yogurt-marinated lamb kebabs

I actually made this back in February, but I figured most of the world was covered in snow in February and thus, not doing much grilling. Haha, suckers, grilling season lasts year round in the desert!

Well, year round unless there’s an extra dose of heat in the summer, in which case you’re huddled inside cozied up with your air conditioner. The spring isn’t so good either, because you have to dodge the shingles that the wind blows off the neighbor’s roof. And when it does rain in the summer, it tends to be right at dinner time. So maybe the desert isn’t any better for grilling than anywhere else.

But the heat, rain, and wind are worth it, because you get meals like this. You just can’t do this with a broiler. The lamb is so tender and flavorful, tzatziki makes everything better, and pita cooked right on the grill is becoming one of my favorite things ever. Forget perfect grilling weather – this meal is worth grilling in the snow for.

One year ago: Experiments with chocolate chip cookies
Two years ago: Comparison of three white cake recipes

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Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs (from Ina Garten via Smitten Kitchen)

1 pound plain yogurt (regular or lowfat)
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for brushing grill
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
5 tablespoons fresh whole rosemary leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds top round lamb
1 red onion

1. Combine the yogurt, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a large, non-reactive bowl. Cut the lamb in 1½-inch cubes and add it to the yogurt, making sure it is covered with the marinade. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for up to two days.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Cut the red onion into 8 pieces and separate each piece into three or four sections. Loosely thread three or four pieces of lamb onto skewers alternately with sections of onion. Sprinkle both sides of the lamb cubes with salt and pepper. Place the skewers on the hot grill and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning two or three times, until the lamb is medium-rare. Serve with grilled pitas and tzatziki.

Tzatziki (adapted more liberally from Ina Garten and Smitten Kitchen)

1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, shredded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
14 ounces Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the cucumber in a strainer set over a medium bowl and add the salt. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to drain. Transfer the cucumber to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry.

2. Combine the cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, dill, garlic, and pepper.

grilled potato and vegetable salad

Last year I said, “You know what always makes me twitchy? Hearing people talk about how they just have sooo many zucchini or tomatoes or whatever from their garden.”

Squeeeee!!!! And now I am one of those people! I am I am I am I am!!!

Okay, sort of. I have hundreds of tomatoes growing, but they won’t. turn. red. Aaargh! I only had enough green beans for one meal, but it looks like there will be a steady supply of jalapenos and chile peppers starting soon. I wouldn’t say that I get more zucchini than I know what to do with – my single plant offers about one squash per week (after being suitably sexed up of course), which is just right for us.

And it’s just right in this dish. When I’m cooking something on the grill, it always makes more sense to me to make the whole meal on the grill. It can be difficult to find interesting grilled side dishes though. I had made grilled potatoes and grilled vegetables many times before, but mixing the two together and adding dressing to make a salad was more fun than eating them separately. It’s a perfect side for so many meat dishes, and it’s the perfect way to use my one zucchini per week.

One year ago: Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas, and Leeks
Two years ago: Summer Rolls

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Grilled Potato and Vegetable Salad (adapted from Bon Apetit via epicurious)

Serves 4 to 6

You can also try microwaving the oiled potatoes in a covered bowl for a few minutes before grilling, if you’re concerned about the centers cooking all the way through. Sometimes I do this; sometimes I don’t.

2 pounds asparagus, red onions, mushrooms, summer squash, and/or red peppers
8 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, sliced ½-inch thick
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (such as parsley, chives, and/or basil)
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Prepare the vegetables – trim the asparagus; cut the onions into ½-inch slices, keeping the rings together; leave the mushrooms whole; cut the squash on a bias into half-inch slices; cut the bottom and top off the peppers and cut the middle section in half length-wise. Season the vegetables and potatoes with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil.

2. Whisk the lemon juice, shallot, herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the extra virgin olive oil.

3. Prepare a grill to medium heat. Lay the vegetables in a single layer on the rack and grill until browned and tender, about 8 minutes per side for potatoes, 6 minutes per side for peppers and onions, 4 minutes per side for mushrooms and squash.

