Slow Cooker Smoky Butternut Squash and Pepper Soup

The Improving Cook- Slow Cooker Smoky Butternut Squash Soup

Slow cooker soup is something that I think of in Autumn and Winter, ready for all my work lunches on those cold days. However, my Leek and Potato Slow Cooker Soup recipe has had just as many repins and views during the summer as it did in the winter, and it remains one of my most popular posts. So it would seem that soup is still something people are interested in. Coincidentally, today my husband requested a batch of soup ready for when he goes back to work next week, so it got me thinking of a recipe for something a little lighter and more suitable for the weather.

Looking at the ingredients that I had to hand, I settled on a butternut squash and pepper soup. I added a little cumin, smoked paprika, garlic and chilli powder to give it some punch against the sweetness of the butternut and the peppers. I used a red pepper and an orange one as that's what I had to hand, but you could go with yellow or another combination. 

The tricky part of using butternut squash in anything is the peeling and cutting of it. If you're roasting, you can just leave the skin on, as it caramelises beautifully. For soup, there's no getting away from the prep work! The key to it is you need to have a decent sharp peeler and a large, sharp knife. That old, blunted knife that hangs around in your cutlery drawer, won't do the job! 

Chopped Butternut Squash

As usual with the slow cooker, it's a case of chuck it all in, give it a good stir and leave it to work its magic while you get on with whatever else you've got to do!

Credit Crunch Munch Logo
What you end up with is a good batch of Smoky Butternut Squash and Pepper Soup; smooth, sweet and light enough for summer if that's when you fancy it. You can make a big batch and freeze it too! It's an affordable lunch so I am submitting it to July's Credit Crunch Munch. 

Blended Smoky Butternut Squash Soup

This recipe is Slimming World Friendly and syn free. For My Fitness Pal users it's roughly 200 cals per portion if split into 4 portions.

Home-made Strawberry Milkshake

Well after weeks of complaining that summer was never coming, it hit with a vengeance in the last week! The last few days at work were sweltering. Air con is not really a feature of British primary schools, so I mostly survived by drinking iced water constantly. Now school's finished and I have total freedom to keep cool in whatever way works  (lolling in front of the fan indoors, or laying out in the breezy garden have been my favourite methods so far), including making lovely summery drinks when the mood takes me. One drink I made, which really got me feeling like summer, was a home-made strawberry milkshake.

The heat got me thinking of milkshakes. I like a milkshake now and then. It feels like a summery treat. I'm quite particular about them though. The milkshake has to be thick and it has to have real flavours. I absolutely hate the fake flavoured milkshakes that you get in the fast-food chains. I love strawberry but synthetic strawberry flavour is revolting. The only thing worse probably, is synthetic banana flavour! The only places that I have been able to get milkshakes with real fruit recently, have been diner type restaurants, or ice-cream parlours, usually independent ones. There isn't really one on every corner, and they tend to be fairly pricey for what you get!

The ideal solution is to make your own at home. Very easy with a blender or a hand blender to whizz them up with. Pack them with whatever fruit you like and have the comfort of knowing exactly what's in it, especially if you are serving it up to your children! There's no need for any additional sugar, in my opinion, as ice cream has enough, plus the fruit has plenty of natural sugar.

When a cold drink craving hit this week, I went for a strawberry milkshake, as strawberries are in season, and really sweet and delicious right now. It took no time at all to whip up and it was minutes before I was lounging in the garden with my summery treat. Try a strawberry milkshake on the next hot day and bring childhood memories flooding back!

If you are following a calorie controlled programme like My Fitness Pal, there are around 90 calories in a large milkshake (using skimmed milk and Walls light vanilla ice cream).

Strawberry Milkshake

Marinated Pork Tenderloin

The recipe I'm sharing today is a beautiful, spicy, marinated pork tenderloin dish, perfect for a weeknight dinner or an alternative Sunday roast. I had never eaten pork tenderloin until two years ago when my parents started raving about it. My dad kept telling me how he had got these pork fillets for amazing prices at Asda and how they were delicious roasted. I decided to try it, and he's right, it is delicious roasted!

Pork tenderloin is a very lean meat and it marinates very well, especially if you slice it up into thick slices, so it can really soak up the flavours. I used a combination of chilli, honey, lemon, garlic, ginger and coriander. You can easily adjust the quantities to suit your own preferences, so add more chilli if you like a kick, add more honey if you like it sweet. If you are doing things last minute then you can leave the meat in the marinade for 20 mins and get away with it. Ideally though, 3-4 hours would let the flavours really get going.

One thing you need to watch out for, if you're slicing it, is overcooking, as it's such a lean meat. It needs very little cooking when whole, even less when cooking it sliced, so be cautious!

