Party Tarts


This is more of recipe for the best pastry ever, rather than for the actual tarts. I always tend to use the same type of filling for my tarts- well, at least the basic premise is the same, and I adjust fillings and flavours according to what I have to hand. I’m posting the recipe for the pastry here, and then have followed it with the filling idea: it is a fool proof concept, and I urge you to try your hand at it, and experiment with different combinations. As long as you remember the egg yolk, microplaned parmesan and creme fraiche, your filling should hold well and bake even better.

I made these for my dear friend Helen’s birthday on Saturday- Helen and I look rather similar, and are often mistaken for each other in town, or in fact wherever we go. We’ve only known each other for about four years, and were introduced by a mutual friend, who kept saying, “You’d get on SO well together”. And of course, we do. It helps that we both are English teachers, share a love of rummaging in thrift shops, and have the same sense of humour, among other things. We never co-ordinate our outfits, but often we’ll land up dressing in a similar fashion too: specs on, specs off, monochrome or dresses; somehow our attire and appearance is a source of total amusement for everyone, but, as we laugh at ourselves rather frequently anyway, we are more than happy to make people smile and provide entertainment. Meeting Helen’s parents was interesting- I think I freaked her family out somewhat! I love how there is a twin to be found out there in the world- for all of us, I’m sure. I feel very lucky to have found mine so early on in life.

Here’s that gorgeous pastry recipe, followed by my filling suggestion.

Gluten Free Shortcrust Pastry

Makes 24 mini tarts (pictured) or 12 larger ones


200g plain gluten free flour

1 1/2 tsp table salt

110g cold salted butter, cubed

1 egg yolk

Cold water to bring the mix together.

Cornflour to roll it out with (this is essential)


Place the flour, salt and butter into a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. this is a crucial part: it will take a while, but you must, must do it. There mustn’t be any butter lumps remaining. Once you’ve done this, add the egg yolk, and a few splashes of water, mixing thoroughly as you go. I use my hands, of course I do: they’re the best tools for the job. Keep adding water until you have a soft, pliable ball of dough- it mustn’t be crumbly at all. You may need to add more water than you initially think to the mix.

Dust your work surface with cornflour and roll the dough out: unlike gluten based doughs, this one doesn’t need to rest in the fridge before use. I use scone and biscuit cutters, and I cut little rounds of pastry. I carefully line my tins with the discs, ensuring that if the bottom of the little tarts look to thin, I patch the bottoms up with extra little bits of pastry: you don’t want the filling to leak out, so ensure the tins are well padded with pastry.

Pop a little circle of baking parchment in each pastry tin, and top with baking beads (like in the picture).

Bake at 180 degrees celsius for 6-8 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the parchment and beads. Spoon your filling into each receptacle, top with grated cheese, and bake for a further 10 minutes or until golden brown on top.


I base every filling for these little tarts on the same sort of idea: I saute shallots or onions and garlic in a little butter and olive oil for 7 minutes or so. I then add chopped chorizo, or prosciutto, add finely chopped mushrooms, or peas to the pan, add microplaned parmesan, an egg yolk, a few tablespoons of creme fraiche, salt and black pepper and chopped herbs (basil and parsley, usually). I remove the mix from the heat and spoon it carefully into the cases, topping with extra cheese (cheddar, little lumps of goat’s cheese, or parmesan).  I am sure the idea would work were you to use the pastry idea to make a large tart for lunch, or some other occasion. The little tarts keep very well, and can be heated up just before serving.


