Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta

The first bite we had of this resulted in a collective “wow”. It comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s superb book “Jerusalem”, and though he has called it a risotto it doesn’t require the constant watching and stirring of an Italian risotto, instead it’s an all-in, one-pot dish that cooks like a stew. It’s delicious, simple and quick to make, there is no excuse for you not to try this one.

The revelation here is the addition of strips of lemon rind. They soften and mellow as they cook, and provide a sharp counterpoint to the richness of the barley. Likewise, the marinated feta adds another taste and texture that elevates this from the merely great to the truly wonderful. If you don’t like feta then try it this way, I’ll wager it will convert you.

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RECIPE serves 4

200g pearl barley

30g unsalted butter

90ml olive oil

2 small celery stalks, cut into 5mm dice

2 small shallots, cut into 5mm dice

4 garlic cloves, cut into 2mm dice

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

the rind of a whole lemon, cut into strips

1/4 tsp chilli flakes

400g tin chopped tomatoes

700ml vegetable stock

300ml passata

1 tbsp caraway seeds

300g feta, broken roughly into 2cm pieces

1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves


METHOD

Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water until the water is no longer cloudy, and leave to drain. You can substitute pearl barley for pearled spelt if you wish.

Melt the butter and two tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan, or risotto pan, and cook the celery, shallot and garlic on a gentle heat for around 5 minutes, until softened.

Add the barley, thyme , paprika, bay, lemon rind, chilli flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata and 1/2 tsp of fine sea salt. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then reduce to the gentlest simmer possible. Cook for around 45 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure it doesn’t catch on the pan. When the barley is ready it will be tender with a little ‘bite’ and most of the liquid will have been absorbed.

While the risotto is cooking, gently toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Then, using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining olive oil, mix gently to combine thoroughly, and set aside.

When the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and divide it between four shallow bowls, topping each with the marinated feta (including the oil) and a sprinkling of fresh oregano leaves.

In this hot weather our thyme was in full flower so I picked some off and added small flower heads to each dish as well. They were also delicious and added even more flavour.

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Sea Bass with Roasted Fennel and Tomato Agrodolce

I spotted this Italian sweet and sour dish in an old Jamie Oliver magazine a couple of weeks ago. It looked simple (it is), uses ingredients that I know work together, and looked like an interesting twist on tradition. If you know Italian food then you know, of course, that the sweet and sour agrodolce is indeed traditional. I looked it up and it is used in a similar way to a French gastrique, adding piquancy to a dish. 

That’s just one more thing that I love about cooking: there’s always something new to learn. More than that, every new thing I discover takes me off down other hitherto uncharted avenues.

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RECIPE serves 2

1 medium fennel bulb (around 200g after trimming), finely sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

150g very ripe cherry tomatoes

3 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

6 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp runny honey

50g fresh pine nuts

2 sea bass fillets, pin-boned

2 tbsp raisins


METHOD

Heat your oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Remove the tough core from the fennel, trim off and reserve any fronds and slice it very finely, using a mandolin if you have one.

In a roasting pan. toss the sliced fennel in the oil with a little seasoning. Spread in a single layer in the roasting pan and roast for ten minutes.

Mix the vinegar and honey together, remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the vinegar over the fennel. Add the tomatoes, garlic and pine nuts, toss everything together and return to the oven for a further ten minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven again and switch the grill to high.

Using a very sharp knife, score the skin of the fish 4 or 5 times each, rub a little oil over the skin and season it lightly with sea salt. Toss the raisins into the roasting pan, lay the fish on top – skin side up – and grill for four or five minutes until the fish is just cooked through.

Take the roasting pan to the table and serve from it, alongside some crusty bread and a simple rocket salad.

Keralan Seafood Biryani

The list of ingredients for this delicious seafood biryani, from ‘Rick Stein’s India’, looks terrifying. Don’t be intimidated, everything required is easily available – if it isn’t already in your pantry – or is easily substituted. Also, there are only four basic processes to consider: make a spice paste; marinade some seafood; boil some rice and, finally, assemble and bake.

It’s the kind of dish you can bring out at a dinner party, or plonk on the table for a family meal, and everyone will think you’re a culinary genius.

