#AtoZChallenge: O is for One Day from Payday Spicy Skillet Chicken

stormtrooper skillet kitchen

Just one more day.

OIt gets that close sometimes. It’s the day before payday, the man has taken most of your take-home, and, well … the kids insist on dinner. Rather than break out the plastic to break bread, I’ve found another way – and I suspect you have too.

Inspiration often comes from the show Chopped.

Last week, I nabbed a pack of chicken from the freezer (cut into tenders and stored in zip-lock bags, because we’re out of freezer bags), and mulled over the random assortment of canned goods and other tat lining the shelves.

Being a lefty, I often go from left to right.

This night, I picked up a can on the left and pulled the remnants of half-and-half from the fridge and got to defrosting and contemplating. (Defrosting a pound of chicken gives you just enough time to consider what the hell you’re doing.)

One Day ’til Payday Spicy Skillet Chicken

What you’ll need

bowties habanero tomato

  • 1 pound (give or take) of chicken, nugget sized
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can hot diced tomatoes with habaneros (or some variation, depending on your heat index and tolerance)
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 1 box bowtie pasta (or whatever you find in the pantry from the noodle family)
  • dash chili flakes (if you’re not satisfied with the considerable heat of habaneros)

What you’ll do

1. Place olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat.

2. Add chicken pieces. Turn them once in a while so they don’t burn. Cook until you see no pink spots.

3. Add half and half. Allow mixture to boil a little like a cauldron. Add chili flakes, salt, and pepper to taste.

chicken skillet cream cauldron

4. Add tomatoes. Stir, but not so vigorously you splatter everything.

5. Cook pasta according to package directions.

6. Drain pasta, and add cold water. Drain again. (This keeps the noodles from sticking together. Mostly.)

*Note: If you falter in draining pasta and half your noodles fall into the sink, be mindful that even through a closed window, your family can hear you when you exclaim SH*T! (Don’t worry. Your daughter will remind you there are leftover noodles from the other night, penne, Mix with bowties.)

7. Serve chicken mixture over mixed-bag of noodles. Add a glass of milk and include a box of tissues nearby to combat the taste-bud-assaulting heat you’ve just created.

*Note: Ask your kids to make chocolate chip cookies after dinner. This is an especially effective time to ask if they’ve enjoyed dinner.

I think I’d forgo the chili flakes next time. In my defense, I didn’t see the word habaneros hiding inconspicuously on the can. Really, something like that, it should be set off in a different color. Still, it was tasty and cleared the sinuses.

The time of need for habaneros

Some nights are like this.

You get a bit far from payday, with stuff to still pay for. You buy stuff like hot diced tomatoes with habaneros with another recipe in mind, on some long-ago trip to Aldi, but end up turning to it in a time of need. I’m thankful I had the choice.

Marie, the middle child, hasn’t shown the gusto to cook like her sisters do – but she just might be the best of the bunch.

I acknowledge that two of my three daughters have surpassed me not only in athletic ability (they did that after one week of practice) but also in the culinary arena. And for the third child, it’s just a matter of time.

Marie made the cookies, with Grace’s help.

They turned out cookies roughly 31% better than my last batch, a perfection of exact parts chewy and crunchy. Marie made me scrambled eggs recently, too. They were light, fluffy, not a spot of overcooked egg to be found, but also not a bit of runny undoneness.

Makes me proud, and kind of makes me want to retire from my post of the weekend chef, that two-day period between pizza Friday and the Monday grind that shows a solid 50/50 chance of delicious results.

A trip into recipe archives (or 2015)

I love to cook, though.

Last night, I made this recipe, for heat-and-serve breakfast sandwiches. I’d found it in 2015. There’s not a statute of limitations for the time break between discovering a recipe and actually making it, I was happy to discover.

This morning, Marie gave me props.

That breakfast thing was good, she said as I hugged her goodbye for the day. Sweet! It was kind of like the Iron Chef not spitting my chicken out onto the floor. Kind of makes me want to see what else I can rustle up just before next payday.

The rest of the A to Z to this point:

A is for Addiction to Devices

B is for Burgers (3 Lessons I learned During a Month Without Them) Plus 3 Random Smartphone Pics

C is for Interview with a Cat

D is for Do What I Do and Eat What I Eat

E is for Eight Things I’ve Left Behind

F is for  Foods That Bring Me Comfort

G is for #GirlsRock: An Interview Mental Health Care Advocate Kitt O’Malley

H is for Halfway There

I is for Ice Cream

J is for Justification for the Blog Life

K is for 7 Women I’d Sing Karaoke With

L is for Last 3 Blogs I Read (and Why You Should, Too)

M is for Men I Forgot to Be

N is for the New Plan

cooking quote 2


  1. Miriam says:

    Sounds nice and fiery, just the way I love my food.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It had some pop, Miri – didn’t make my lips numb, but it had some pop.

