Sunday, September 25, 2011

A botanical blunder

Well, it seems that my readership includes several amateur botanists.  And so, it is with great humility that I make the following correction:  Bananas, like money, do not grow on trees (which have a woody core).  Bananas grow on plants, which are softer-stemmed.  In fact, in my research, I discovered (among other interesting things) that the banana plant is the largest of the herbaceous flowering plants.  Tall, sturdy, and oh my gosh!  Often mistaken for a tree!

As Vindaloo traipsed down the proverbial garden path, she made an assumption about the nature of the plant living in her backyard, thinking it was something it was not.  One might draw a parallel here to the Garden of Eden and Eve's mistaken assumption about the apple she would eat after she had her conversation with a talking snake, but it's probably not necessary to take the analogy that far.  After all, today is much too beautiful of a day to grapple with the existential implications of mortality, and the thoughts and motives of Eve and her talking snake.  Eve should have been much more concerned about the fact that snakes do not talk.

Well, at least the snakes in Vindaloo's back yard don't.  And let's hope she does her research a little more thoroughly next time.

Thanks to all of you who are on your toes and made comments.  And thanks again for reading The Voluptuous Table.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The decadent demise of the banana

I have never been much of a banana eater.  I have nothing against them--they are cheerful and yellow, kind of like a big, sunny smile.  And they're pretty popular.  They're easy to eat and they make great kid food.  They're a very useful fruit as far as portability and versatility are concerned, they're good travelers and they're just plain fun to eat.  Or so I'm told.  The Chiquita Banana Company states that the banana is "Quite Possibly the World's Perfect Food."  What's more, you can get a banana almost anywhere--even when you stop for a Big Gulp or a tank of gas.

Anyone raised in the South stakes their pedigree on their Nana's banana puddin'.  Personally, I like a well-made banana cream pie, either the straight and narrow version (with real pastry and homemade vanilla pudding, of course) or something more tricked out, like the tooth-jangling Banoffee Pie, a recipe I've loved and made for years from the sadly now defunct Gourmet Magazine.  Recently, I saw Marcella Valladolid of the Food Network make her Dulce de Leche Banana Cream Pie.  It has a base of dulce de leche, cream cheese in the filling and a Mexican cookie crust!  And let me say this: even at 7 a.m. I was drooling.

But let's get down to basics: I have a banana tree (sans bananas) in my back yard.  This was courtesy of two banana-tree-growing friends, one large and one small, who originally brought me two banana trees, one large and one small, and planted them for me in my back yard.  Sadly, one of my friends (the smaller) is no longer with us and sadly, almost poetically, after last winter's brutal icy blasts, one of the banana trees (the smaller) also died.  But the surviving tree has produced two babies this year, so I will be able to repopulate (and to share with my surviving friend, who lost all his banana trees last winter). What I love most about banana trees are their elegant, lushly tropical leaves (which I use for cooking fish and tamales) and especially their gorgeous flowers, which I consider to be very exotic and unusual.

I do have a confession to make, however.  I absolutely love a good peanut butter and banana sandwich.  If it's on good, toothsome wholegrain toast and the [organic] peanut butter (smooth, never chunky) is oozing out of the sides, so much the better.  Sadly, this is the only thing I have in common with Elvis (my former childhood crush), except for a penchant for sequins and rhinestones, and it is one of my favorite winter breakfasts accompanied by a steaming mug of tea.  Yum!

I keep bananas around mostly because of my husband.  He will usually take one with him to eat on the way in to work.  We do not eat them fast enough, though, and there are usually one or two bananas that get too freckled and mushy to be enjoyed out of hand.  I've taken to throwing them in the freezer over the years, where they get completely brown and frosty, and also delightfully liquidy and intensely sweet when thawed, so that they make great breads and cakes and muffins.  I use them in this state quite frequently and will take them out of the freezer all dark and frosty and lay them side by side on a plate where they thaw and I can imagine their little banana lives, traveling by boat to eventually sit proudly, plumply in a supermarket in Texas and then be carried home by me where I will plan what will become of them.  My banana post-mortem, if you will.

