Ranchero Sauce

Ah yes, a ranchero sauce for us gringos. There’s enough heat to make the sauce interesting, but not enough to be painful! Very tasty; even Our Kate of the Sensitive Mouth ate it. I confess that I normally double up the recipe and freeze some for later. My frozen peppers come in 16 oz packets, and I’d rather not have 1/2 tin of tomatoes left in the fridge afterwards. Its flavor is remarkably ‘fresh’ despite the tinned ingredients. Even the jalapeño is tinned, which I buy ready roasted and chopped in small cans from the supermarket. I guess for hardened Mexican food eaters, this is a reasonable quantity to use up in a short amount of time. We, however, only eat small amounts, so whenever I open a tin, I tip the rest into a small freezer bag, and freeze (flattened out so it’s easy to break off small pieces) for later use.

Ranchero sauce before blending.

We love this sauce for breakfast over refried beans. It’s also an interesting addition to layered bakes such as Potato Layer Bakes, Mexican Lasagnas, Eggplant Layer Bakes, and it makes an excellent alternative for marinara sauce as a pizza topping.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups; 3-4 servings

1 tbsp oil or margarine (I use Earth Balance)
1/2 cup onion (~1/4 of a large onion), diced
2-3 cups (8 oz) mixed sliced peppers (frozen is O.K.)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 – 1 jalapeño chili, seeds removed and flesh minced
1 tsp dried oregano, or equivalent of fresh
14 oz (1/2 large tin) chopped tinned tomatoes, with juices
1/2 tsp salt
1-2 tsps of sugar if necessary to counteract acidic tomatoes

Ranchero sauce after blending. Note that the sauce isn’t smooth. I like my sauce slightly lumpy, but if you want yours smooth, go ahead and blend for a few more seconds.

Melt the margarine in a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat, and gently cook the onion, peppers, garlic, and chili for about 10 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for a further 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
Either transfer the sauce to a full size food processor or use a stick blender, and pulse to reduce all lumps to no bigger than a pea, but do not puree.
Return to the pan (if you used a processor) and simmer until the sauce has thickened (~5 minutes).
Check seasoning, and serve hot.


Almond Brioche Bread

Fresh almond brioche.

In my pre-gluten-free days I loved to make bread. I made crusty French bread and honey wheat bread, free-form white farmhouse loaves and soft bread rolls flavored with black olives and rosemary, pizzas and bread encrusted pies. When the bomb was dropped that I could no longer eat wheat, I was devastated.

Only temporarily deterred, I’ve since made dozens of loaves of GF bread with various ingredients and with varying degrees of success. One of the battles I’ve fought has been a nutritional one. If you’ve not had a chance to check out my post ‘Exactly Why am I Eating This?’ you might find it an eye-opener. Neither rice flour nor tapioca flour/starch is a good base for gluten free bread nutritionally, but just choosing a flour with a good nutritional content isn’t really the whole story, since different flours have different flavors and structural properties.

One of my favorite flours is almond. It is one of the fussier flours, in my opinion, prone to sucking up moisture and making a soggy product if not handled right, but it has a lovely flavor and a decent nutritional profile (particularly good for diabetics, I’m told, due to lower carbohydrate content).

Baking gluten free bread is not the same as baking wheat based bread. For starters, you need far more ingredients which perform various functions and can’t really be left out. Don’t let this deter you, since once you’ve done it a couple of times, you’ll find it all comes together in an acceptable period of time. It’s NOT a complicated recipe. For a sweet variation: Add 1/3 cup each honey, walnuts, and raisins, and use sweetened vanilla almond milk instead of unsweetened plain almond milk.

This is a good batter consistency to aim for, but I wouldn’t want it any drier.


The trick is to get the batter the right consistency. Once the batter has been worked in the processor for a couple of minutes, it should look like the picture on the left and less like the picture below.


If your batter looks more like this, then you need to be more careful with your timing of the rise and transfer to the oven, and you run the risk of producing a damp loaf.

Almond Brioche Bread is rich in flavor with a meltingly soft mie, and a crunchy, but not hard, deep brown crust. It is rich, it isn’t a bog standard bread; this bread is a treat in its own right, not an imitation. My husband says he would be perfectly happy if I never made regular bread again since we introduced this item to our kitchen. This works fine for me, as the bread freezes well. I slice mine before freezing in a freezer bag, and then toast individual slices as and when we need them.

Note that although I’ve given volume measurements for most of the ingredients, this is an area of cooking which is better if done by weight (also included) for the flours since this is a more accurate method.

Almond Brioche

2 cups (8 oz) almond flour (preferably from blanched almonds)
1 cup (5 oz) tapioca flour
1/4 cup (1 oz) flax seed meal
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp xanthan gum

1 1/2 tbsp yeast

1/2 – 1 cup (4 – 8 fl. oz) unsweetened non-diary milk
4 large eggs
2 tsp wine vinegar
3 tsp maple syrup
1/4 cup margarine (optional – for richness)

Put all the dry ingredients together in a food processor, and the wet ingredients in a measuring jug. Start processing. Gradually (over a period of about 10 seconds) pour all the egg and 1/2 of the milk into the processor, and process for about 3 minutes, scraping down occasionally, if required. Adjust consistency after a minute or two with the additional dairy free milk, if necessary. (The flax meal takes about this amount of time to absorb liquid and thicken the mixture – check out my pictures, above.)

Turn the mixture into a medium sized loaf pan lined with parchment paper, or pipe/scoop into 12 rolls onto a parchment lined cookie tin, or 3 baguettes on a lined French bread former.
Leave to rise for about 30 minutes.

