Monday, September 28, 2015

Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup

This soup is very close to the ones I loved to eat at Apple Bees and Max and Erma's Restaurant.  The soup is ideal to cook via the slow cooker where the flavors from the spices and vegetables can slowly blend.  I serve it with Baked Tortilla Strips rather than the deep fried ones used in those aforementioned restaurants. You can also just top the soup with crushed corn chips.

The weather is getting more chilly these days and this soup will give you comfort and warmth on those days or any day for that matter.

Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup

8 servings


  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 -15 oz can tomato puree
  • 2-3 tsp jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 red or green pepper or 1 small piece roasted red pepper from a jar (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar or splenda
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 4 oz cream cheese, low fat or 1/2 cup cream or half and half
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 6 -4 inch corn tortillas,1/4 inch strips, fried or you can use crushed corn chips 
Mix all the ingredients in a slow cooker bowl except the cream cheese, shredded cheese and corn tortillas. Cook for 4 hours at high setting or 8 hours at low setting.  I cooked mine for 2 hours in an Aroma brand rice cooker/slow cooker at slow cooker setting..

At the end of cooking, add the cream cheese and the shredded cheese and mix thoroughly.  Serve the soup topped with deep fried or baked corn tortilla strips (recipe below) if you like.  You can also use crushed corn chips.

Baked Tortilla Strips

Stack 2 4-in tortilla and then cut in half.  stack the halves and then cut into 1/8 inch strips. Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss and bake in single layer in a pan for 3 minutes at preheated 350 degree oven.

Nutrition Facts below are for the soup only without the tortilla strips or chips.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Microwave Coconut Cookies

I wanted to bring a healthy snack for my students in my CCD class yesterday and I decided to whip up a quick and easy batch of Microwave Coconut Cookies.  Just three ingredients and it took only three minutes to bake 8 small cookies in a microwave oven .  Try this recipe.  It takes only 6 minutes total to prepare from mixing to the baking.

They were so delicious I made another batch for my granddaughter who is coming back tonight from Ocean City, New Jersey.  Meantime I am controlling myself from eating them all.  So good.

Microwave Coconut Cookies

4 servings (2 cookies per serving)


  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Mix all the ingredients with a fork in a bowl. Score the mixture into 8 equal parts. Make 8 circular cookies and place them in a microwave safe plate.  Microwave for 3 minutes.  (I have a 1000 watt microwave). You can also microwave 4 cookies at a time for 1 1/2 minutes.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Garlicky Chickpea Spread on Tomato Pizza

Simple but delicious pizza.  The chickpea spread really makes this pizza over the top.  It is easily prepared with just four ingredients, chickpeas, garlic, olive oil and parmesan. It really goes well with the fresh tomatoes and basil.  It can be used as a dip also. I know when something I made is good.  It haunts me after I eat it. This pizza and the spread itself had that effect on me yesterday.

This pizza was inspired by the one I saw on the TV show, "Drive Ins, Diners and Dives"".  It was a deconstructed version with the olive oil doused on top of the pizza dough, then topped with the garlic, lots of shredded cheese, tomatillos and the chickpeas. I recreated it using red tomatoes the picture of which is below.

It was pretty but I did not fall in love with the overall taste and the chickpeas kept rolling out of the pizza.  I had to regroup and came up with an idea.  Make a spread with four of the ingredients!  Voila and it became now my favorite vegetarian pizza. The easy recipe is below.

Garlicky Chickpea Spread on Tomato Pizza


Garlicky Chickpea Spread

  • 1 cup canned chickpeas plus 2 tbsp of chickpea liquid
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Place all the ingredients in a mini food processor and pulse till smooth.

Assembling the Pizza

  • 4 4-inch tortillas
  • garlicky chickpea spread (prepared above)
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, cut into round slices
  • 16 basil leaves
  • more grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

For each individual pizza, Place a tortilla on a pan,  Spread two tablespoons of the garlicky chickpea spread on top of a tortilla.  Place 4 tomato slices on top.  Repeat with the other three individual pizza.  Bake for 4-5 minutes. 

Place 4 basil leaves on top of each tomato on each baked individual pizza and sprinkle more Parmesan cheese if desired before serving.

You can use any leftover garlicky chickpea spread on a cracker or with carrots or celery.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Slow Cooker Chicken and Broccoli Pasta with Healthier Creamy Sauce

I was shopping at Sam's Club and I had a taste of Zatarain's Chicken with Creamy Sauce which they were providing for the shoppers to sample.  I really liked it.  I decided to come up with a healthier version of the creamy sauce and below is my attempt to do so without sacrificing the delicious taste of what I had at Sam's Club.  I made it also more convenient by doing a slow cooker version of the chicken and creamy sauce.  The broccoli and pasta are cooked separately and added at the end of cooking the chicken and sauce.  I used low fat cream cheese but if you prefer you can use instead cream or half and half.  The number of calories per serving was 447, which is decent for a complete dish of pasta, vegetables, fat and protein.  A side of green salad can complete the meal.

