BY MARINA CHOTZINOFF

Simplify. An edict both motivational and Sisyphean. A dream where all surfaces are devoid of clutter, where you can always find what you are looking for and where delicious, healthy dinners come together with little effort and are received with much enthusiasm. A mantra I return to time and again only to eventually find myself in a kitchen surrounded by every available pot or pan and dinner served hours later than intended. A challenge I am once again tackling with a new grocery delivery subscription and a recipe app to keep me focused on quick, yet rewarding meals. A way of life I am hoping will stick a little longer this time.

Enter: the BLT Chicken Method. A quick, easy and flavorful start to a salad, sandwich or pasta.  It is known as “Bloody Mary” Chicken in our house, but it was rightfully suggested that this pairing of words might be unappetizing for some. Regardless, it begins by marinating boneless, skinless chicken thighs in Denver’s own The Real Dill’s Bloody Mary mix. Sometimes we add some lemon zest, herbs or extra garlic, but it tastes great as is. Grill them outside or cook them in a hot, cast iron pan, slice and you’re done. Fancy things up a bit by making some candied, spicy bacon (we use Tender Belly, another Denver local), one or two sauces (an herby, tangy vinaigrette and a basil mayo), some sliced avocado and a pile of greens or a toasty bun. Toss it into some orzo with roasted cauliflower, queso fresco, arugula and tomatoes. Or eat it right off the cutting board…while also snacking on the candied bacon.

We’ve had this chicken at least once a week for the last month. You can freeze the chicken and marinade together, thawing in the morning for quick dinner prep or grill up bigger batches, freezing the whole thighs for easy lunch assembly. It’s one step toward simplicity that, for me, seems to have stuck and there are endless ways to pull it together. Here are some building blocks to get you started.

Chicken:

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 c The Real Dill’s Bloody Mary Mix

Marinate chicken 4 hours to overnight. Take the chicken out of the refrigerator and heat a grill or cast iron pan over medium high heat. Season the chicken well with salt and pepper on both sides. Oil the grill grates or add a couple tablespoons to the pan and cook chicken about 8-10 minutes each side until cooked through and nicely browned and crispy. Remove from heat and let rest for a few minutes, then slice.

Candied Bacon:

8 slices bacon

1 T brown sugar

1/8 t cayenne or chipotle powder

Heat oven to 350. Lay bacon slices on a sheet pan and cook about 10 minutes or until halfway done. Flip bacon, sprinkle with sugar and chile powder and continue to cook until browned and caramelized. Pay attention so that the sugar doesn’t burn. Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Herbed Vinaigrette:

1 c fresh herbs (cilantro, tarragon, parsley…), chopped

1 T lemon juice

1 jalapeno, chopped (optional)

2 T rice vinegar

1/3 c Olive Oil

Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender and pulse a few times. Blend on low, adding olive oil in a slow stream until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Basil Mayo:

1 small bunch basil, chopped

½ c mayo

¼ c sour cream

1 t lemon juice

Sriracha

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For a salad:

Toss lettuce with Herbed Vinaigrette. Top with chicken, avocado, chopped tomatoes and chopped bacon. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. You can add some dollops of basil mayo or leave it out.

For a sandwich:

Butter and toast a bun of your choice- pretzel, brioche or ciabatta. Spread a layer of each sauce on one half of the bun. Top with chicken, bacon strips, tomato slices, avocado and lettuce.

For pasta:

Heat olive oil in a hot pan and char cherry tomatoes. Toss cooked pasta with tomatoes, herbed vinaigrette, chicken, chopped bacon, a cheese of your choice (ricotta or queso fresco work well or a more flavorful parmesan), fresh basil and arugula.

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