4. Chop the cooked vegetables and potatoes into ½-inch cubes; place them in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.

chewy, chunky blondies

I’m putting myself on a diet. And by diet, I do mean a change in my eating habits that I have no intention of making permanent. Beach Trip is in two weeks, and it’s time to buckle down. My normal eating and exercise habits keep me healthy and slim enough to feel good most of the time. But most of the time, I’m not wearing a bathing suit.

So, for two weeks, I’m eliminating dessert. Sigh. At least Tuesdays with Dorie gives me a bit of an escape clause. I’m required to bake for this group, right? And while I can give the treats away, I am most definitely not going to give away something I haven’t tried myself.

And so I did eat one square of blondie. One little square. One teeny, tiny square. And that one square of thick, chewy, peanut buttery, chocolately cookie will have to hold me over until next week’s TWD recipe. Beach Trip can’t get here soon enough.

Nicole chose this, and she has the recipe posted. For the mix-ins, I used 1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips, 1½ cups (8 ounces) miniature peanut butter cups, and 1 cup (5 ounces) peanuts. I also decreased the brown sugar from 1½ cups to 1 cup and used salted instead of unsalted butter.

One year ago: Dorie’s Vanilla Ice Cream
Two years ago: Summer Fruit Galette

lemon curd tart

After the lemon cream tart, I was pretty sure I was done with lemon cream. With thirty tablespoons of butter in the whole tart, there is no reasonably sized serving. And then there’s my favorite lemon tart, which uses the whole lemon, peel and all. But I was making this for my mom, and I had a feeling she wouldn’t enjoy the pucker of that one quite as much as I do. There’s a third option for lemon tarts, probably the most classic version, and that is filled with lemon curd.

The ingredients in all three are the similar – there are eggs, lemons, sugar, and butter, but the ratios and the method for combining the ingredients differ. Only the tartest lemon tart includes heavy cream, but the most important difference between the recipes aside from that is the amount of butter – 21 tablespoons in the filling for the lemon cream and 8 tablespoons in the tartest make the four tablespoons here (plus what’s in the crust of course) seem downright skimpy.

The lemon cream manages to hold 21 tablespoons of butter in only 4 eggs and ½ cup of lemon juice because it’s emulsified when the butter is slowly added to the other ingredients.  The tartest tart is the simplest, in that the ingredients are just thrown together and blended, then baked, like lemon squares. For the curd, the ingredients are mixed in a double boiler. (I seem to have added all the ingredients at once instead of slowly stirring the butter in after the other ingredients heated. It apparently worked.)

This curd reminds me of why lemon cream, to me, isn’t worth it. Yes, it’s smooth and balanced and so, so good, but this lemon curd tart is so, so good too. It’s different from the cream, yes, but not worse. My favorite lemon tart is still the tartest though – I love that bitter hint from the lemon peel. This, however, is a crowd pleaser.

One year ago: Casatiello
Two years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

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Lemon Curd Tart
(adapted from Joy of Baking)

Serves 6 – 8

tart crust for a 9-inch pan, completely baked and cooled (I used Dorie Greenspan’s)
3 large eggs
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated white sugar
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon lemon zest

1. In a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended. Cook, whisking constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture becomes pale in color and quite thick (like a hollandaise sauce or sour cream) (160 degrees F or 71 degrees C on a thermometer). This will take about 10 minutes.

2. Remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine strainer to remove any lumps. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk into the mixture until the butter has melted. Add the lemon zest, cover, and let cool to room temperature before filling the pastry crust. (Note: The lemon curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Covering the lemon curd with plastic wrap prevents a skin from forming on the surface.) Serve plain or with softly whipped cream and fresh berries.

stuffed squash flowers

I didn’t realize how sexual plants were until I started growing zucchini. Concerned that my plants weren’t being pollinated, I did some research and found that to hand-pollinate zucchini, all you have to do is rub the male flower’s pistil on the female’s stigma.

Kinky.

But how to tell the difference between male and female flowers? Well, you learned this when you were five – boys and girls have, ah, visibly different parts, and the zucchini flowers’ parts are surprisingly similar to humans’. Or maybe I just have a dirty mind. You be the judge.

Pistils and stigmas aside, female flowers have a mini zucchini as a stem, and males have a normal stem. This is important, because if you’re going to fry zucchini flowers, and you should if you have them available, you want to fry the males of course, and leave the females behind to form zucchini. But not before sacrificing a male to rub over the female, in a deliberate act of zucchini rape.