The Last Hurrah

The Plain Kitchen Party Food

I am prone to make rash decisions when I’ve had a few too many glasses of wine- I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Luckily, my impromptu decisions are usually very upbeat and happy ones, and so it was on Saturday night. On New Year’s Eve, returning home early from a lovely party at a friend’s house, our neighbour popped round to wish us Happy New Year- we were all full of New Year’s spirits, and I decided then and there, at 12 o clock at night (loudly, enthusiastically, and gesticulating like only the sozzled can do), that they were to all come round the next day to ours, for drinks and snacks, following their New Year’s day pub lunch. I decided this in full knowledge that I’d not been to the supermarket for six days post the huge Christmas shop, and yet I happily offered to feed and entertain 8 adults and 6 children for a few hours. In my over-excited state I saw an almost empty grocery cupboard and fridge not, of course, as an obstacle, but as a tiny challenge which I could of course quite easily overcome. The Plain Kitchen food blog

Sunday dawned, with, strangely no headache, but quite a large amount of exhaustion. After a few breakfasts (we eat rather a lot in our house) I began tackling the food scenario- what the hell I was going to feed my friends? As you by now may have guessed, the little foraging mission was quite a success- so much so that I decided to write a little bit about what I got up to, and what I made, which I hope will inspire you: proof that one really can make do and be inventive when one has made huge promises to people while under the influence of a lot of wine. Here goes…

The Plain Kitchen Justine WallChicory & Gem with Bacon & Walnuts

Look, the best-by date on the leaves had of course gone over a while back, but, once the outer leaves were discarded and the funny bits removed, I was left with a perfectly acceptable platter of crisp green boats. I decided I’d do the usual, a bit of blue cheese, bacon and walnuts, but upon opening the fridge, a rather hirsute Gorgonzola greeted me. If it were just me tucking into my canapés, I would have probably shaved the fur off the cheese and risked this, but I didn’t want my guests to- so I sadly discarded the forlorn bit of blue. What to do? I arrived at the ingenious solution of mixing soft cream cheese, with a little finely chopped basil and parsley, a little lemon zest and a good dollop of smoked paprika together. I popped a little of this at the ends of the gem and chicory, and topped with very crispy bacon and toasted pecans (yes, yes, the idea was walnuts, but I couldn’t find those…)

Lemon Artichokes

Well, I’ve posted the recipe for these before and they are quite the easiest things in the world to make, and, I think, utterly delicious. Always keep tins of artichoke hearts in your cupboards- they are just the most versatile things, for using in bakes, on top of pizzas, whizzing into dips, and, of course, for eating on their own. The recipe for the artichokes is here– you’ll need garlic, lemon juice, parsley, salt and black pepper and very good grassy olive oil.

Chorizo Tarts

I always have a pack of ready rolled puff pastry or shortcrust pastry to hand, and those who know me well know that cheese nut garlic puff things are my usual offering, either at our home, or taken as a little gift when we visit others. So, it was with great relief that I found the shortcrust pastry lurking in the fridge: I cut little circles from the pastry, popped these discs into a shallow fairycake type of tin, and then topped each disc with my chorizo mix- again, this is an old reliable mix and does very well for any sort of pastry canapé. Saute a small, finely chopped red onion with a large microplaned clove of garlic in olive oil, add finely chopped chorizo, then, after 10 minutes or so, remove from the heat and stir through an egg yolk, a good dollop of sour cream or soft cream cheese, black pepper, and finely chopped parsley. Dollop a teaspoonful onto each disc as I said- and grate over a little hard cheese- whatever you have to hand. Bake at 180 for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling on top.

Jalapeno Baba Ghanoush and Pastry Nut Sticks

I am laughing at my ridiculous descriptions here: apologies. These are more ideas of what to do, than exact, refined recipes- I do hope you find them helpful!

The aubergines in the fruit bowl were not looking their glossy rotund best, it had to be said, but I soldiered on, and removed the rather unappealing bits. I made a mix of olive oil, garlic, dried chillis, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and paprika, scored the aubergines, rubbed the mix into them and roasted them on a high heat for a good 45 minutes. I had leftover pastry remaining from the little chorizo tarts, and I didn’t want this to go to waste, so I toasted some pecan nuts, garlic and olive oil, and mixed this garlicky nutty mix, along with salt and pepper, into the pastry. I made funny, knobbly looking sticks and baked these until golden brown. Once the aubergine was done, I scraped out the spicy flesh, and whizzed it up with lemon juice, jalapenos, olive oil and a little more garlic.