It does take a little time, but if you have an hour free it’s no problem at all, and you’ll love it.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the spice paste:

3 dried Kashmiri chillies, whole with seeds (or ordinary dried chillies)

1 star anise

2 tsp fennel seeds

2 tsp poppy seeds

1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns

5cm piece of cinnamon stick

10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

5cm fresh root ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp creamed coconut , grated from a block

4 tbsp ghee, or coconut oil, or vegetable oil

3 medium onions, finely sliced

a small handful of fresh or frozen curry leaves

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp fine sea salt

3 tomatoes, roughly chopped

For the seafood:

400g large, raw, tail-on king prawns

150g firm white fish (cod, haddock, sea bass, tilapia etc)

75g squid, cut into rings

the zest and juice of a lime

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder, or 1/2 tsp regular hot chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp salt

For the rice:

350g basmati rice, soaked in cold water for an hour

6 green cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

To assemble and serve:

the juice of a lime

25g butter

a small bunch of mint leaves, chopped

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped

2 tbsp cashew nuts, dry-toasted


METHOD

First make the spice paste. You can do this well ahead of time if you wish, it makes the rest of the recipe much easier.

Heat a large, NOT non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add the dried chillies, star anise, fennel seeds, poppy seeds, peppercorns and cinnamon stick. Dry toast for a minute or two until aromatic, then tip onto a plate and allow to cool for a minute or so before grinding to a powder. I use an electric coffee grinder to do this, but you can use a mortar and pestle.

Put the garlic, ginger and coconut into a food processor with the ground spice powder and 100ml of water. Process to a smooth paste.

Heat the ghee or oil in a large ovenproof casserole over a medium heat. Add the onions and fry gently for around 15 minutes until well-coloured, golden and just starting to catch here and there. Stir in the curry leaves, garam masala, salt and tomatoes. Cook for a further five minutes or so until the tomatoes have softened then add the spice paste. Fry for around 5 minutes until the sauce has darkened noticeably and the oil beings to separate, at this point the spices have ‘cooked out’ and are at their best. Add another 100ml of water and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to reintegrate any bits that are stuck.

At this point you can leave it for a few hours, or overnight – re-heating it with a splash of water – or you can carry straight on…

Heat the oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.

Cut the fish into rough squares and put into a large dish with the prawns and squid. Zest the lime over everything, then drizzle over the lime juice, than evenly scatter the chilli powder, turmeric and salt. The lime juice will start to ‘cook’ the fish, so don’t do this in advance.

Bring a large pan of lightly-salted water to the boil. Rinse the soaked basmati rice and add to the boiling water with the cardamom and bay. Cook at a stern simmer for between 2 and 6 minutes – the soaking will have softened the rice so it cooks very quickly. The rice should be soft at the edges, with the middle still being firm. Drain the rice – you can leave the cardamom and bay in it – and now start to assemble the dish.

Spoon the hot spice paste out of the casserole and into a bowl and, without cleaning the casserole, spoon half the rice into it. Put the spice paste back in on top of the rice, then put the seafood with all of the juice on top of the spice paste. Do not mix it through, this is a layered dish. Spoon the remainder of the rice over the top of the fish, squeeze over the lime juice, dot with the butter and cover the casserole with foil, followed by the lid.

Bake for 20 minutes, by which time the rice will have completed cooking and the seafood will be perfectly cooked. While it is cooking, put the cashews into a pan and dry-toast over a medium-high heat for a couple of minutes until they are golden.

Scatter over the chopped leaves and cooked cashews, and serve at the table in the casserole. Dig a big serving spoon in to get at all the layers, and serve alongside carrot salad.

Pea, Courgette and Basil Soup

This is another brilliant way to use a glut of herbs and vegetables, this time making use of our courgette and basil mountains. We are not growing peas this year, but we are fortunate to have a greengrocer who stocks peas in their pods so I bought a massive bag full.

It’s very quick, simple and heavenly, testament to the magic of just-harvested ingredients.

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RECIPE serves 6

30g unsalted butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large courgettes (or 3 medium) diced

1 fat garlic clove, crushed

1 litre of hot chicken or vegetable stock

1kg of peas in the pod, or around 400g shelled peas

a few sprigs of fresh basil


METHOD

Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat, add the onion with a good pinch of salt, cover and soften gently for around 15 minutes.

Add the diced courgette and garlic, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes more before adding the stock and most of the peas – save a handful to put in whole at the end – with the basil.

Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for around ten minutes until the courgette and peas are tender.

Blitz using a hand blender – or in batches in a worktop blender – until smooth, season, then add the remaining peas. Bring back to the boil then simmer gently for a few minutes until the whole peas are cooked but retain their crispness.