Slow Cooker Chicken and Broccoli Pasta with Healthier Creamy Sauce

6 servings


  • 1.5 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 4 oz low fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 12 oz broccoli florets, cooked
  • 8 oz pasta ,cooked according to package directions (I used elbow macaroni)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients in the slow cooker EXCEPT the Parmesan cheese,  broccoli florets, pasta, salt and pepper. Cook at low setting for 6 hours or at high for 3 hours.  I cooked mine in an Aroma brand rice cooker/slow cooker for 2 hours at slow cooker setting.  At the end, add the Parmesan cheese, broccoli and pasta and mix them with the rest of the ingredients.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Slow Cooker Caribbean Ground Beef as a Dish and for Empanadas and Maddie's Visit to the Philippines, Part 3

Slow Cooker Caribbean Ground Beef as a Dish and for Empanadas

This post features a slow cooker Carribean ground beef dish that can be eaten as is and also as a filling for empanadas. It is one of my double duty recipes.

Filipinos look forward to their afternoon merienda or break wherein they eat a snack which could either be savory or sweet.   Empanada, a meat turnover, is a favorite choice.  Ground beef and chicken are both commonly used as fillings.  This savory pastry reflects the Spanish influence on the Filipino cuisine along with dishes like mechado, morcon, callos, asado and afritada, which coincidentally are all tomato based like empanada.

The ground beef dish has the customary ingredients consisting of peas, carrots, potatoes and raisins found in Filipino empanadas.  In addition to these traditional ingredients, I decided to kick up the dish with spices found in Caribbean cooking like cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper.  The resulting empanada using the leftovers from the ground beef dish is a more spicy fusion version of the Filipino one.

Empanadas are sold in pastry establishments like the famous Goldilocks Bake Shop along with their sweet offerings of ensaimadas, mamon and chiffon cake to name a few.  My granddaughter Maddie and her parents, Matt and Wendy, relished some of these pastries while in the Philippines. I am also giving the last of the three part series of their visit to the Philippines during March of this year in this post.

The recipes for the ground beef dish and empanada are at the end of this post.

Maddie's Visit to the Philippines, Part 3

This Part 3 of of the three part series of Maddie's visit to the Philippines in March along with her parents, Matt and Wendy is on Days 4-6 that were spent in beautiful Palawan and Day 7 at the Pico de Loro Resort

Days 4-6 Palawan

Among the many tourists spots in the Philippines that I could choose from which Matt, Wendy and Maddie could visit to complete their experience of the Philippines I opted for Palawan Islands specifically its world famous Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park or Puerto Princesa Underground River.  This world famous tourist spot made the list of the seven natural wonders of the world.

We took an hour plane ride to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan and arrived at a hotel managed by Alex, my brother Benjie's office mate, close to 5 in the afternoon. Wendy and Matt was just in time to be whisked by a tour guide to the Firefly Watching tour.  Maddie and I stayed behind since children are not allowed in the tour.

I had wanted to try JolliBees chicken and spaghetti meal so Maddie and I took a short tricycle ride to JolliBees to satisfy my craving.  After eating at this fast food place, my yearning for halo halo at my favorite ChowKing which was just across from of JolliBee came back.  However, the two fast food places where at an extremely busy intersection I decided not to cross the street and just gave up on satisfying this craving. We were not fortunate either in getting a tricycle to get us back to our hotel .  Since the hotel was just a walking distance from JolliBee I just decided to clasp tightly Maddie's hand and she and I walked to our hotel on the sometimes rocky sidewalk.  We must have been quite a sight.  I, with a squatty built and Filipino features, holding by the hand this tiny Americanita toddler.  When we got to the place where we can cross towards our hotel, I got cold feet to go to the other side.  I waited for minutes for the traffic to subside at the intersection and luckily a hair stylist at a beauty parlor close to where we have been standing came by and generously helped us cross the street.  Thank you whoever you are.  Maddie's parent enjoyed the dinner and the boat ride that went with the Firefly Watching tour but I do not think they had quite an adventure as exciting as what Maddie and I had that night, at least according to my perception.

The next day we were picked up by Sharon our tour guide to the Underground River and we stopped by an office to pick up my permit to go into the river which was required. I was a last minute addition.  Then we set out for our bus trip to the River.  Sharon was a delightful guide who regaled us with stories and jokes. The scenery along the way was one of the most verdant and lush I have seen so far during our various trips. We had one stop for the bathroom and snacks at a place where I picked up the best banana chips in the world.  Awesome.