Well, these are a doddle aren’t they? I had made lots for Christmas, and still had salmon leftover, a forlorn bunch of rather withered dill, and, of course, there was a tub of everlasting sour cream in the fridge. In fact, one of our lovely friends Carly brought over a pack of salmon too- so we ended up using hers for this particular platter! I chopped the dill finely instead of using the individual feathers, as they really were rather sad: and a little dollop of that ersatz caviar we all buy at Christmas time ensured that these looked acceptably pretty. Sadly I left the platter of unadorned blinis on top of the warm Stanley, so when served were slightly crispier than they perhaps should have been!

Rum Cocktails

Everyone was feeling a little fragile, and we all admitted we were a bit over the wine scenario. I don’t generally make cocktails, and, as I said, I hadn’t been to the shops for a good week or so, so I really had to make do with what I had to hand. I boiled soft brown sugar and a large knob of ginger down to a syrup (caster would’ve been my choice, but we were out of that). The cocktails were simply a tablespoon of syrup, good squeeze of lime, shot of rum and topped with ice and fizzy water and another wedge of lime.

The children snuck what they liked from the snacks (mostly the salmon), but I ensured they didn’t kill each other by making plates of little cheese and ham sandwiches (the ham that kept on giving- it truly was like Button Soup!). There was no bread in the house- but we do have a breadmaker- which comes into its own at times like these. Children do eat a lot- and I always ensure there is more than enough for them to tuck into.

It was a really last minute, cobbled together affair, but worth it to see 2017 in with good friends, before we all went our separate ways to early beds, and promises of a healthier start to the rest of the year. And it made me think that even those of us who love order, planning, and control would do well to be a little more spontaneous at times: as long as you’ve a tin of artichokes in the cupboard and some ready rolled pastry in the fridge, that is. dsc_0045-1


Cheese Shortbread

Gluten Free Cheese Shortbread, The Plain Kitchen

This is an adaptation of one of my mum’s recipes: I’ve added a bit of Cayenne to up the nostalgia factor, and also increased the amount of butter slightly, as I have used gluten free flour, and I think it benefits from the extra fat. It’s always difficult to find gluten free snacks, or canapés, or something savoury (other than crisps) to have with drinks: and these are perfect. I made two different types from the mixture: one round tin, sliced into traditional shortbread wedges, and then another baking tray of small biscuits: we had the wedges with soup, as they were quite substantial, and we had the biscuits as little snacks.

The shortbread is very popular with children, too.

Makes one tin (about 12 cm in diameter) of wedges, and one baking tray of about 15 little biscuits

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment, and line and butter a 12cm diameter tin with baking parchment: I ensure the baking parchment comes up the sides of the round tin a little bit, as it helps to lift the shortbread out after baking.

Gluten Free Cheese Shortbread, The Plain Kitchen


2 cups plain flour (I use the Dove’s gluten free)

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

170g cold salted butter, grated

1 scant tsp Cayenne Pepper

1 tsp Maldon Salt

Slight grinding of black pepper

¼ cup cold water


Mix all of the ingredients, except the water, in a bowl: use the rubbing method you would use for scones: rub the butter into the flour as best as possible: remember, the cheese will still stay in grated form, and that’s ok. Once everything is mixed well, add the water, and form a dough. I use my hands: it really is far preferable to a spoon. Once you have a good, solid round of dough, break it into thirds: I used two thirds for my round tin of shortbread, and a third for the little biscuits.

Press the two thirds of the dough into the round tin, ensuring the surface area is flat and the edges are pressed right to the edges of the tin. Then prick the surface area with a fork, all over.

Using a little extra flour, roll out the remaining third of the dough onto a work surface, and, using a very small cutter, cut small circles from the dough, and lay each circle on the tray lined with baking parchment. Prick each circle with a fork.

Bake the round tray of shortbread for approximately 25 minutes, and the tray of little rounds for 12 minutes.