If you are following a calorie controlled plan such as My Fitness Pal, this recipe is around 170 calories per portion. On Slimming World, this recipe is 3 syns per portion. If you leave out the oil and use spray oil, it will be 1.5 syns per portion.

The Improving Cook- marinated pork tenderloin

Strawberry Cheesecake Buns- Fdblogger Friends

A little while back, I guest posted on 'Andrew in the Kitchen' as part of Andrew's #fdbloggerfriends series. You can find the post here: Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes

As part of the series, Andrew is now guest posting here!  Read on to find out more about Andrew and his blog, and to get the recipe for his Strawberry Cheesecake Buns.


As you can probably tell from my blog name, my name is Andrew and I blog about lots of food topics that grind my gears as well as post recipes at least once a week. I have very recently just turned 18 so while most 18 year olds spend the summer partying and drinking, I’m spending it posting on my food blog. But obviously university beckons next year and if all goes to plan, I will be starting a maths degree at Nottingham. 

In the future, I would love a career in food but while the book deals and the Bake Off appearance aren’t looking promising, teaching is what I would love to do. I specialise in baking rather than cooking; I love the precision and idea that you can take very basic and cheap ingredients of flour, sugar, eggs and fat and combine them to make biscuits or a cake. But I am a very frugal cook; I believe you can make great meals on a budget. And I am one of those who eats food a month past its best before date because I can’t stand to see it thrown away in the packet!

Why did you start a blog?

I don’t particularly know why I started my blog; I thought it would be a fun thing to do when I started it over 3 years ago. There was a period of time where I left it for a while but it was when I did my GCSE coursework on The Great British Bake Off that I really started getting into it. I have always wanted a career in food – a cookbook in my own name, a slot on This Morning or Sunday Brunch cooking one of my recipes – so I guess this was my way of trying to get that job!

How has food shaped my life?

I’ve been around food all of my life; my parents have a Chinese takeaway and I have been working there solidly since the age of 15 out of necessity. But the one thing I have never wanted to do is work in a restaurant; seeing the amount of hours and stress that goes into running a smooth ship is enough to put you off! I myself have had to lead the kitchen while everyone else is cooking frantically and it’s not fun. But being passionate about food from a young age – and coming from a culture where food is everything – it’s not hard to see why I am so into food now!

Last meal

If there was one thing I had to eat for my last meal, it would have to be chicken nuggets. I know that sounds awfully strange for a food blogger but it’s the fact that it's so bad for me that it’s just why I love them so much. The only caveat is that I need McDonalds curry sauce. Apologies for the dirtiness!

Item I always order in restaurants

Coleslaw. Homemade coleslaw is so different to the shopbought version and although I don’t make it often, it really is so much better homemade. My recipe for coleslaw is coated in mayonnaise still but it is not as creamy as shopbought versions and it has a lot of wholegrain mustard which adds a lot of punch and bite so if I see something comes with coleslaw, I’m ordering it!

5 facts about me

1 *       When I was 2 years old, I apparently shaved off my right eyebrow
2 *       I have been taking Zumba classes for around 4 years now – I haven’t done it for a while due to exams but I hope to get back to it soon
3 *       I applied for Bake Off this year – but didn’t get any further than the application form
4 *       I have baked 2 dessert buffets for 120 people as part of our school’s Charity Week in the past 2 years
5 *       At AS-Level, I did better in further maths than I did in maths...

Favourite Posts

I am definitely a baker, so writing about baking is what I do often on my blog. But actually my favourite posts are the posts where I just write pretty freely about what I think about a food related issue – whether that’s ‘Should cooking be compulsory for secondary school students under 18’ or whether healthy eating is a food trend, I just love to write freely and openly about what I truly think with no inhibitions. I do passionately believe that all students in the education system should have compulsory cooking lessons; I left school knowing how to cook simply because I have been brought up in a food-driven environment but I also have many friends that struggle to cook and I know they wouldn’t be able to make healthy meals for themselves.

Another post which I am really proud of is my Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I made around 300 of these for my school’s open evening – even though I left, I couldn’t resist another opportunity to promote my blog as well as bake literally the day after my last exam – and they went down a storm! I had many parents say they would make them over the weekend but whether they did is another story! Anyways these are crunchy around the edges and soft and chewy in the middle, as the perfect cookie should be!

One of my other favourite posts is my Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache. Macarons are notoriously difficult to make and using this recipe, I made my best ever batch of macarons with the signature foot and hardly any cracking. The recipe was from John Whaite and is a good base to practice your macaron making with because I reduced the quantities down to just 1 egg white so you don’t have to worry about wastage!

