Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dear John: Teriyaki Grilled Chicken with Carrot Raisin Salad and Homemade Potato Chips

For more than a year now I've been juggling two blogs, a part time job, family time, and just trying to keep my house from sinking into the pit of cluttered chaos. Often I've wondered if I should put my blogs on hold and focus on my more pressing tasks, but I'm always coming back to them because, well, it's what I do. Some people knit, some scrapbook, some run marathons; I blog. (Click here to see what I've been up to lately on my other blog, Musings of a Catholic Mom.)

I realized that last Labor Day Weekend marked one year since I started this little project. I've covered ten books (Dear John is the eleventh), and I only have five more books to go, including The Best of Me, which comes out on October 11. Six if I count Three Weeks With My Brother, and I still haven't decided what to do with that one. That's only about six more months of Cooking Nick's Books. I've been thinking lately about what to do when I run out of books; and I'm considering posting more non-Sparks related projects in the near future, just so I won't have to end this journey quite so soon. We'll see!

In the meantime, I'm past due for another stop in our trip through Nick's books; this one involves Dear John and a cookout on the beach. John has just spent his first day on furlough from the Army surfing at Wrightsville Beach. (Read a little bit more about John here.) Late in the afternoon he spots two attractive young women walking on the pier and says hello to them. One says hello back, one doesn't Just then two buff guys come to fetch the girls and bring them back to the beach house where they are staying with a group of friends, and one of them (accidentally or on purpose, we're not sure which) knocks a beach bag into the ocean. The bag belongs to Savannah, the one who said "hi" to John. The jerk who tossed her bag shrugs and acts like he doesn't care, and John comes to the rescue and swims out to retrieve it. Grateful for his help, Savannah (much to the dismay of the two hotshot guys) invites John to the beach house to join the bonfire and cookout they're planning. It is at said cookout that John and Savannah begin to get to know one another--and where John learns that Savannah and her friends are in Wrightsville Beach to build a Habitat for Humanity home for a needy family--and the romance starts to sprout.

So what's on the menu at this barbecue? Grilled chicken, chips, and potato salad. Since I've made potato salad twice already for this blog, and I was already making homemade potato chips, I decided to prepare a new version of an old favorite of mine--carrot and raisin salad.

Years ago--before kids--we spent a weekend with our good friends Erik and Patty in upstate New York. While we were there they grilled us some delicious teriyaki chicken breasts, and I was so impressed I asked them for the recipe. I have since lost the little recipe card that Patty wrote it down on in her immaculate handwriting (I swear, this woman has the most beautiful handwriting I've ever seen--I wish I hadn't lost the card so I could show it to you), but I've made this so many times I don't need to look at the recipe anyway:


1 cup Soy sauce (I used Tamari because it's gluten free)

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup salad oil (I've used canola as well as olive oil; both work well)

1 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup sugar

(To be honest, I don't know if these are the exact measurements Patty gave me; depending on how much chicken you're cooking you can adjust them accordingly. I was cooking nine chicken breasts, so I needed quite a bit of marinade.)

Pour the marinade over the chicken. (By the way, you don't necessarily have to cook boneless chicken breasts; you could use this on drumsticks or thighs or anything you want.) Cover and refrigerate at least two hours. Grill until done.

Joe likes to brush the marinade over the chicken while it's grilling.

One thing I wish I had done differently was split the breasts, because these were pretty thick. I usually do this, but I didn't this time for some reason. These were delicious, nevertheless, and I had lots left over for chicken salad later!


When we lived in Maryland we had a favorite joint called Grizzly's we used to frequent, and they served homemade potato chips--just potatoes sliced real thin and fried until crunchy. (We took the kids back there over the summer--they don't have those chips anymore, but they still have the best wings ever.) Anyway, I make homemade chips quite often nowadays, because they're super easy.

First, slice the potatoes as thinly as you can. (If you have one of those Mandoline slicers, that's great. I have one, but nine times out of ten I'd just rather use a knife. But that's me.)

Fry in about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil on medium to medium-high heat. You'll want to turn them about halfway through cooking.

It's not easy to get the potatoes cooked to the exact crispness you want, so watch them carefully. The one on the left is under cooked, the middle one is too done, and the right one is perfect. I'll usually take one out to test it when they're starting to look done. Depending on how thin they are, some will take longer than others.

Drain on paper towels and salt liberally. I like to eat mine with ketchup!


When I was growing up, I was usually put in charge of making the salads at mealtime. Of course, I often prepared one that required little or no effort: a blob of cottage cheese and a pear half on a bed of lettuce; a stalk of celery and some peanut butter; or if I felt like working a little bit more, a carrot-and-raisin salad. Even that wasn't hard; just grate some carrots, throw in some raisins, add some mayo and stir. As I got older and more adventurous, I started adding a little lemon juice, honey, or cinnamon for variety. These days I don't make it much because, well, let's just say it isn't one of Joe's favorites. This day, however, I wanted carrot and raisin salad, and by golly, I was going to make some.

I looked online for some recipes, and found a couple that looked good (this one from Food Network and this one from, and decided to concoct my own version using some of the ingredients from each. This is what I came up with (measurements are approximate):


1 lb. grated carrots

1/4 cup grated red onion

1 T sugar

1/2 t. cumin

1/2 t. paprika

1/4 t. salt

1/4 t. cinnamon

1 1/2 t. minced garlic

1 cup raisins

2 T lemon juice

1/4 c. orange juice

1/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 c. mayonnaise, optional

Mix all ingredients together and chill until ready to serve.

I divided the salad into two separate bowls and put mayonnaise in only one of them since Moe is allergic to eggs, and not everyone in my family likes mayo anyway. Moe and Joe didn't care for the salad (dang it), but Larry, Curly, and I all LOVED it. I'll definitely be making this again!

A great meal for a fall barbecue!

Next, I think I'll be making beef stew again, and the challenge will be to find a recipe that's different from my usual stew that everyone loves, but also a stew that will satisfy all my picky eaters. Wish me luck! And stay tuned for another 7 Quick Takes, and that peppermint ice cream I've been promising to share.

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