I know some of you are thinking: she is taking this banana thing much too seriously.  Anthropomorphization is a mighty slippery slope.  She is confused, has lost touch with reality and needs...Medication.

And this is why dead bananas are worth more to me than those that are cheerfully, relentlessly yellow: because they can be transformed into something much more complex even before they take their little cryogenic naps in my freezer, and because they provide a moist, deep richness to the kinds of things I love to bake in my oven.  I guess now is a good time to offer this disclaimer: I am not a pastry chef, but I would be willing to play one on TV.  I don't think I could stand up to The Cake Boss, though.

I do have my favorite "dead banana" recipes, mostly from my tattered Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and I'll often add a teaspoon or so of Chef Bernard's Divine Desserts, a 13-spice melange that includes fennel pollen, orange peel, lemon grass and cayenne (and that's just to start!) and has a wonderfully enhancing effect on Fannie's fresh banana cake.  But it's really the recipe below that I've been making a lot of lately.  It's a really easy, really simple, really moist, really addictive banana cake with a buttery, rich, caramel frosting.  Did I mention the chopped pecans on top?  It is so addictive, in fact, you might not want to share.  You also might want to start culling your supermarket produce department for the bananas they take off the counter and sell in large quantities in paper bags.  You know, the ones that are cultivating the fruitfly colonies...But please don't mention this to my husband.  He already has enough trouble with the fact that I use overripe fruit and sour milk to bake with...

Banana Sheet Cake with Caramel Frosting

1 cup butter or good quality margarine (such as Fleischman's)
1/2 cup water
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup mashed overripe bananas (I use 2 large or 3 small)
Caramel Frosting (recipe follows)
1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Grease and flour a jellyroll pan.
3.  In a medium saucepot, bring butter and water to a boil.  Set aside.
4.  Combine flour and sugar.
5.  Pour hot water/butter over flour and sugar and stir lightly.
5.  Add eggs, baking soda, sour cream and vanilla extract; mix well.
7.  Add mashed bananas.
8.  Mix well and pour into a greased and floured jelly roll pan.
9.  Bake for 20 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched.
10.  Frost with Caramel Frosting and sprinkle with chopped pecans while still warm.

Caramel Frosting

3 Tbs. butter
4 1/2 Tbs. half and half or heavy cream (have more on hand for thinning)
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, divided
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. In a saucepot over medium heat, melt the butter.
2.  Mix in half and half and brown sugar.
3.  Bring to boil and cook for 1 minute.
4.  Remove from heat and whisk in 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, beating out lumps as well as you can.
5.  Cool slightly, then whisk in remaining 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract.  
6.  Drizzle in more half and half and whisk if frosting is too thick.  The desired texture is similar to melted cheese.
7.  Frost entire sheet cake while frosting is still warm and sprinkle with nuts, if desired.

May your sweet tooth be satisfied.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Oops!! Dinner is (almost) ruined

Ever feel so smugly confident about your ability to conceive of and put together a good meal that it seems you are just cruisin' for a bitchslap from the universe?  Well, that happened to me last night.  My husband loves any kind of pasta and requested we have pasta for dinner.  OK, I thought.  I can ace this.  I have zucchini and summer squash, sweet red pepper, red onion, garlic and plenty of herbs.  I'll make a roasted vegetable pasta with white wine and extra virgin olive oil.  And to enhance those flavors, I'll do some roasted shrimp, roasted eggplant, roasted grape tomatoes and lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Flake salt and freshly ground pepper will tweak those ingredients until they say, "Uncle!"

To assist me with this process, I opened a bottle of rioja, Marques de la Concordia 2007 (Spain), to be exact.  Somewhere around $12 a bottle, this little gem is the result of the juice of a lot of happy Tempranillo grapes spending 6 months in new American oak.  So it is lusciously fruity with pronounced cherry-berry flavors along with vanilla and spice.  Not too much oak, but it tastes surprisingly mature and well-made.  A most delightful red for that time when you're in between seasons, it's no longer infernally hot and fall whispers "Yardwork!" to you from the small piles of fading leaves in your back yard.  It also happens to be a great wine to have with roasted veggies, pasta, garlic and olive oil.  I poured about 4 oz. into a lovely long-stemmed glass with a generous bowl.  I sipped.  MMMMMother's milk.  I sighed contentedly. 

