Appetizers to whet your whistle, prep your mouth and get you ready for the main event!

My Favorite Appetizer

In the first class I taught at BSC 15 years ago, I included an hors d’oeuvres that I had just discovered and was quite smitten with.  It seemed fancy and impressive but also pretty easy to prepare. If I now had to name my all-time favorite appetizer recipe, this would be it! If you have a rosemary plant, it’s lovely to blanket your serving dish with branches and set the scallops right on them. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, it also has the practical purpose of keeping the scrumptious little bites from sitting in their own juices. Don’t skip the detail of rolling the wrapped scallop in the rosemary-lemon zest mixture after they’re cooked—that’s the very best part! And, be sure to watch your masterpieces carefully in the oven because they burn very easily. I guarantee that these will be the hit of any party!

In this series featuring the appetizers that were part of my first class, I’m leaving out the Chive-Spiked Smoked Salmon on Chips because I’ve already given you that recipe. Just look for it under “Appetizers” on the left-hand side. I’d like to mention though that the salmon mixture is also divine on endive leaves topped with a little crème fraîche. So delicious and addictive!

Pancetta-Wrapped Scallops with Lemon

6 large sea scallops (about ½ pound) membrane removed, scallops quartered
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Four 3-inch long strips of lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated for garnish
2 rosemary sprigs
2 teaspoons rosemary, finely chopped for garnish
Freshly ground pepper
12 thins slices of pancetta (about 4 ounces), halved

In a bowl, toss the scallops with the olive oil, lemon zest strips, rosemary springs and pepper and let marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

In another bowl, soak 24 wooden toothpicks in water for two hours.

Preheat the broiler.

Remove the scallops from the marinade and lightly pat them dry. Drain the toothpicks. Wrap each piece of scallop with a slice of pancetta and secure with a toothpick.

Transfer to a broiler pan. Broil the scallops for about 1 minute per side, turning once, until the pancetta sizzles and the scallops are firm but not rubbery.

In a small bowl, combine the grated lemon zest and chopped rosemary.

Dip one end of each wrapped scallop in the lemon-herb mixture, transfer to a platter and serve. Makes 2 dozen

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Raw Vegetables You Can Get Excited About

LeanneCan I say this out loud? With all the graduation parties, weddings, showers and summer parties coming on, does anybody else find crudité platters boring? I mean, sure, veggies are good for you and you’re thankful that they’re providing something healthful. But do they have to be sooo boring? Years ago, I found a recipe in Cooking Light Magazine for a vegetable dip that was healthy, yet made carrots, jicama and snap peas fun to eat. In short, I found a great peanut sauce dip and here it is. It’s perfect for any spring or summer get together. For heaven’s sake, be healthy—but be fun!

Asian Peanut Dip
½ cup natural-style peanut butter
⅓ cup firm silken tofu
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Baby carrots, snap peas and bite-sized jicama pieces

Place all ingredients into blender and process until smooth, scraping sides. Store in an air tight container for up to two days. Makes approximately 1 cup

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Breaking with Tradition

I recently cooked dinner for a party that was part of an auction item. The birthday boy wanted Oysters Rockefeller and he handed me a very unconventional recipe for the Leannedish. I went home, dutifully made the dish as a trial run, and was surprised how good it was. You see, the sauce was basically a bunch of gooey cheese with sautéed onions and spinach. I would normally say that cheese and seafood don’t mix, and they generally don’t. If you’re a purist and want to “experience” the oyster, then this isn’t your recipe. If you want something decadent and very yummy, this is it! I changed the recipe up quite a bit so it’s not quite as much of a cheese overload and I also added the lemon and Tabasco for extra flavor. I made this version for the actual dinner party and it was a big hit. I can hardly wait to make them again.

Rockin’ Oysters Rockefeller
24 fresh, unopened oysters
1 cup beer
1 clove garlic
Seasoned salt to taste
4 black peppercorns
⅓ cup butter
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 ounces of packaged frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
4 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
¼ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Tabasco
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup panko crumbs

Clean oysters, and place in a large stockpot. Pour in beer and enough water to cover oysters; add 2 cloves garlic, seasoned salt, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, drain, and cool.

Once oysters are cooled, break off and discard the top shell. Arrange the oysters on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C.)

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic in butter until soft. Reduce heat to low, and stir in spinach, Monterey Jack and Fontina. Cook until cheese melts, stirring frequently. Stir in the cream, Tabasco and lemon and season with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over each oyster, just filling the shell. Sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Bake until golden and bubbly, approximately 8 minutes. Serves 8

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The Mushroom Festival—Again!

