Cottage Pie Experiment: Easy Chicken Noodle Soup, and Low-Cal Bacon Pasta

As many of you may know, either firsthand or through reading here, I love to make food that warms to core.  Fancy is fun, it has its place, but it’s not my forte – yet.  Some of you may also know that one of my favorite methods of cooking is just throwing things at a pot and seeing how it comes out.

Sure, Pinterest has great ideas, but many times I read a recipe and think, “Well, it’s a place to start, but it’s not quite what I do.”

Cookbooks are wonderful, yet after a point I start to feel like they run together.  So every now and again, I’ll get an idea of an end product I want, then outline how I’m going to do it with no real fixed recipe to start, but go on instincts and what “looks right.”

I love cottage pie, even though until a few years ago I didn’t know I’d been calling it by the wrong name.  A shepheard’s pie is made with lamb or mutton, while a cottage pie is made with beef.  I suppose it could be classified as a casserole, since it’s a whole meal in one dish, although it doesn’t usually feel that way.  It’s beef and veggies cooked together, then topped with mashed potatoes and cheese and baked.  I love this.  There are many recipes for this, but I decided this week I have enough stuff in my kitchen to wing it.  I followed my nose and tasted as I went, and my husband loved the results.

If you’re crunched for time, it would be just as easy to buy the heat-and-eat mashed potatoes, it’s just not my style to do that.  Feel free to change the recipe to how you like to make mashed potatoes, you just don’t want them to come out very runny as they won’t top the casserole very well.

Don't be afraid to experiment!
Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Cottage Pie

  • 1 lb. Ground beef
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 clove minced garlic
  • 3 meduim-sized carrots, chopped
  • 1 chopped green pepper
  • 1 can drained whole kernel corn
  • 1 can drained diced tomatoes
  • 1 can drained green beans
  • 1 can drained peas
  • 1/4 C Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 C red wine
  • 2 tsp. Oregano
  • 2 tsp. Paprika
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. Sage
  • 4 Russet potatoes, cubed
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1/2 C shredded cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and boil potatoes.  While those are underway, brown your hamburger and drain.  Into that skillet, kept at meduim-high heat, dump the onion, garlic and carrots, cook until they begin to soften.  Add the green pepper, and stir until soft, and deglaze with Worcestershire and red wine, and turn down heat to medium-low, and add the drained canned veggies, oregano, paprika, thyme, dry mustard, and sage, stir until warmed through and turn to low. When the potatoes are cooked through, drain and return to pan.  Add milk and butter, mash until well mixed.

Spread the meat and vegetable mixture in a 9×13 baking dish, and spread over top the mashed potatoes.   Sprinkle on cheese, then bake for 20 minutes.

With flu season in full swing, there’s no more classic remedy than chicken noodle soup.  There’s no dobut that it’s got healing powers, and that’s not just an old wive’s tale.  Researchers at the University of Nebraska confirmed what our grandmas have been telling us: it will make you feel better.  Ingredients in chicken noodle soup not only are high in vitamins, but are also natural decongestant.  Throwing it together was so much easier than I would have guessed.

Easier than it looks, and healthier than a can
Easier than it looks, and healthier than a can.

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 2 qts. Chicken broth
  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 2 Carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 minced clove of garlic
  • 1/4 C diced celery leaves
  • 1 1/2 C egg noodles
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

In a large pot, cook the cubed chicken on medium-high heat.  Add the carrots, onion, garlic, and celery leaves, then add the chicken broth.  Bring to a boil, and add the noodles.  When the noodles are cooked through, about 10 minutes, turn off heat and serve.

I never thought in a million years I would find a recipe quite like this. is a great place to look when you’re paying close attention to what you’re eating, counting calories, knowing how to read the nutrition facts – clearly, I don’t do these things.  This website restores faith that eating well doesn’t mean giving up foods you love.

This recipe really showcases these things for me.  To my point, who doesn’t love bacon?  OK, I know vegetarians don’t, or people who don’t eat it for religious reasons, to everyone else, once your’e bitten by the bacon bug, you realize it’s the candy of the meat world.  And pasta is the carb downfall of many, especially alfredo with its rich creamy sauce.  It’s one of the many sacrifices left on the altar of diets.  But I found this recipe, and I had to try it: fettuccine alfredo with bacon – with only 340 calories per serving!

It’s almost too good to be true.  Our only complaint is that it goes really light on the sauce, but on the upside, it doesn’t lack anywhere in flavor and it’s filling.  There could be worse things than going easy on the sauce.

Cooked in its own juices and still 340 calories!
Cooked in its own juices and still 340 calories!

Fettuccine Alfredo with Bacon

  • 1 9 oz. Package fresh fettuccine
  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. Flour
  • 1 C low-fat milk
  • 2/3 C grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. Slat
  • 2 Tbsp. Chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. Black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt

Cook pasta according to its package, boiling only in water (don’t add salt or oil.)  Reserve 1/4 C cooking liquid, then drain.

While pasta is cooking, fry the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 4 minutes.  Remove bacon from pan, setting aside.  Add to drippings the garlic, saute one minute, stirring constantly.  Sprinkle in flour over garlic, cook 30 seconds.  Gradually add milk, stirring constantly, cook 2 minutes or until bobbly and slightly thick, continue stirring, and reduce heat to low.  Slowly add cheese, stirring until melted.  Stir in reserved pasta water and salt.  Add pasta to pan, toss well to combine.  Sprinkle with bacon, parsley, and pepper.

Tip of the week: If you’re adding pasta to a sauce (especially large amounts of it), Mario Batali recommends cooking pasta for a minute less than the package recommends, then let it finish cooking in the sauce.