My mouth watered as I anticipated what would come from my kitchen that night.  I thinly sliced the zucchini and summer squashes, the red pepper and eggplant.  I sipped.  I oiled the vegetables well and spread them out on two baking sheets, generously sprinkling them with salt.  I sipped.  I prepared a second baking sheet of oiled grape tomatoes and peeled shrimp.  I sipped.  Everything smelled wonderfully toasty and looked deliciously golden when I removed the veggies and shrimp from the oven.  Feeling content (and slightly too big for my britches), I took a generous sip of wine and began boiling water for pasta.  I sipped again, proud of myself that I had chosen a wonderful artisan pasta that looks like long corkscrews: fusilli col buco.  Sip.  I had artisan olive oil.  Sip.  I had big, fat cloves of garlic.  Sip.  I had a lovely dry white wine to deglaze the pan and enhance the flavors.  Sip.  I had fresh herbs and fresh Parmesan.  Sip.  I still had plenty of Marques de la Concordia, which was rapidly becoming my dear, long-lost friend.  Time for another glass of wine.

I swirled the wine in the glass, looked at its gorgeous ruby hue, took another (generous) sip of wine, closed my eyes and imagined how all the flavors in the pasta would marry and produce a phenomena greater than the sum of their parts.  Inspiration and sheer genius would bloom from my humble electric stove and shabbily outdated kitchen!  Sip.  Lovely, sophisticated and complex, yet still approachable by my non-foodie husband, it would be the best thing I had made so far (as he was fond of saying to me).  Sip.  I stirred the pasta, waited for it to finish cooking (sip, sip, sip), then carefully drained and rinsed it.  Sip.  Finally, it was time for the Grand Alchemy.  I took another sip of wine and called on my Muse, Tempranillo, to deliver me.

Now, I wouldn't say that when I have some wine while in the kitchen, disaster is sure to follow.  I wouldn't say that when I drink wine and cook that I cook badly.  I wouldn't even go so far to say that I have removed body parts.  However, I have come dangerously close to creating all of these unfortunate incidents while courting my Muse a bit too much, which is why me and Mr. Mandoline parted company on not very good terms.  I will say, however, that when I have wine and cook, I become much more creative, impulsive and inspired.  This is a good thing.  I also become much more careless.  This is not such a good thing.  It is true what your probation officer told you: alcohol lowers your inhibitions, impairs your judgment and reduces your fine motor skills to those about comparable with a three year old's.

Which is why I'm about to tell you about my recent and very sad experience with cooking, wine and various impairments.  Let this be a lesson to you, Dear Readers.  You must be EXTRA CAREFUL in the kitchen when you have (a lot of) wine and cook.  You must take precautions you wouldn't ordinarily need to worry about.  Why?  Because knives are sharp.  Because smoke alarms warn you of grease fires that may require the assistance of the fire department.  Because bad things happen to perfectly good food.

And so, after lovingly, carefully (and rather tipsily) sauteeing my garlic and diced red onion in artisinal olive oil, and after smelling how heavenly that aroma was, and after sipping a little more wine, and after salting the sauteeing ingredients generously with specially-ordered fine Kosher flake salt from Penzey's, I got lazy, careless and, OK, overly-confident.  I decided that instead of risking repetitive injury to my wrist by using my pepper grinder at this stage (you see, some judgment was present, but we won't comment on the quality of that judgment), I would just reach for my jar of lovely, pungent, slightly fruity Extra Special Bold black pepper that I had ground two days ago.  I had put said pepper (approximately 1/2 cup) in an old, clean glass jar with a shaker top.  However, said shaker top was not secure.  Unaware, I peppered.  So.  You can imagine the carnage.  The scene was enough to make me put down my glass of wine.  I sighed.  Not contentedly.