This last Saturday I participated in the Mushroom Festival for the third time.  LeanneEach time I do this I feel more and more comfortable.  The first year I was scared to death since I didn’t know the venue at all.  Last year I wasn’t too concerned but had an audience on maybe 10 people!  This year was just right, I knew what I was in for and I had a nice, big audience of around 30 people.  One of the recipes I demonstrated was this marinated mushroom number.  They’re great on their own or as part of an antipasto platter, they’re great on burgers or in salads and they’re great with cheese.  I messed around with this recipe quite a lot and added the mint, which adds a nice, surprising, summery note.

 Marinated Mushrooms

½ cup red wine vinegar
⅓ cup olive oil
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 pound small fresh button mushrooms

In a medium saucepan, mix red wine vinegar, olive oil, onion, salt, parsley, dry mustard, brown sugar and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Stir in mushrooms. Simmer 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to sterile containers and chill in the refrigerator until serving.

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A Food Revelation

LeanneAs a food person and someone who is in the food business, I get to try a lot of new dishes. Every once in a while I try something that is a thoroughly new idea to me.  It might be a food I’ve never tried before but more likely, it’s a food that’s used in a completely different way. Stuff wrapped in grape leaves (dolma) has always been good but has never really been a favorite of mine.  That’s all changed now. Andrew Zimmerman, host of Bizarre Foods on the Food Network offered this recipe in the June issue of Food and Wine magazine.  You roll a ground beef mixture in grape leaves, then grill, and then dip in Nuoc Cham (the famous Vietnamese dipping sauce).  I promise that you’ll never look at pickled grape leaves the same way again. The recipe may appear long and complicated but it really isn’t, especially if you get someone nice to help you.  Prepare to be amazed! P.S. We halved the recipe with great results.  The full recipe makes approximately 40 rolls. Also, I didn’t refrigerate the beef for very long and it turned out fine.

Grilled Beef Rolls with Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

Slideshow: Delicious Asian Grilling Recipes

Beef Rolls
2 pounds ground sirloin
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or sherry
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon sambal oelek or other Asian chile sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
40 jarred brined grape leaves—drained, rinsed and patted dry
Vegetable or peanut oil, for grilling
Chopped cilantro, for serving
Chopped mint leaves, for serving

Nuoc Cham
¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup hot water
⅓ cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ jalapeño(about 1 tablespoon), seeded and minced
3 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped

Make the beef rolls in a large bowl, combine the ground beef with all of the ingredients up to but not including the grape leaves. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Snip off any stems from the grape leaves. Spread 4 leaves on a work surface. Form a 1-tablespoon-size log of the beef filling at the stem end of each leaf. Fold the sides of the leaves over the filling, then tightly roll up the leaves to form cylinders, tucking in the sides as you go. Repeat with the remaining grape leaves and filling.

Make the Nuoc Cham in a medium bowl, whisk the sugar into the hot water until dissolved. Whisk in the remaining ingredients. Transfer the Nuoc Cham to a serving bowl.

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Lightly brush the grill and the beef rolls with oil. Arrange the rolls on the grill with at least 1 inch between them and grill over moderate heat, turning often to prevent burning, until firm and just cooked through, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle the rolls with cilantro and mint and serve warm with the Nuoc Cham for dipping. Make ahead: The Nuoc Cham can be refrigerated overnight. 

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Ladies Night Out at the Christmas Forest

Last night, Christine Ciancetta, our Italian instructor and I had the opportunity to take part in “Ladies Night Out” at the Providence Christmas Forest. It’s a super fun event to help raise funds for the wonderful pediatric unit at St. Peter Hospital.  We had $5-off-a-class coupons, a drawing for a free class and some wonderful appetizers at our booth.  Here are the recipes as promised.  Christine’s Taralli are absolutely addictive (and would make a great little gift for someone this Christmas) and the Chive-Spiked Smoked Salmon on Chips are way more delicious (and easy) than the sum of its parts!  Enjoy them both during the holidays.

Chive-Spiked Smoked Salmon on Chips

½ pound smoked salmon (lox style), minced
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon lemon zest
30 think-cut potato chips

In a bowl, combine the smoked salmon, chives, shallot, olive oil, lemon juice and lemon zest. Mound about ½ tablespoon of the salmon mixture on each potato chip and garnish with parsley sprigs. Serves 10

Savory Italian Cookie

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper or crushed fennel seeds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup warm water
1 cup olive oil

Mix all ingredients together to make a soft dough. Roll out a small ball into a rope a bit thicker than a pencil. Shape into circles, twists or loop with ends crossed. Bake on parchment paper or lightly oiled baking sheet at 400°F for about 20 minutes or until taralli are just beginning to turn brown.

