New family classic recipes to please everyone around the table 

Chilli-hot chicken margherita recipe 
Create some new family classics with these delicious, moreish dishes with a twist  Credit: haarala hamilton

If you Google ‘family meals’, not only do you get thousands of recipes to trawl through, you can also see what else the family-meal people look for on the internet.

The starkest question they pose is ‘What can I make my family for dinner?’ I imagine desperate parents, ragged after their day’s work, plaintively appealing to Google while they stand, near tears, in Tesco Metro. I’ve never typed this question into Google, but 
I do ponder it – usually at the weekend when I plan the following week’s meals.

If you wonder why there are so many food sections in newspapers and magazines, here’s your answer. It isn’t that we’re all hip foodies, desperate to learn how to make kimchi in an old sock, it’s simply that we want to know what to cook every night.

The burden of the evening meal usually falls to women. I’m not going to launch a complaint about that, but it’s a fact, and most of us have a limited repertoire. This isn’t necessarily because we are without ideas, but because we’re catering for people with different likes and dislikes.

In my house, dishes that are heavy on chilli don’t go down well. (My youngest doesn’t like them. What does he want? ‘You know me, Mum. Something bland bland bland!’) My eldest doesn’t like anything with cream (or fennel, ‘Just leave the bloody fennel out, Mum’), and they both think that baked potatoes should only be served on death row. For them, it’s a last-resort meal, the food I offer when, apparently, I have prioritised work over them.

So, despite having written about food for 20 years, 
I am always on the lookout for dishes that might go under the rather toe-curling banner of ‘family favourites’.

Some of these dishes have, over time, become classics. In Britain that means shepherd’s pie, lasagne, chilli con carne, macaroni cheese and spaghetti bolognese. When I was growing up in the 1970s, my mum added goulash, schnitzel and sweet-and-sour pork to this repertoire (yes, she went to evening classes in cookery; we may have been the first people in our area to buy paprika).

"I have hundreds of cookery books, but it’s not the cheffy ones I value, rather the volumes of home cooking." Credit: haarala hamilton

These dishes are standard fare in my home, but I get bored of them. I have hundreds of cookery books, but it’s not the cheffy ones I value, rather the volumes of home cooking. These are what I plunder for new ideas. Right now, on my ‘to try’ list, is a Greek dish of meatballs baked with yogurt, a tamale pie – beef with black beans baked under a cornbread crust – and an Azerbaijani pilaf of lamb and chestnuts topped with roast pumpkin.

The dishes that have been successfully incorporated into the family repertoire in the past year are a savoury bread-and-butter pudding with layers of grated Gruyère and ham (basically croque monsieur made into a pie), veal or chicken meatballs baked with orzo (a cinch – it all cooks together), and a Vietnamese dish of sweet and lime-tart chicken with ginger that is so moreish people eat it in silence. 

It’s vexing that the most-loved meal in my house is lasagne: it’s so time-consuming. I still make it, though, because this kind of dish doesn’t just make my children happy but their friends too. It brings its own glow to the table.

The recipes below take various degrees of effort. The chicken is simple (just bung it in the oven) and is very popular in the Henry household; the moussaka is for Saturday nights because of the different components (it’s labour intensive); the Indian shepherd’s pie is no more difficult than a standard shepherd’s pie but is sufficiently different to stop me losing my mind. Fingers crossed that your little darlings will like at least one of them.