I stood at the stove, dumbly staring into the saute pan.  Those beautiful pieces of red onion and garlic that I had so lovingly (and expertly, I might add) sauteed where now covered in about 1/2 cup of lovely, pungent, slightly fruity Extra Special Bold ground black pepper.  The delightful aroma drifted up toward my nostrils and I thought: life is bittersweet.

"I've ruined our dinner."  I stated this calmly and matter-of-factly to my husband, who was channel-surfing only a few feet away.  "Oh, no you haven't.  You always say that," he said, chuckling.  "No, really.  I think I've ruined dinner.  I just dumped about a half cup of ground black pepper into this pan."  My husband wisely kept silent.  Somewhere through the Tempranillo-induced miasma, I managed to reach for a teaspoon and start scooping out large portions of ground pepper.  Into the InSinkErator went half of my lovely sauteed garlic.  Half of my lovely sauteed red onion.  Almost all the Extra Special Bold pepper  I sighed, drained, emotionless.

And then I took another sip of wine.  And I completed my original plans for this pasta dish.  And I must tell you that it had a lovely, pungent and slightly fruity quality from all the black pepper I couldn't remove.  And it was very, very good.

The End.

Oops!! Ruined Pasta

1 lb. good-quality long-stranded pasta
2 small zucchini squash, ends trimmed and sliced thin
2 small summer squash, ends trimmed and sliced thin
1 small eggpplant, stem end trimmed, quartered and sliced thin
1/2 sweet red pepper, cut into long strips
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 to 4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 cup dry white wine
minced fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, and/or thyme
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse, drain and set aside to keep warm.
2.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees.
3.  Combine squash and eggplant slices in a large bowl and drizzle generously with EVOO.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat and spread in a single layer on baking sheet(s).
4.  Combine red pepper strips, grape tomatoes and shrimp in same bowl.  Repeat process with EVOO, salt and pepper.  Spread on a large baking sheet.
5.  Roast vegetables until golden and slightly blistered and shrimp until pink, removing vegetables as they complete cooking and turning shrimp if necessary.  Set aside until ready to use.
6.  In a large skillet, coat bottom of pan with a generous amount of EVOO.  Heat over medium-high heat until it just begins to shimmer.
7.  Add garlic and red onion and season generously with salt and pepper (the more pepper, the merrier).
8.  Saute garlic and red onion until slightly softened, being careful not to burn garlic. 
9.  Add white wine and deglaze the pan, simmering for about 2 to 3 minutes.
10.  Add the pasta and toss gently to coat, then add roasted vegetables and shrimp, combining gently to just heat through.
11.  Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
12.  Serve pasta in a large serving bowl garnished with minced fresh herbs and plenty of Parmesan.  Serves 4 to 6.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What to do in terrible times

For over a week, I haven't been able to write.  The spirit just wasn't in me after witnessing and learning of several great sadnesses and recent disasters in my own very small world.  My role has always been to console and support, so I found myself doing that a lot.  I realized that I also had to console and support myself, however, and that trauma takes its toll on all who experience and witness it.

We had houseguests for several days because of the recent ravages of the Texas Labor Day wildfires.  We all needed to be distracted from the ever-worsening condition of the fires due to the high and shifting winds, as well as the mounting destruction of our community's homes, parks and wildlife.  As is my habit, I chose distraction in the form of food and drink.  So we enjoyed many meals together: Asian lettuce wraps in crisp, cool iceberg leaves with a fruity Vouvray, a slow-cooked Italian pot roast with a wonderfully rich red sauce, pasta and roasted broccoli with a slightly tannic Chianti, and grilled pizzas with a spare, peppery Zinfandel.

