, somewhat like a creamsicle but better than one might think, and topped with a teaspoonful of frisee in a truffle vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was nice, but I didn’t like the texture of the frisee. I think microgreens might have been a better choice, or baby arugula. Frisee is too hard to chew, and too spiky to accompany the extremely delicate duck. I would call this is a real money-making dish for a restaurant. Most places could charge $8 - $9 for what is approximately $0.36 of food. Sliced that thin, a single duck breast could fill 10 – 12 orders, easily.

There was a much longer wait for the entrees. Neal’s salmon, which we figured to be “en croute” proved to be resting on a triangle of puff pastry and garnished by another. It was tender and delicious, with a nice lemony-ness, and the beurre rouge had a somewhat sweet caramelized flavor that reminded Neal of the vanilla orange sauce on the duck. There was also some lobster mousse on the fish that I didn’t get to taste, but apparently it didn’t have all that much flavor. Either that, or the salmon and citrus flavors were too strong to match well.

My chicken dish consisted of three pieces: a small leg, thigh, and partial breast, roasted with herbs under the skin and garnished with haricots verts. The skin was crisp and the breast was perfectly cooked (the other pieces got doggie-bagged). The frites, however, were a bit too dark and crunchy for my tastes, as if they had been thrice rather than twice fried. They came in a separate bowl, which was awkward on the small tables, and our very tall waiter asked if I wanted ketchup or mustard with them. Mustard? Wouldn’t mayo have been more appropriate?

Desserts were impressive. I have loved tarte tatin since I was a little girl. Dad used to buy them from Patisserie Poupon fairly regularly, and I was enamored of their decadent buttery quality and the melting softness of the apples. Tatin’s tatin wasn’t as unctuous as the tartes from my past, but it was lovely: a generous slice, garnished by a pool of homemade caramel sauce, and a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream, rather than the promised apple sorbet, and no crème fraiche. It was also bruleed a bit, as there was a crunchy topcoat to the apples. Overall, there was a fresher, less-caramelized quality to this tatin, different, yet quite delicious. Neal’s marjolaine was equally delicious, the combination of chocolate mousse and hazelnut buttercream reminding me a bit of our wedding cake. My only complaint is that perhaps it was served a bit too cold.

The pinot noir we chose went perfectly with both entrees, and even the dessert course. I was a bit annoyed, however, when I overheard another waitress give a special “19 for $19” wine list to a nearby table. Why we were not offered the same list I do not know. Our waiter, although attentive, seemed a little out of it, and that may have had something to do with it. I have heard that the service at Brasserie Tatin is pretty shaky most of the time. Not an excuse, however, when there are so few customers in the place.

Later this week: True

Brasserie Tatin on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Banana Bread

When I have overripe bananas in the house, I usually toss them in the freezer to await the time I'm ready to bake some banana bread. Today I was ready. We recently stocked our freezer with goodies and those frozen bananas keep jumping out and landing on my foot, so they had to go! And today it's nice and cold, so that means it's banana bread time!

My favorite recipe is Martha Stewart's, but I embellish it just a tad.

1 4 oz stick of butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter 9" X 5" X 3" loaf pan. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well. Mix the dry ingredients together, including the spices, and combine with the butter mixture. Blend well. Add the bananas, yogurt, and vanilla. Stir well. Stir in the nuts and pour into the pan. Bake 1 hour until a cake tester comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool.

Makes one very delicious loaf of banana bread.