To further abuse your zucchini flowers, cut the males off (ouchy), pry them open, stuff them with cheese, batter, and fry them. It’s kind of like mozzarella sticks, except even crisper and more flavorful because the mozzarella was marinated in garlicky olive oil. It’s almost better than sex – at least zucchini sex.

One year ago: Puff Pastry Dough
Two years ago: Pain a l’ancienne

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (adapted from How to Read a French Fry, by Russ Parsons)

I used regular (not fresh) mozzarella because it’s all I had. It worked just fine, but I definitely think fresh would be even better.

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 24 pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ – 1 cup water
2 quarts vegetable oil for deep-frying
24 zucchini flowers (about 1 pound), washed and dried

1. In a medium bowl, combine the cheese, garlic, crushed red pepper, olive oil, and a healthy pinch of both salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour and enough water to form a thin, smooth batter with the thickness of heavy cream.

3. In large pot, heat the vegetable oil to 375 degrees. While the oil heats, use a finger to pry open each flower; stuff a piece of mozzarella inside, then twist the petals together to close the flower around the cheese.

4. Dip the blossoms in the batter; let excess batter drip off, then place the blossoms in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown on both sides, 4-5 minutes. Fry only 4-6 blossoms at a time, carefully monitoring the oil temperature so it remains between 350 and 375 degrees. Drain the fried blossoms on a paper towel-lined plate. Salt lightly and serve immediately.

lots of ways banana cake

Dorie calls this a cake, and I was determined to make it a cake and not bread. I baked it in a flat square with the intention of cutting the square in half to make a layered rectangular cake filled with frosting. Much later I realized that I’d confused the issue by forming a perfectly bread-shaped cake. Oops.

Not only that, but I don’t love the brown sugar swiss meringue buttercream I used. I think I would have enjoyed this more without the frosting, as something more similar to, well, banana bread. Oops.

Or you know what sounds really good, is mixing chocolate chips into the batter and then topping the cake (we’re back to cake and away from bread again) with chocolate ganache. Except I didn’t have any chocolate. Oops.

I’m sure there are lots of ways I could love this cake (or bread), and Kimberly, who chose the recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the original – a rum and coconut version – posted.

One year ago: Blancmanger
Two years ago: Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler

tacos al pastor

I try not to be picky. I like to call myself ‘particular’ – about the quality of ingredients and the care put into the preparation of a dish; Dave calls it persnickety. But eliminating whole categories of food from my diet because of a random childhood prejudice seems like a perfect way to cheat myself out of great food; not to mention how annoying pickiness is to the people around you. I’ve known people who wouldn’t eat hot liquids, eggs, anything with vinegar, seafood, mushrooms, you name it. I will eat pretty much anything – even green peppers, if I have to.

But there are some things I have trouble with (even besides green peppers), and fruit with meat is one of them. Those chicken salads with grapes in them don’t sound appetizing at all, and other than the occasional strawberry and spinach salad, fruit with lettuce doesn’t tempt me. But pineapple with pork is a combination I can hardly get enough of, especially when the pineapple is prepared to its maximum potential – grilled.

There is one thing to beware of when it comes to pineapple and meat though. Pineapple makes meat mushy. It has an enzyme in it that doesn’t just tenderize meat, it nearly dissolves it. The original recipe recommended marinating the pork for up to a day, but I, and the epicurious reviewers, knew better. I left the pineapple out of the marinade until we started heating up the grill. It was perfect, resulting in pork so tender it reminded me of dark chicken meat, but without even a hint of mush.

With a smorsgasbord of toppings, each bite of taco hit every flavor note: sweet pineapple-marinated pork, spicy salsa, tart onions, creamy avocado, all combined on corn tortillas, because everything is better on a tortilla – even meat and fruit mixtures.

One year ago: Crockpot Chicken Broth
Two years ago: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

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Tacos al Pastor
(adapted slightly from Bon Apetit via epicurious)

I can never get corn tortillas to be soft and malleable enough to fold into tacos without deep-frying them. Heating them on the grill made them soft enough to fold, but they were too chewy. Maybe if I wrapped them in foil and heated them in the grill? Or brushed them with oil before heating them? Enlighten me.