Serve in bowls with a light drizzle of olive oil, or a swirl of double cream, alongside some toasted ciabatta or rustic bread.

Courgette Lemon Cake with Lemon Icing

We made a real effort this year to stock our garden with as many herbs and vegetables as we possibly could. As any gardener will tell you, this can lead to periods of glut, where suddenly you have piles of vegetables and herbs that all need to be used. At this time of year courgettes are threatening to overrun us, so now is the obvious time to make a courgette cake, something I have been intending to make for years but never got around to.

This beauty – courtesy of my fellow-blogger Kate Hackworthy – came out of the oven literally two hours ago, and is already decimated, so I’ve had to make do with the picture I took when it came out of the oven, before I glazed it. It’s delicious; moist, zingy and with its flecks of courgette skin it is absolutely beautiful. I’ve got loads of courgettes, I might make this again tomorrow!

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RECIPE serves 10  

a little butter, to grease the tin

350g courgettes (1 or 2 medium size), washed, skin left on

125ml vegetable oil

2 large eggs

100g golden caster sugar

the zest and juice of a lemon

300g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

for the lemon drizzle:

85g icing sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

the grated zest of a lemon


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ gas 4. I don’t like to use the fan oven for cakes as I find it cooks them too quickly and fiercely.

Grease a 900g loaf tin and line it with baking parchment.

Grate the washed courgettes, with their skins still on, on the coarse side of a box grater into a clean tea towel. Lightly squeeze the towel to drain off excess moisture, then set aside for a moment.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until smooth, then stir the grated courgette through it.

Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the mixture and gently fold the mixture with a metal spoon until it is just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for between 60 and 75 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Leave it in the tin on a cooling rack, to completely cool.

To make the lemon drizzle, mix the icing sugar and lemon juice together until smooth, then spoon, spatter or drizzle it over the cake. Sprinkle the lemon zest over the top and watch it disappear!

Vindaloo Sauce

As an unashamed curry addict, I have spent a lot of time over the years tweaking and refining the standard curry sauces and pastes. My benchmark for vindaloo is the amazing sauce used by the head chef in my local Indian restaurant; it is only in the last six months that I have managed to refine my own version into a reasonable approximation of his.

Contrary to what you may believe, a good vindaloo isn’t defined by its heat, it is defined by being spicy while allowing the base flavours to shine through. The essential flavour element in a vindaloo sauce is vinegar, not the brash smack-in-the-face of raw malt vinegar, rather the smooth sourness of properly cooked-out white wine vinegar. This sauce delivers in spades.

As with all spiced dishes, allowing this sauce time to develop just makes it better, so make it the night before you intend to use it, make a reasonable batch, freeze some for later and just add chicken, lamb, beef, prawns… whatever you feel like eating on the day.

Don’t be daunted by the length of the ingredients list, this is quick to make and most of the ingredients will be in any well-stocked pantry. Jaggery is hard cane sugar, widely available in larger supermarkets and international food stores.

I haven’t specified potatoes in the recipe, but the ‘aloo’ part of vindaloo implies that a vindaloo curry will have potatoes in it. Truth is, it’s entirely optional and might be a bit odd if, for example, you made a prawn vindaloo.

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RECIPE makes enough for 6-8 portions

For the paste:

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground turmeric

2 heaped tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp English mustard powder

1 heaped tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cayenne pepper

a big fat thumb of fresh ginger, grated

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp grated jaggery (or light brown muscovado sugar)

For the base:

150ml rapeseed or sunflower oil

8 fat garlic cloves, crushed

3 large red onions, chopped

For the body:

6 red chillies, seeds in, finely chopped

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato puree

1-4 tsp hot chilli powder, depending on your tolerance and taste

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Mix the paste ingredients together in a small bowl. If it is a little stiff and dry just add a little water. Set aside.

Prepare the base ingredients then, in a blender or food processor, process to a smooth consistency. In a large pan, cook the base over a gentle heat for ten minutes until aromatic but not coloured – the sauce will start out pink from the red onions, and should stay that way.

Add the paste that you made earlier, and cook it out for about five minutes before adding the red chillies, tomatoes, tomato puree and chilli powder. Bring to the gentlest simmer that you can – a plop every now and again – and leave it on the heat, uncovered, for an hour then check and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

If you find that it is not quite spicy enough for you, don’t add more chilli powder once you have cooked it, the rawness of the powder will spoil it. Instead, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil and add a tsp (or more) of dried chilli flakes to it. Let it spit for a minute or so then leave the oil to infuse for ten minutes, before stirring the oil and chilli into the sauce.