Let the round tin of shortbread cool for about 4 minutes, before cutting it into wedges: but leave it to cool properly in the tin for at least another 25 minutes before removing. The little biscuits can be removed from the tray almost immediately, and eaten pretty swiftly too.

Gluten Free Cheese Shortbread, The Plain Kitchen

Sesame & Sweetcorn Chicken Balls

Sesame Chicken Balls, The Plain Kitchen

Friday is upon us, and the weekend beckons. I refuse to give up on Summer, and I am not giving up on drinks outside with friends either, despite our slightly overcast recent days. These chicken balls are perfect to make ahead of time- I bring them to room temperature after keeping them in the fridge, and then fry them in the hot oil before guests arrive. Feel free to make a dipping sauce if you fancy it: a satay type peanut sauce would go well, or a simple chilli, sesame oil and soya sauce dip works wonders too.

When embarking on a gluten free diet, delicious canapés often seem completely absent from every menu- it can be quite difficult to come up with filling, delicious snacks that aren’t wheat based, but I have amassed quite a few recipes over the years, and this is one of them.

I use roasted chicken thighs for the chicken meat: of course, you could use chicken mince, but chicken mince is often hard to come by unless you visit your butcher regularly. I also find thighs have so much more flavour, and I tend to use them in most of my chicken recipes. the cream cheese, egg and buckwheat flour may seem odd additions, but do wonders for binding the mixture together.

Of course, this would be perfect too for lunch or supper, served with rice noodles and a salad.

Serves 6

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius


 To roast the chicken thighs:

 6 chicken thighs

White pepper, black pepper and salt

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp olive oil

For the rest of the mix:

 2 tsp groundut or other flavourless oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, microplaned

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

Small knob ginger, peeled and microplaned

2 cobs of sweetcorn, kernels removed

1 red pepper, finely chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp soya sauce

1 tsp shrimp paste

1 handful fresh coriander, chopped

1 handful fresh basil, chopped

100g soft cream cheese

1 egg

3 tsp buckwheat flour

For coating the balls:

1 cup sesame seeds

½ cup buckwheat flour

1 tsp salt

Black pepper

For frying:

A shallow frying pan

2 cups of groundnut or other flavourless oil


 Place the thighs in a roasting pan, and sprinkle with salt and white pepper, Drizzle the sesame and olive oil over the thighs, and rub into the meat. Roast at 190 degrees for 30 minutes: make sure the meat is properly cooked, by slicing through one of the thighs at the thickest point- the juices should run clear.

Once the thighs are cooked, remove from the oven and let cool.

gluten free chicken balls
Roasted thighs

While the chicken is cooling, get on with the rest of the mix. Fry the onion, garlic, cumin, chilli, ginger for about ten minutes, add the sweetcorn kernels, and fry for 5 minutes. Then add the red pepper, shrimp paste, soya sauce, zest and juice of the lemon, and chopped herbs. Take the pan off the heat.

In a separate bowl, mix the ingredients for coating the balls: the flour, sesame seeds, salt and pepper, and set aside.

Remove all of the meat and skin from the chicken, discard the bones, and using a very large sharp knife, finely chop the meat into very tiny cubes- keep in mind that everything needs to be rolled into balls, so it should be very finely chopped. Then add the chicken to the mix, followed by the cream cheese, egg and buckwheat flour. Add a little Maldon salt and black pepper, and then using your hands, mix the ingredients well together- I find this works better than using a spoon.

Now, roll the mixture into small balls, and coat immediately in the flour and sesame seed mix. Place onto a plate or baking tray, anything flat that will hold them. Continue until you have used all the mixture. Either cover the balls in clingfilm and place in the fridge if you are going to fry them off later, or get them ready to fry immediately.

I heat the oil until a little bit of the chicken mixture sizzles immediately and bubbles- I keep testing the oil until I am sure it is right. Sesame seeds have a high frying point, so you don’t have too much of a worry about them burning too quickly. Fry the balls in batches, draining them on kitchen towel as you go. Sprinkle the hot balls with a little Maldon salt, and squeeze over some fresh lemon juice just before serving.