1 pineapple, peeled, cut crosswise into ½-inch-thick rounds
1 large onion, halved
½ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
¼ cup guajillo chile powder
3 garlic cloves, halved
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large or 2 small chipotle chiles and 1 to 2 teaspoons adobo from canned chipotle chiles in adobo
2½-to 3-pounds boneless pork loin, cut into ½-inch slices

Garnishes:
½ red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice from 1-2 limes
½ cup minced cilantro
Smoky Two-Chile Salsa (recipe follows)
1 avocado, sliced, mashed (with salt and lime juice), or diced
corn tortillas
lime wedges

1. Coarsely chop 2 pineapple slices, removing core; thoroughly puree in a blender. Pour the pineapple juice into a storage container and chill until ready to use. Cover and chill the remaining pineapple.

2. Coarsely chop half the onion; place chopped onion in blender. Add the orange juice, vinegar, chile powder, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, and chipotle chiles; puree marinade until smooth. Place the sliced pork in a large resealable plastic bag. Add the marinade and the seal the bag, releasing excess air. Chill at least 4 hours and up to 1 day. About half an hour before the grill is ready, add the reserved pineapple juice to the marinating meat.

3. Mix the onion and lime juice; set aside. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro.

4. Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Grill the pineapple slices until warm and slightly charred, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Grill the pork, with some marinade still clinging to it, until it’s slightly charred and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Grill some onion until charred. Transfer the pineapple and pork to a work surface; chop pineapple into ½-inch cubes, discarding cores. Chop (or shred) the pork. Transfer the pork and pineapple to a platter or serving bowl; toss to combine. Grill the tortillas until warm and slightly charred, about 10 seconds per side.

5. Serve the pork and pineapple with the pickled onion mixture, Smoky Two-Chile Salsa, avocado, warm tortillas, and lime wedges.

Smoky Two-Chile Salsa

8 large dried guajillo chiles or New Mexico chiles, stemmed, seeded, coarsely torn
2 cups hot water
½ medium onion, halved lengthwise through core end
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon adobo from canned chipotles in adobo
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice from 1 lime
coarse kosher salt

1. Place the torn chiles in a bowl. Add the hot water and soak for at least 2 hours or overnight. Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking liquid.

2. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic to the dry skillet; cook until browned in spots, about 6 minutes for garlic and 10 minutes for onion. (I grilled the onion instead of browning it in a skillet, which I recommend as long as you have time to make the salsa right before serving.) Trim the core from the onion; place the onion and garlic in a blender. Add the drained chiles, 1 cup soaking liquid, 1 chipotle chile, 1 teaspoon adobo, cilantro, and lime juice; puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, seasoning to taste with coarse salt.

brrrrownies

Certain desserts remind me of specific people. Chocolate plus cream plus butter on a big cookie is the perfect dessert for my sister’s husband (although he might pass on the cookie part – and maybe the cream and butter), so I made it a priority to make the tart noire when I saw my family over the 4th of July weekend. He cut himself a slice during the fireworks, then had some for “breakfast dessert” the next morning (as did I).

If I had looked one Tuesdays with Dorie recipe further, I might have made these br(rrr)ownies over the holiday weekend as well. I associate York Peppermint Patties with my sister; she would have been the perfect person to foist brownies with peppermint patty pieces onto. Me, I’m more of a peanut butter cup kind of girl.

These brownies, though, they are perfect for a York Peppermint Patty lover. Or maybe a Junior Mint, with their higher ratio of chocolate to mint, lover. It seems that those pieces of peppermint saturated the whole pan of intensely-fudgy-from-lack-of-any-leavener brownies to make essentially a huge Junior Mint.

Come to think of it, based on her candy choice at the movies, my mom would have loved these too. I really missed my opportunity to get other people to eat these brownies. Ah well…I guess I’ll have to eat them myself then. If I must.

Karen chose these, and she has the recipe posted.  I’m not sure if this makes a significant difference on the outcome, but I mixed my chocolate chip-sized patty pieces into the flour before folding the whole mixture into the rest of the brownie batter.  Otherwise they were too sticky, and I didn’t think they’d disperse evenly into the brownies.