      1. Miriam says:

        Nothing like a bit of pop, hey Eli.

  2. Lyn says:

    There’s heat and there’s heat. Chili con carne that makes your nose run and your lips burn when you lick them is just about right…just have a nice big glass of chocolate milk to go with it 😀

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Exactly right, Lyn. And heat is on the lips of the beholder.

  3. ksbeth says:

    very creative and this sounds good. my daughters can tell you some tales about things i’ve fed them…….

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      You should have them guest post, Beth.

  4. mividaocupada says:

    You are so resourceful!!! I’d eat it if you cooked for me, whther it was too hot or not!! I happen to think it sounds delicioso! I know all too well how it is to have to stretch that paycheck. Your girls are very lucky to have you. You’re setting the bar high for the future men in their lives. Well done, Coach Daddy 🙂

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It’s all out of necessity! Also, an appreciation for the meal helps, as you know. It turned out well, and there was very little left over.

      Coupons and ingenuity make great budget stretchers, don’t they? Thank you for all your kind words.

  5. cricketmuse says:

    The hubs enjoys cooking now that he’s retired. I just have to get used to his um, inventive flourishes. But hey, a meal in the table is a blessing after a long day of trying to instill enthusiasm for adjectives and adverbs in 15 year olds.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It helps to know I can be to the Little Caesar’s in five minutes in an emergency. What has your husband concocted? Maybe that’s a good post!

      I think your work would evoke lots of hunger, in fact.

      1. cricketmuse says:

        He does well with meat: lamb, moose, elk. Add some potatoes and beans and serve it up. Basic but tasty. Actually a reality show could be in the works: The Retired Guy Show.

  6. Kathy G says:

    I love the challenge of using what’s in the house to come up with a meal. Some of the best ones have been born that way (and to be fair, some of the worst, too)

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It feels like a personal game show, doesn’t it Kathy? And yes, for every masterpiece there must be a thousand stinkers drummed up in the kitchen.

  7. hilarymb says:

    Hi Eli – it’s fine … bring together ingredients you like to eat – and your supper/dinner will taste fine – if not to taste … smother in tomato sauce and be grateful anyway!! It’s good your daughters are becoming better cooks … cheers and enjoy – Hilary


    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Right! I wouldn’t include, say, raw cauliflower. It takes an awful lot of cheese and butter to combat that.

  8. jaishvats says:

    Good Cooks don’t follow recipes and they make their own with whatever is available!


    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Good cooks don’t – and I don’t either! When I follow a recipe, there’s a 41% chance I’ll forget an ingredient.

  9. Court says:

    So what you’re saying is that if I come visit, we’re good on food and I don’t have to cook? 😉

    I used to play this game in my pantry – Just how long can I avoid the grocery store? I once made it almost a full month, only picking up eggs, milk, and apples. Good times. Interesting foods for sure. Salsa makes a really great marinade/cooking sauce for chicken and questionable mushrooms cook up amazingly well in garlic, red wine and butter, and Worcestershire hummus is interesting. I liked it but I don’t know if others would.

    BTW – Hot diced tomatoes with habaneros sound like they’d be an excellent addition to my chili,

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Maybe this is the post you should write, Court – three concoctions you’ve invented without going to the store!

  10. Fast on your feet! Good call and it sounds delish! I love a hot and spicy dish 🙂

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      This one definitely brought the fire – and overcame the draining mishap!

  11. I don’t do spicy… I know I know! I live in Texas! But I just don’t do spicy! Otherwise it sounds like a good recipe!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      No geographical pressure for taste-bud heat, CW. In fact, such juxtaposition often becomes the premise for sit-com plots and pilots, so there’s that!

      You could totally tame-down the dish by using cream of mushroom soup, regular diced tomatoes or even corn, come to think of it.

      1. Now THAT I can do! 😉

  12. messymimi says:

    Desperation dinner. Brown whatever ground meat you have in the freezer, and saute as many onions as are not yet too soggy. If you have tomatoes that are going mushy, peel and chop. Put it all in a pan with a couple of cans of tomatoes or sauce or paste or whatever is handy. Add some liquid if you use paste. Season to taste with what’s in the cupboard. Serve over rice. This has saved us from starvation on the day before payday many a time.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      That’s the very definition, Mimi. And all the steps. Sure beats what they probably serve in prison, right? Our kids are lucky.

  13. It seems delicious and can be accommodated in my midnight binging.
    Thanks for sharing
    Best Wishes!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      If you’re binging on spicy chicken at midnight, you’re my new spirit animal, Karnika! #elevatedgame

  14. Erika says:

    Sounds tasty! As a parent, hearing my little boy gush over how amazing something I’ve cooked is, is one of my favorite things.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It’s a rare and beautiful thing, Erika. I remember one pasta and chicken dish I made with red peppers. I was afraid the girls wouldn’t like it. They scarfed it up. Ravenous. I did an internal fist pump at that.

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