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Warm Smoky Bacon Couscous Salad

This post is a recipe for Warm Smoky Bacon Couscous Salad. I am constantly looking for new things to have for work lunches, especially now my husband regularly works away and needs a packed lunch to take with him. I am very into couscous right now, because it feels summery and a bit lighter than pasta.

The key thing with couscous is that, like many grains, you need to add lots of flavour to really make it work. It can be terribly bland otherwise. I wanted to add smoky flavours to this and serve it as a warm salad, so I added smoky bacon and smoked paprika along with fresh tomatoes. The sweetness of the tomatoes went really well with the smokiness of the bacon. 

It's lovely warm, served fresh from the pan, but my husband liked it cold as well. As with most grains, make sure you cool this quickly to be safe, and then keep cool. If you do that, it will be safe to reheat later.

This recipe is Slimming World Friendly if you use bacon medallions and spray oil to cook the bacon/grill it. If you are following a calorie controlled plan such as My Fitness Pal, it is roughly 180 calories.

Apricot Cake with Ginger Icing

Apricot Cake

Today I am sharing an Apricot Cake recipe. Apricots are a bit of an under-rated fruit, I think, but I love their subtle flavour and their bright colour! They are amazing as a cooked fruit too. Have you ever had an apricot pie? You've really missed out if not! The good thing about cooking the apricots is that it intensifies the flavour; you really don't need any added sugar most of the time.

This is a simple apricot cake with the addition of ginger icing to give it a subtle kick. It's not an overly sweet indulgent cake, so it's perfect for people who don't have a really sweet tooth. It could easily be left naked and un-iced if that's your preference. It makes a nice change from chocolate or lemon and a great alternative to my mango and coconut cake (Mango and Coconut Loafcake).

Make sure that you chop your fresh apricots up quite small, or you will get big soggy patches in your cake. You'll notice that it cooks at a low temperature.  That is so the apricot cooks and softens in enough time for the cake to be ready. So don't be tempted to turn it up!

I am submitting this recipe as part of Mama's Gone Crafty's Sunday Crafternoon Link Up Party- pop along and see what else is there! (See button at the bottom of my post).

Tuna Crunch Pasta Salad

Tuna Crunch Pasta Salad

Pasta salads get quite a bad rap at times- gloopy, bland and so on, but I love them, especially in summer. It took me a few years to realise it though, due to bad experiences at school. This was because there were often pasta salads served in the summer and they were truly revolting; very sweet and always tasted the same, no matter what the ingredients were. I found out later that they had been making the pasta salads with salad cream... I know, the very idea is revolting. Can't believe I ever managed to eat it!

Pasta salads can be absolutely delicious, if you get the balance right (and don't use salad cream!) Given that pasta is soft, it works best if you balance that with some other firmer textures.

For this pasta salad, I wanted to make a big batch so that it would do a couple of lunches for me and my husband. I'm trying to add to my summer lunch repertoire with dishes that are easy for me to take to work and that will fit in with his Slimming World requirements as well.

I started off with the classic tuna pasta mayo salad with sweetcorn and added chopped red pepper and spring onion for some crunch. It's nice served cold with a some grated cheese on the top and you can make a big batch and use it over a couple of days. It would work for children's lunchboxes too.

This recipe is Slimming World friendly if you use light or extra light mayonnaise. If you are following a calorie controlled programme like My Fitness pal, this contains roughly 350 calories per portion if you use light mayonnaise.

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Home-made Fish and Chips

Fish and chips is just essential British food. There's something very comforting about it, perhaps because it reminds me of childhood holidays, eating fish and chips out of the paper on the seafront, and university, eating chips on the way home from the pub!

The trouble is that, like most delicious foods, and definitely most take-aways, fish and chips are not great for those trying to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle. At least, not in their traditional, yummy, crispy, deep-fried form. So what to do if you want to reduce those calories a wee bit? Well, the first thing is to make it at home so you can keep it healthy and the second is to find ways to reduce the oil right down. 

There are two options for the fish- batter or breadcrumbs. Home-made fish and chips are far  easier to make with breadcrumbs instead of batter, so that's what I use. Breadcrumbs are also the more healthy option. Much less mess too, which gets the thumbs up from me!

My version of home-made fish and chips uses breadcrumbed fish which has an added touch of paprika and garlic in the mix, to add a bit more flavour. It's really no fuss, there's no oil slick left behind and it doesn't make you feel over-full when you've eaten it, so it's great for summer too.

I can see us eating this regularly as a Friday treat!

By the way- this is my 100th post since I started the blog. Hopefully hundreds more to come!

This is a syn free Slimming World friendly recipe as long as you use spray oil. If you are following a  calorie controlled plan like My Fitness Pal, each portion of fish is 240 calories.