We arrived at Sabang where we waited for our group's turn to take a boat to the National Park. While we were there Matt bought some drinks which the vendor loaded with rum and we also took pictures and just relaxed alongside the other tourists from all over the world.

The boat ride to the park were the river was located was really smooth relaxing.  Before we had our turn to board another boat that will take us to the underground river, we explored the park for a short time to see live monkeys on the trees and a live crocodile or was it an alligator.  Anyway I was afraid of either animals and the monkeys so Sharon was holding my hand the whole time. Embarrassing I know.  Maddie, on the other hand, loved the sight of the live monkeys which up until then she had only seen on YouTube videos of Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed rhyme.

While we were waiting for our turn (it was a busy day) to take our boat to the underground river, we posed for many pictures with the blue water of the river as a backdrop.  Unforgettably blue.  Gorgeous!

Wendy, Matt and Maddie with Sharon, our tour guide.

A picture of another group entering the underground river.

And then our turn came.  When we got to our boat and into the underground  river, our tour guide gave us a delightful and entertaining descriptions of rock formations resembling events or objects like the Last Supper etc. One has to use a lot of imagination but the witty tour guide did a wonderful job of not only being descriptive but also being hilarious. It was an interesting enjoyable ride through the darkness of the underground river.  It was also very relaxing in a way.  Going to caves does that to you.

Below are pictures of our boat ride back to Sabang to have a late lunch and the trip back to Puerto Princesa.

That night we had a wonderful dinner at the beautiful unique KaLui Restaurant at Puerto Princesa.   Matt had his first ride in a tricycle which was our mode of transport to and from the restaurant from our hotel.

Here are pictures taken at the rustic but elegant KaLui Restaurant.  It is a must go to destination in Puerto Princesa.  The seafood dishes served were equally impressive.

We left the next day by plane for our condominium.  We were delayed going home since we waited for a lady to return Matt's luggage which she mistakenly took to be her mother's.  Her mother was in a wheelchair. That day, we also headed to the Mall of Asia for some shopping for souvenirs and some Mami soup. Yum. Plus Maddie had her ride in the carousel.  Countless times.

Sales persons of a the department store selling native garments and souvenirs dance in front of the store.  

Goldilocks Bake Shop irresistible halo halo.  

A very tired Maddie.  

Day 7 Pico de Loro Resort and Dinner at Guevarra's Restaurant

The day before we left for our trip home to the Philippines, we had a relaxing day at the Pico de Loro Resort.  Here are the pictures of our stay at the beautiful resort..

That night we had a despedida or send off party for Maddie, Matt and Wendy at Guevarra's Restaurant which is my favorite restaurant during my visit.  It features an awesome buffet of Filipino food by Chef Laudovico.  Here are the pictures with Benjie's family who were our hospitable and generous hosts all through out our stay in the Philippines.  Thanks Benjie, Pinky, Roxanne and Benjo (who was working that night).  Love you all.

Here are two pictures of Maddie before they left for the Philippines the next day.

Slow Cooker Caribbean Ground Beef Dish 

  • 3 lb lean ground beef (if it is less than 90% lean, saute the beef and drain the fat)
  • 1 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 cup catsup
  • 1/2 cup raisins 
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 large onion chopped finely
  • 2 roasted red pepper from a jar chopped or 2 fresh red peppers chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch cubes 
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cumin 
  • 2 tsp coriander 
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper  
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients in the slow cooker bowl.

Cook for 4 hours at high setting or for 8 hours at low setting.  I used an Aroma brand rice cooker/slow cooker where I cooked the mixture for 2 hours at slow cooker setting.

Serve over rice or make empanadas with the left overs using prepared dough or Pillsbury pie crust in a can or Pillsbury crescent roll in a can.  The latter was what I used.

Baked Caribbean Ground Beef Empanadas

8 servings (1 empanada per serving)       

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cup cooked Slow cooker Jamaican Ground Beef Dish prepared above, cooled
  • 1  can of refrigerated crescent roll dough or pie crust in a can or prepared dough
  • 1 beaten egg yolk (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a flat surface, unroll the dough into 1 large rectangle and press on the perforations so as to seal the edges. Using a drinking glass or a cookie cutter with around 4-inch diameter, make 8-10 dough rounds.  (or alternatively, just make 8 dough squares instead of dough rounds).  

For each empanada, place about 3-4 teaspoons beef mixture onto center of each dough round.  Fold the dough round in half to cover the meat filling and seal the edges. You can use the fork to make decorative edge.  You can lightly brush tops with beaten egg yolk if you like.  (If you are using dough squares instead of dough rounds, just fill each square and then fold them in half into triangles and then seal the edges).

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve warm. If you are not eating them right away, you can freeze them in a resealable bag and heat it up first for a few seconds in the microwave and then toast it.