Selfish but sane

As a rule, I don’t tend to ask what my lot want for tea. I stopped this practice a while back, when I realised that a. I already knew what the response from each of them would be, and b. what they want to eat is often the last thing I want to cook. Selfish, maybe, but let me explain.

My husband is essentially a meat and two veg man. That is unless of course he happens to be in a high-end restaurant where he will often order a dish with a name like ‘textures of cauliflower’ and declare it the most delicious thing he ever tasted. ‘You won’t eat cauliflower at home,’ I will remark in a slightly wounded tone. ‘That’s because at home I like comfort food,’ he will reply, ‘and anyway I do eat cauliflower at home when you cover it in cheese.’  At home if asked what he wants to eat, the stock answer is always ‘cottage pie, chicken stew or pork chops’. Guaranteed. Every time.

The 9 year old, who is slowly but surely emerging from the darkness that from here on will be referred to as the Plain Pasta Days, will still fall back on that old stalwart when asked what he wants (although he has recently declared a new found love of sausages, an announcement timed with absolute perfection, coinciding as it did with one from the food police stating that serving up a sausage is tantamount to sticking a Marlborough in your child’s mouth and lighting it up. Grrr.)

The teen, although once the fussiest of them all, is now probably the most interesting to cater for in that he likes a bit of spice to his food, but that doesn’t necessarily sit comfortably alongside the others’ more conservative palates.

I’m not complaining. Everyone is entitled to different tastes, right? Nor can I expect my family to come up with new, exciting ideas for mealtimes when I find it bloody hard myself, even armed with a nerdy curiosity about food, a tower of cook books and a penchant for crappy food telly.

The thing is, I can’t possibly please all the people all of the time, so I try to please some of the people some of the time, but within the confines of what I want to cook and when I want to cook it. I think this is fair enough. I’m the one who has to do all the planning, shopping and cooking after all. And if you cook every day, you’ve got to find ways to stop the rot from setting in.

I don’t completely ignore my family’s likes and dislikes (well not always) .- my aim ultimately is for empty plates and full bellies – but I might add a new sauce here, a different spice there, or try out a completely new recipe which at least has elements that will be acceptable to each of them, even if it is not enjoyed in its entirety (I know, radical, right?).

Of course, the idea of cooking anything remotely unfamiliar goes out the window if one of them is feeling under the weather or down in the dumps. Then, only comfort will do (you see, I do have a selfless, nurturing side). Last week, for example, when my husband returned (to his vinegar-saturated) home, wretched with jet lag, it was to a plate of his beloved cottage pie. Last night, the teen, who had a day off school with man flu a fever, got his favourite Moroccan meatballs – a creation which itself was borne out of my boredom with the seemingly nightly request for ‘footballs and laces’ when he was younger. You see, selfless and nurturing, me.

Moroccan(ish) meatballs with tzatziki (serves at least 4)

the pics are not getting any better

I don’t suppose these are remotely authentic, but who cares, they are quick, taste great and my lot all seem to love them. You can make them with any type of mince – beef, lamb, pork (definitely not authentic!) or turkey.

For the balls

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp dried mint (if you happen to have some)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 large handful of breadcrumbs, or 1 slice of bread soaked briefly in milk, squeezed out and crumbled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper
  • olive oil for frying

For the sauce

  • 1 can chopped tomatoes or equivalent weight of passata
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1-2 tsp harissa paste
  • 2 tsp dark brown sugar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Put all the ingredients for the balls in a big bowl and squidge together until thoroughly mixed. Break off a nugget of the mixture, fry and taste to check for seasoning, adding more spices or salt if needed.
  2. Shape mixture into balls the size of a walnut.
  3. Fry balls in olive oil in large frying pan until browned on all sides (balls don’t have sides but you know what I mean). Don’t worry about completely cooking them through as they will be cooked again in the sauce.
  4. Remove balls with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
  5. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and add onions. Sweat for 10 minutes until softened, not browned, scraping any meaty bits off the bottom of the pan as you go.
  6. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
  7. Add spices and cook for another minute or two.
  8. Add tomatoes, harissa and sugar and simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Taste and add salt and more sugar or harissa if necessary.
  10. Return balls to pan and cook for a further 10 minutes, they should be cooked through and the sauce thickened.

Serve with steamed basmati and tzatziki


I can’t even crop properly FFS
  • 2 heaped tbsp natural Greek yogurt (I like full fat Fage but any will do)
  • 2 inch piece cucumber, seeds removed, then coarsely grated
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • juice of 1/2 lemon or to taste
  • salt to taste
  • scant scraping of garlic (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together then drizzle over with extra virgin olive oil if you’re feeling fancy.



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