One year ago: Brioche Plum Tart
Two years ago: Chocolate Pudding

basic pancakes

Every time I want to make pancakes, I have to look up my pumpkin pancake recipe and mentally subtract out the pumpkin and fall spices. It’s about time I made my basic pancake recipe more accessible.

The thing about pancakes is that there are a lot of less-than-perfect recipes. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot of them. I suppose what’s less-than-perfect for me might be perfect for someone else. Maybe. Because if a pancake is not too thin and not too thick, not too sweet and not too bland, plus not too hard to make and not too bad for you, what else could you want?

Did you want adaptability? You can have that too. Add fruit or nuts. Replace the sugar with honey. Replace half (maybe more!) of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour.

Did you want to use something other than buttermilk? I’m becoming a fan of actual buttermilk (or what passes for it in the grocery store today, which is not actually the “milk” leftover after churning cream into butter, but something more similar to yogurt – whatever, I like it). I love having it around. It lasts a while in the fridge and gives me an excuse to make pancakes, waffles, biscuits, coleslaw, cake. If you instead want to do the milk+lemon juice trick, only use ¾ cup of milk along with a tablespoon of lemon juice. If you’re using powdered buttermilk, only use 7 (liquid) ounces of water instead of the cup it recommends. If you have both plain yogurt and milk around, mixing the two together is my favorite buttermilk substitute.

You can top your pancakes with whatever you want too, which probably means syrup. But, consider something different – maybe jam and plain yogurt? It’s healthier, but more important, it tastes great, with a nice balance of sweet and tart, hot (if you heat the jam first) and cool. Or just use syrup. However you prefer your perfect pancakes is fine by me.

One year ago: Brioche
Two years ago: Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese

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Basic Pancakes

Serves 2

There are all kinds of ways to play with this recipe – chunks of fruit or chocolate or nuts, spices, whole wheat pastry flour. The recipe is your oyster. You can even get away with using only 1 tablespoon of butter.

See the blog entry for notes on buttermilk substitutions.

1 cup (5 ounces) flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 cup buttermilk
vegetable oil for the pan

1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg until thoroughly combined, then add the butter and buttermilk. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk gently until batter is mostly mixed but still contains small lumps. Let the batter rest while the pan heats, at least 5 minutes.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet or a griddle over medium heat. Add a few drops of oil and spread it over the bottom of the pan. Using a ¼ cup measure, pour the pancake batter onto the hot griddle. When the pancakes are golden brown, after about 2-3 minutes, flip to cook the other side another 2-3 minutes. Keep warm in oven heated to 200 degrees.

garlic-mustard glazed skewers

My parents went to Bolivia, Hungary, Hawaii, New Zealand, Romania, Costa Rica, China, Panama, and Peru, and all I got was these lousy spices. Okay, actually, they’re pretty nice spices, especially the saffron (and three mystery spices) my mom just brought back from the Istanbul spice market. Besides, when your parents go on 2-3 international trips per year, you don’t need a cheap T-shirt from each place. Spices, tea, and the occasional funky hat for Dave are perfect.

And it was a good thing I had a random set of spices from various foreign countries, because I was out of my normal paprika supply, and it would have been very very sad to miss out on this recipe. My gosh, this was good. Mustardy, garlicky, vinegary, herby – so many complimentary flavors.

Even better, I stumbled upon this weird grilled potato and vegetable salad to go with it that I was expecting to be just edible, and what do you know, it ended up being fantastic.  In all, another Saturday night dinner that knocked my socks off. That’s happened more and more since we got the grill, and I am not complaining one bit.

One year ago: Seafood Lasagna
Two years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Garlic-Mustard Glaze (adapted from Bobby Flay via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes about ¾ cup of glaze, or enough to cover and baste 2 pounds of meat

I used pork, but Deb used chicken (I think) and Bobby Flay uses beef tenderloin. Just be sure you choose a cut that is appropriate for fast cooking. Your cooking time will depend on the type of meat you use.

¼ cup whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds meat, cubed

1. In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients except the meat. Reserve ¼ cup of the glaze; add the meat to the remaining glaze, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours before using.

2. Prepare a medium-hot fire. Grill the meat, turning three times and brushing with the reserved glaze, for 4 to 8 minutes, until golden brown, slightly charred, and cooked to your desired level of doneness. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before serving.