When adding meat to the sauce, it always pays to brown the meat separately first before adding it to the sauce.

Low-Calorie Chilli con Carne

I seem to spend a lot of time searching for my ‘definitive’ take on classic dishes. Trying different variations and tweaking them until they are exactly how we want them to be. This is my current definitive take on Chilli can Carne, suitable for vegetarians and if you can find vegan quorn mince or similar it can also be made for vegans.

The key ingredients here are chipotle chillies to add smokiness, and raw cacao powder, which adds a hint of bitterness. I also like to use some liquid smoke to amp up the umami, it’s not vital but since I have it in my pantry why not use it? Browsing Amazon recently I spied a catering size can of chipotle chillies in adobo sauce, three or four of those in place of dried is delicious. I just froze the rest of the can in convenient sized bags.

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RECIPE serves 4  

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 red pepper, cut to small dice

1 green pepper, cut to small dice

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, crushed

500g Quorn mince (the vegan variety if you can get it)

1 heaped tsp dried oregano

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp ground cumin

4 dried chipotle chillies, rehydrated (keep the liquid)

1 tsp liquid smoke (optional)

200ml red wine

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 vegan vegetable stock cube (or 1 tsp bouillon powder)

1 400g tin of kidney beans, with the water

1 tbsp raw cacao powder (or cocoa)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves to garnish

the zest and juice of a lime, to garnish


METHOD

In a large pan over a moderate heat, soften the onion, peppers and celery for between 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic for the last few minutes.

Add the Quorn mince, stir well then add the oregano, bay, cumin, chipotle chillies (chopped) and liquid smoke. Stir well so everything is well-coated, then add the red wine, turn up the heat and cook it off for a few minutes until there is almost no moisture left. Keep stirring it so it doesn’t catch on the pan.

Add the tomatoes, kidney beans (with the water from the can, there’s flavour there), the chipotle water and the stock cube or bouillon. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, so the sauce is really thick.

Add the cacao powder and chopped coriander stalks right at the end, stir thoroughly so they are fully incorporated.

If you can make it a few hours before serving, so much the better. The flavours will deepen and mellow, and if you can make it the day before it will be even better.

To serve, garnish with the juice and finely grated zest of a lime and coriander leaves.

Serve with lime wedges if you like, alongside steamed rice (brown basmati is amazing), guacamole and a bright and zingy salsa for a real treat.

Chickpea Mushroom Burgers with Turmeric Aioli

The best thing about sharing recipes on a blog is that people share theirs with you as well. These delicious vegan burgers were devised by Ella Woodward but came recommended by my friend Bridget, who raved about them. She was right, they are absolutely gorgeous, as well as being quick and easy to make.

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RECIPE serves 4  

For the Burgers:

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 fat spring onions, white and green parts separated and finely chopped

150g of mushrooms, finely chopped

1 large carrot, grated

1 heaped teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder

salt and pepper

2 400g tins of chickpeas

2 tablespoons of gram flour

a small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

olive oil

For the aioli:

100g of cashews (soaked for at least 4 hours)

1 lemon, juiced

1 small clove of garlic, chopped

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of ground turmeric

4 tablespoons of water


METHOD

Gently fry the chopped garlic and the white half of the spring onions in olive oil over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until they are cooked through and just beginning to brown.

While those cook, finely chop the mushrooms then add them to the pan along with the cumin and chilli powder, with a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper and cook for another 3 minutes.

Grate the carrot, finely chop the green ends of the spring onions and add both into the pan, then cook for another 2 minutes.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and finely chop the coriander then add both to the pan along with the gram flour. Mash the mixture with a potato masher until all the chickpeas are crushed then scoop up handfuls of the mix and mould into eight patties. Place these in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

While these cool, drain the cashews and add all the aioli ingredients to a high speed blender and blend until totally smooth.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and cook the burgers for about 4 minutes on each side, until they turn golden brown. Alternatively, heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, brush a little olive oil on each side of the patties and cook for 15 minutes, turning them over half way through.

Serve alongside the turmeric aioli, with a salad and pitta bread.