But the smash hit of our little raggedy and fragile impromptu Victorian House Party was "Indian Night."  For a few hours, the house was filled with the aromas of an Indian kitchen, sitar music weaving a haunting backdrop.  I think that for a just a few short moments, we were able to leave heartbreak and tragedy in a place far away from the dining room table and enjoyed food and wine and laughter.  The perfect foil for our Indian repast was one of my favorite roses, Sauvion Rose d'Anjou 2009 (Loire, France).  Soft, light, and beautiful in the glass, this is a lightly sweet wine with lots of strawberry and a crisp, clean finish.  It is, as one of my wine friends likes to say, "entirely gulpable."  The best part of this rose?  It's about $10!  Ask your wine guy (or girl) at Spec's to help you find it.

Here are the recipes I made:

Chicken Tikka Masala

   Adapted and lightened from a Jamie Oliver recipe.  Start marinating the chicken the night before for the best flavor.

3 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 large fresh chili, seeded and chopped
olive oil
1/2 Tbs. mustard seeds (I like to use brown mustard seeds)
1/2 Tbs. paprika
1/2 Tbs. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbs. garam masala

7 oz. Greek yogurt
4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
cooking spray
fresh limes, cut into quarters
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Combine garlic, ginger, and chili in a large bowl and set aside.
2.  Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a small saute pan and add mustard seeds.  When they begin to pop, remove from heat and add to bowl with garlic mixture.
3.  Add paprika, turmeric, cumin, coriander and garam masala and mix well.
4.  Stir in Greek yogurt, then add chicken and blend well.  You can marinate this as little as 1 hour, but I think it tastes best after sitting in the fridge overnight.
5.  Heat grill to medium hot.
6.  Place marinated chicken on skewers and spray with cooking spray so chicken doesn't stick to grill.
7.  Sear chicken on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes; watch carefully so it doesn't burn and reduce heat if necessary.
8.  Serve on a platter with lime wedges and chopped cilantro sprinkled over.  Serves 4 generously.

Hot Garlic Cauliflower

        This is really good with cabbage, too.  Adapted from "Curries Without Worries" by Sudha Koul (1989, Cashmir Press).

6 Tbs. oil
6 hot green chilies, stemmed and finely chopped (you can reduce the number of chilies if you're worried
      about too much spice, but at least 4 are required, seeds and all!)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large sized head of cauliflower, separated into small florets, rinsed and drained (or use 1 medium sized
      head of cabbage, rinsed and drained, cut into thin, long strips)
salt to taste

1.  In a 6-quart saucepot, heat the oil on high heat.
2.  Add the chilies and garlic and stir-fry briskly for a few seconds, just long enough to toast the garlic a bit.
3.  Add the cauliflower (or cabbage) and salt, and stir well, until all ingredients are mixed thoroughly.
4.  Cook for about 3 minutes, then turn off the heat, and cover for 5 minutes before you serve.  The cauliflower (or cabbage) should be a little crunchy when done.  Serves 6.

Bhindi Aloo

     My favorite Indian potato dish with crisp, curried okra.  Again, from my hero Sudha Koul's book.

1 lb. fresh okra
1 lb. medium potatoes, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks (preferably red potatoes with skins left on)
1/2 cup oil
1 Tbs. ground coriander seed
1 Tbs. ground cumin seed
1/2 Tbs. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. garam masala
salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1.  Wash and drain vegetables thoroughly.  The okra, particularly, should be washed and drained well in advance so that it is completely dry when you are ready to cook.
2.  Cut off and discard stem ends of okra.
3.  Heat the oil in a heavy wok or large saute pan on high heat for a couple of minutes, or until shimmering.
4.  Add the potatoes and okra.
5.  Stir fry for about 5 minutes.
6.  Add remaining ingredients (except cilantro) and stir well.
7.  Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until potatoes and okra are done/tender, about 10 minutes.  Serves 6.

To all of you who are without homes and who are without hope, may you find someone who will cook for you, pour you a glass of wine and comfort you.  Namaste.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun

In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire, to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of those rules that the biggest fools obey,
Because the sun is far too sultry and one must avoid its ultry-violet ray...
                                                                                               Noel Coward (1931)

I pray I'm not too late.  Now that we are experiencing the lower end of triple digit temperatures, it may be passe' for me to offer some concoctions to help cool and soothe your weary souls and cautious palates.  But the heat has crazed us all, and I know that I am a bit worse for wear.  I've spent too much time in the midday sun, I fear.

