Extra! Extra! Artie Chokes Spinach! Cries, “Dip no more!” (or a tale of two appetizers)

I love the holidays.

There. I’ve said it.

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, ever since I was a little girl, the holidays meant two things that are incredibly important to me: Family and Food.

Growing up in an Italian family on Long Island, there was always plenty of both. You see, in Italian families, we just don’t do the American traditions in regards to holiday meals. Oh sure, we have the Thanksgiving turkey with all the “traditional” trimmings but preceding that glorious feast is my Uncle Eddie’s Onion Soup (now made by my Dad), my antipasti salad, stuffed artichokes and, of course, my Mom’s lasagna with home made meatballs and sausage.  And don’t even get me started on my sister’s desserts!

And then there’s Christmas Eve. One of my favorite meals to cook—the one I look forward to all year long—is the famous “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” or what I call “The Great Seafood Extravaganza:”  shrimp scampi, seafood pastas, lobster fra diavlo, pan seared scallops, the list goes on—I carry the torch of that tradition proudly.  Christmas Day is now spent at the in-laws, but as a kid, Christmas Day dinner was usually a ham or turkey plus several types of baked pastas, an assortment of meats braised in a rich tomato sauce, and more stuffed artichokes followed by fruits, nuts and an array of desserts.  I just read somewhere that the typical holiday meal runs somewhere around 3,000 calories. The typical Italian holiday meal must be double that. Maybe triple…

Of course it wouldn’t be the holidays without several dozen get-togethers and parties scattered throughout late November through the end of the year, which is another reason why I love the holiday season. I love to entertain. I love cooking for family and friends even more. So when my dear friend Camille (who has spent many a holiday food-fest with my family) asked me to guest-write on her blog and share ideas for some yummy party fare, I jumped at the chance.

Of course, since I have created literally dozens and dozens of recipes throughout the years, I was a little stumped at what to share with you guys.  One thing I did know . . .

No Spinach-Artichoke Dip!

I mean, seriously! How many times have you been to a party and brought Spinach-Artichoke Dip? Yeah, I’m talking to you. Now think about the last party you went to.  I bet there were no fewer than five vats of the stuff littering the buffet table.  I don’t know what it is about this particular dip, but it’s become the “go-to” party appetizer.  Now, don’t think I’m hating on the Spinach Artichoke Dip, folks. I actually do like good versions . . . in moderation. But enough is enough! I’m encouraging you to get brave, break out and bring something new to the party!

So, may I present my “Better Than Chang’s Lettuce Wraps”.  (Nope, this is not going to be an Italian dish—fooled ya with that intro, huh?)

Okay, so I’m not tooting my own horn by saying that my version is better than the restaurant version, but a friend who tasted them for the first time proclaimed “At PF Chang’s you need to put the three sauces on the wraps to make them taste good. These don’t need anything!” And thus the name was born.  Now before you go thinking, “These must be super complicated” and that “I’ve never cooked Asian food before, so I can’t do this!” or “They must be expensive to make and I’m on a budget!” I want  you to stop, take a deep breath and read on. These are easy, inexpensive and sure to impress. (which begs the question, “Why are they so darn expensive in restaurants anyway?”)  If you want, though, you can always play the “Oh I slaved over a hot wok all day and bought all sorts of exotic, expensive ingredients to prepare something really special for your party” card.  I won’t tell.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1 lb ground chicken

1 TBS vegetable oil

2 TBS minced fresh garlic (about 4-5 cloves)

1 heaping TBS minced fresh ginger

1/2 cup shredded carrots (about 1 medium sized carrot should do the trick)

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions (about 3-4 scallions)

2 TBS Rice Wine Vinegar

3 TBS low sodium soy sauce (I prefer to use the non-brewed kind for this recipe)

3 TBS teriyaki glaze sauce (Ton Ton is my fave, but use whatever you love)

Lettuce leaves (I like to use Iceberg or Romaine)

Sriracha Sauce (optional)

And here we go:

In a wok or large sauté pan heat oil on high heat. Add garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds. Add ginger and stir fry for another 10 seconds. (Note: it’s very important to keep the garlic and ginger moving constantly so they don’t burn. Burnt garlic is very bitter and will ruin the dish) Add the chicken and continue to stir fry for  another 3 minutes. Add the carrots and stir fry for another minute. Add the scallions and stir fry for another minute. (See the pattern here?  The trick is to keep the food in the wok or pan moving constantly.)  Add the vinegar and cook for 30 seconds (Note: Do not, I repeat DO NOT inhale the fumes when you add the vinegar—they will knock  you on your butt!) Add the soy and teriyaki sauces and stir fry for another 3 minutes.

That’s it.


To serve, I usually put the chicken mixture in a bowl and place the lettuce leaves on a plate and have guests make their own wraps. The trick is to cut the lettuce leaves into small pieces, so guests aren’t spooning a half-cup of the chicken mixture into gigantic lettuce bowls. Ideally, about a tablespoon makes a nice 2-3 bite appetizer. Romaine lettuce works really well, because you can cut the leaves into halves or thirds, depending on how large they are. I like to leave the Sriracha sauce out so guests can add a bit of heat.

Easy, huh? So the next time you get an invite to some swanky soirée and feel the urge to stray to the “old standby” of dips, resist that urge and go buy some poultry instead! I guarantee that you’ll wow ’em! (And have them begging for the recipe—which you can either choose to share or claim is an “ancient Chinese secret.”)

On another note, I’ve officially joined “The Twitter”.  Swore I’d never do it, but apparently, it’s a good marketing tool, so I’m giving it a go. God help us all…For those of you using Twitter, if you’d like to “follow” me (I kinda hate that term-it makes us all sound like sheep…baaaa!) I’m known as:   #1domesticbadass

On the upside, this flurry of recent activity will actually force me to sit down and keep up with the blog and actually get some videos posted too, which I’ve been promising for about a year now…Hey, whatever works, right?

This should get interesting…

Until next time, folks..

Have Fun and Be Fearless!!!


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