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Leanne’s Anise-Honey Feta

With this recipe, you will know without a doubt that I truly am obsessed with nibbles before dinner.  I’m not sure why—I just think you can have a lot of fun with this kind of food because it’s not supposed to be “serious.”  I’d also like to spread the word that you don’t need to put out a bag of chips with store-bought salsa.  It’s almost just as easy to make this appetizer.  Put a block of fresh feta (my favorite is the feta that’s sold in the Bayview olive bar) in a baking dish just large enough to hold it.  Sprinkle with anise seed, a little olive oil and some honey, and broil.  Serve with pita chips.  That’s it, and it’s unbelievably delicious!  Here are the particulars:

½ pound feta cheese packed in water
1 teaspoon anise seed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey

See instructions above.  Broil until brown spots appear.  Serve with pita chips. Makes about 6 servings

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Stuffed Mushrooms for Summer

By now, you’ve probably gotten the idea that I’m pretty excited about hors d’ouevres. That’s why I’ve decided to feature a stuffed mushroom when I do a cooking demonstration at the Mushroom Festival in Lacey tomorrow. I won’t have access to an oven so I’m preparing a favorite recipe that allows me to pre-cook the mushrooms beforehand and then stuff them with soft goat cheese later. I don’t usually think of hot stuffed mushrooms as summer fare but these are different—they’re served at room temperature. They make the perfect summer hor d’ouevre!

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Mushrooms with Bread Crumbs

24 large cremini mushrooms (1½ pounds), stems reserved for another use
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves + one 3-inch sprig of rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
6 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut into 24 pieces

Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a bowl, toss the mushrooms with 3 tablespoons of the oil and the rosemary leaves and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the mushrooms to a baking sheet, rounded side up. Roast for about 30 minutes, until tender and browned around the edges. Let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

In a skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the rosemary sprig and cook over moderately high heat until the leaves are crisp, 30 seconds. Drain on paper towels, then strip off the leaves. Pour off all but 1 teaspoon of the rosemary oil and reserve it for another use.

Add the bread crumbs to the skillet and toast over moderate heat until golden and crisp, 2 minutes. Stir in the fried rosemary leaves and season with salt and pepper.

Gently press a piece of goat cheese in the center of each mushroom, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and serve. Makes 8 servings

Make Ahead: The goat cheese–filled mushrooms can be refrigerated for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature and sprinkle with the bread crumbs just before serving.

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Taking the Simple Route

My theory about hors d’oeuvres is this: if they’re simple, you’ll make them and if they’re not, you won’t. There are occasions when you want to put a little more effort into things, but most of the time, it’s enough to just get a great dinner on the table and you don’t want to worry too much about the extras. My little salad rolls are nice for summer because they are light and fresh but you can also serve them year round. They make a nice addition to a cocktail party at holiday time because everything else seems to be so rich. Best of all, they’re a little different from what most people serve and they’re so simple!

Prosciutto-Wrapped Salad Rolls

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups mixed salad greens
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
¼ pound thinly sliced prosciutto

Whisk first four ingredients into a vinaigrette.  Toss with salad greens, currants and blue cheese. Cut each prosciutto slice lengthwise into two pieces (you can also tear them apart).  Tightly wrap each prosciutto piece around a large pinch of salad and cut the rolls in half.  Makes approximately 16 rolls

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Clams for 75


There is something very satisfying about harvesting your own food and then creating something wonderful with it in the kitchen.  I recently returned from a trip to Fort Flagler (near Port Townsend) with 55 middle school kids and around 20 adults.  We’ve been doing these 3 or 4 day spring trips with my children’s middle school for 8 years now and for six of them, I have been in charge of all of the food planning, with my oldest daughter Caroline helping out with three of them.  On this trip, the kids and a few of the adults went clam digging and hauled in what I estimate to be around 12 pounds of clams.  I prepared them in my usual way but in a huge, industrial-sized pot.  They were fresh as could be and especially fun to eat, knowing that we had brought them in ourselves.  Here’s what I do:

Leanne’s Clams

Sauté in a large pot with a lid:

  • 1 medium shallot in
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or light olive oil


  • 1 cup dry white wine (I prefer Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 2 pounds scrubbed clams

Cover with lid and steam until clams have opened.


  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Splash of Pernod (optional)

Stir and serve!


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