However, now that we are experiencing cooler mornings, I am actually feeling more enervated and want to spend some time in the kitchen.  And although I'm not quite ready for cassoulets and cobblers, I am ready for...MORE COLD FOOD.

I'm sharing two cold soup recipes that I rely on in the summer months to either be the backbone of a grazing frenzy, or to start one of my not-so-sedate dinner parties.  These recipes are also quite serviceable as appetizers, or even to accompany your luncheon salad.  Don't you just love the sound of that word "luncheon?"  I love it because it's just so much more elegant than "lunch."  Just saying it makes me want to break out the good china and crystal and set it all very prettily on a white linen cloth.  Hats and gloves not required.  Flowers optional.  Parker House rolls and butter de rigueur.

What's that?  You say that you don't like the idea of luncheon?  Oh.  It's that you don't like the idea of cold soup.  Then you would be in the same camp as my husband.  You know, that camp on the other side of the lake that always canoes over to your camp to borrow, say, firewood, or matches, or your last can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.  But anyway, I digress.  My husband is an individual with strong opinions.  Unlike his wife.  [Snort.  Guffaw.]  My husband's opinions include the fervent belief that soup should be hot, that fruit desserts should be cold (which essentially rules out the sheer enjoyment of crumbles, crisps, buckles, cobblers and warm apple pie with sharp Vermont cheddar cheese, I think), and that beef should be cooked beyond the promise of salvation by even the most fervent of Evangelicals.

There.  I've said it.  The funny thing is, that other camp always says that they don't like something.  But there they are, banking their canoe on your shore, standing in front of your campfire, asking for a little bit of what you're having.  And secretly loving it.  They'll never tell you, however.

Bloody Mary Gazpacho

     You can omit the vodka.  But how much fun would that be?

3 1/2 cups tomato juice (I like V-8)
2 cans (15 oz. each) diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup cucumber, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, finely chopped
1/4 cup roasted green chile (such as Hatch New Mexico), finely chopped
2 Tbs. flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin, toasted
1/2 tsp. Tobasco
1 1/2 cups vodka
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped black olives

1.  In a food processor or blender, put 1 cup tomato juice, half the tomatoes, half the cucumber, all the garlic, half the red onion, half the celery, half the roasted red peppers, half the roasted green chile, as well as all of the parsley, jalapeno, red wine vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, toasted cumin and Tobasco.  Process or blend until almost smooth.
2.  Pour into a large bowl (I like to use a large covered pitcher) and add the remaining tomato juice, vegetables and vodka, if using.  

3.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remember that cold foods require a higher level of seasoning.

4.  Cover and chill for several hours or overnight so that soup is cold and flavors are well-blended.  Adjust salt if necessary.

5.  Serve in bowls or Tom Collins glasses.  Garnish with cilantro and olives.  Serves 6 as a first course, twelve as an appetizer.

Cool and Creamy Smokey Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Strain through a china cap or a food mill if you want an ultra-smooth soup, but the original recipe has a very rustic texture.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
2 jars roasted red peppers, drained (I like to use half piquillo peppers)
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups buttermilk or half and half
2 tsp. smoked paprika (use regular paprika if you want a less smokey taste)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1.  In a medium saute pan, heat the olive oil until slightly rippling.
2.  Saute onion and garlic until until onion is translucent, reducing heat if necessary to avoid burning the garlic.
3.  Cool and set aside.
4.  Put the sauted onions and garlic in a blender or food processor with the roasted red peppers, chicken stock, buttermilk or half and half, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper.
5.  Blend or process until smooth.
6.  Add salt and pepper to taste, remembering to season highly since soup is to be served cold.
7.  Chill for several hours or overnight.
8.  Pour in to tall shot glasses or cordials.  Serves 12 generously.