Hazelnut and Orange Biscuits

Biscuits are always a great thing to make with children, and are quick and easy enough to whip up for a quick teatime treat or to add interest to an ice cream – these go particularly well with burnt orange ice cream to make an elegant dessert.

Once you have made the biscuit dough, you can keep it wrapped up like a fat sausage in greaseproof paper in the fridge, slicing off rounds to cook as necessary. I’m sure they keep well, but they never last long enough to find out!

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RECIPE  

200g unsalted butter, softened

150g golden caster sugar

1 large egg

225g self-raising flour

the finely grated zest of an unwaxed orange

the juice of an orange

100g very fresh, whole roasted hazelnuts


METHOD

If your hazelnuts are not roasted, put them into a broad-bottomed pan over a medium heat and cook for around five minutes until they are lightly browned and aromatic. Be careful not to scorch them.

Zest the orange and set the zest aside for now, then juice the orange and boil the juice down over a high heat until you are left with a tablespoon of thick reduced syrup. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

Bash the hazelnuts in a mortar until they are reduced to small lumps, don’t go too far and leave yourself with dust, these biscuits are best with a bit of texture. Children love doing this bit.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer, or by hand. Add the egg and whisk it in, then sieve in the flour, add the zest and nuts and combine well, then beat in the orange syrup.

On a lightly floured piece of baking parchment or greaseproof paper, divide the biscuit dough in two and shape into two fat sausages about 2 inches (5cm) in diameter. Wrap in parchment or greaseproof paper, and refrigerate for at least two hours, they are even better left overnight.

Heat the oven to 190C/ gas 5.

Slice the dough into as many round biscuits as you wish to cook, about as thick as your little finger. Place them on a greased baking tray, ensuring there is plenty of space between them, and bake in the middle of the oven for around 8 minutes. They should not have coloured significantly, keep an eye on them because they go from perfect to burnt in a flash.

Using a pallet knife, remove the biscuits to a wire rack immediately. At this stage they are very soft and bendy, but they crisp up very quickly. They will be crisp, nutty and scented with orange.

They are delicious served warm with burnt orange ice cream, which should be removed from the freezer 30 mins before serving.

Saffron Rice with Barberries, Pistachio and Mixed Herbs

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks, magazines, recipes ripped from newspapers and magazines, and downloaded from the internet. It can make choosing what to eat more of a problem, not less, so when I’m stuck for inspiration I have a few strategies: I might pick a book or magazine at random, and just cook anything and everything that sounds delicious. Or I might go into the larder and pick out an overlooked, forgotten-about ingredient and find recipes to use it with.

This last strategy came into play this week, when I found a pot of dried barberries lurking, doing nothing. It was a good move, I made two absolutely divine dishes with them, which went together perfectly: a yellow split pea and aubergine stew, which I found in an old Jamie magazine, and this, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s delightful book ‘Jerusalem’.

Barberries are tiny, sweet-and-sour Iranian berries that add a real hit of intensity to Middle Eastern dishes. You can get them online, and from Middle Eastern grocers. If you can’t find barberries, use currants soaked in a little lemon juice instead, or dried sour cherries also make a great substitute.

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RECIPE serves 6 (modify amounts to suit) 

40g unsalted butter

360g basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained

560ml boiling water

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

a pinch of saffron threads, soaked for 30 minutes in 3 tbsp boiling water

40g dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in freshly boiled water with a pinch of sugar

30g dill, roughly chopped

20g chervil, roughly chopped

10g tarragon, roughly chopped

60g slivered or crushed unsalted raw pistachios, lightly toasted


METHOD

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated. Add the boiling water, a teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Mix well, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on a very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan – you need to let the rice to steam properly.

Remove the pan from the heat – all the water will have been absorbed by the rice – and pour the saffron water over about a quarter of the surface, leaving most of the rice white. Cover with a tea towel, reseal tightly with the lid and set aside for five to 10 minutes.

We are not big fans of saffron, some people just aren’t. If this also applies to you then consider finely grating a couple of centimetres of fresh turmeric root (now very widely available from larger supermarket chains) and soaking in a couple of tablespoons of hot water. The flavour is heady and aromatic, it makes a perfect substitute wherever you are called upon to use saffron.

With a large spoon, transfer the white rice to a large bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, reserving a few to garnish. Fluff up the saffron rice in the pan, then fold gently into the white rice – don’t over mix: you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow ones. Taste, adjust the seasoning and transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Scatter the remaining pistachios on top and serve warm or at room temperature.