These loaves are sitting in the cold oven rising with foil in place above them ready for cooking. Note that you can cook the bread starting in a cold oven providing you add 5 – 10 minutes to the cooking time, and turn the oven on just before cracks start to form in the rising batter.

Your bread is ready to go in the oven when it has risen by about 50% and cracks have just started to appear on the surface.

Once cracks start to form on the top of the loaf, it is time for it to go in the preheated oven (it probably won’t wait 10 minutes while the oven warms up).

Cook for 60 minutes (50 minutes for rolls) at 360F on the middle shelf, lightly covered with tin foil or parchment to prevent over browning (I put mine on the shelf just above the bread).

Allow to cool completely (ha ha) before slicing, so that it has time to set.

Exactly Why am I Eating This?

My first introduction to gluten free bread was in a health food store in Colorado. We were visiting friends who were very sympathetic and non judgmental about my dietary requirements, though I do believe they were alarmed at the prospect of trying to provide food for me. At that time of my familiarity with eating gluten free, I had rather resigned myself to losing weight (sad, sad 🙂 ) every time we stayed away from home. However, they’d done some research and took me to a store that sold foods ‘suitable’ for us folks with weird diets. I turned quite animated at the prospect of gluten free pasta and bread, and we traipsed off back to their house loaded up with things to try. One of the oddities that we’d picked up was something which called itself ‘tapioca bread’. It looked a bit like stale, white, sliced bread, but if it meant I could have toast and marmalade for breakfast, or a sandwich piled high with veggies, I could cope. It seemed to me that the bread had to have some sort of merit if someone was going to the trouble of making it and stocking it in a grocery store, even if I didn’t recognize the main ingredient, right? I took out a slice as soon as we got home, spread it lightly with margarine, took an enthusiastic mouthful and couldn’t believe what I tasted. Maybe I just needed to be a little more familiar with the flavor. After another (more cautious) mouthful, the whole loaf went in the composting (including that which was in my mouth). My girls were curious, but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to let them try it. The only beneficial outcome to this sorry experience, is that I started looking into making gluten free bread with various gluten free flours. You know how derogatory folks can get about white wheat flour? Well, check this out (most information I gathered from: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/list , the rest of it was gleaned off the back of flour packages): .

Grams of Protein per ounce Grams of Fiber per ounce Kcals per ounce
Whole wheat flour: 3.7 3 95
White wheat flour: 2.9 0.8 102
Tapioca flour/starch: 0.07 0.3 107

All of a sudden white wheat flour doesn’t look so bad nutritionally, which just goes to show how dreadful some gluten free flours really are! Anyway, on my travels around the web (probably on one of those clever sites that joins in with the Gluten Free Ratio Rally – if you’re new to this, Google them, they’re worth a visit), I found someone who advocated using starch to make up about 30% (by weight) of the flour used in any recipe. Starch is actually a valuable ingredient in your gluten free kitchen, not for its flavor, or nutritional value, but for its structuring ability. Note that this means that you’ll be diluting the nutritional value of the main flour you use, which really needs to be as virtuous as you can stand it. With gluten free flours, better nutrition generally goes with stronger flavor. Here’s my list so far of flours that I’ve used, and their (very basic) nutritional footprint.

Grams of Protein per ounce Grams of Fiber per ounce Kcals per ounce
Hemp 8.8 1.1 155
Flax seed: 6.5 8.6 129
Almond meal: 6.5 2.8 168
Garfava flour: 6.5 2.2 108
Garbanzo bean flour: 5.6 4.7 103
Cocoa powder: 5.5 10.4 64
Coconut flour: 5 11 124
Cashews (raw): 5 1 155
Oats 4.7 3 109
Quinoa flour: 4 2 110
Amaranth flour: 3.9 2.4 88
Whole wheat flour: 3.7 3 95
Teff: 3.7 2.2 103
Buckwheat flour: 3.5 2.8 94
Millet flour: 3 1 104
White wheat flour: 2.9 0.8 102
Cornmeal: 2.3 2 101
Sorghum: 2.2 1.8 101
Brown rice flour: 2.2 1.3 102
Potato flour (not starch): 1.9 1.7 100
White rice flour: 1.7 0.7 102
Tapioca flour/starch: 0.07 0.3 107
Cornstarch: 0.07 0.3 107
Potato starch (not flour): 0.07 0.3 107

This is correct to the best of my knowledge, but I got a bit cross-eyed by the time I’d finished transcribing this lot across, so if you notice any mistakes, please do let me know and I’ll up-date the list! The data for cocoa powder still astounds me, but here’s the link:



Tofu Rancheros

This doesn’t come under the heading of diet food. This is a gratuitous weekend morning celebration of life/family/friends. It does take a bit of forethought, if you’re going to make your own Refried Beans and  Ranchero Sauce (highly recommended), but if you double or triple up recipes when you’re making them (and keep them in the freezer), it comes together quickly!

I find that frying the tofu is most easily accomplished when the surface of the tofu is dry, the frying pan is hot (not warm), and the fat used for frying is margarine (I use Earth Balance). For some reason, canola (rapeseed) oil just isn’t up to the job.

Tofu Rancheros

Tofu Rancheros with refried black beans.

1 recipe Rancheros Sauce (~2 cups)
14-16 oz packet of firm tofu
2 cups refried beans
1 tbsp margarine
4 small GF tortillas
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp Braggs Aminos
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro/leaf coriander for decoration

Drain the tofu, cut it into 1/4” cubes, and wrap in a layer of kitchen paper and then a layer of cloth kitchen towel. Spread the pieces out so they all touch the towel, and leave for at least 1/2 hour so the surfaces can dry.

Warm the Rancheros sauce and refried beans in separate saucepans, and warm the tortillas over the Rancheros sauce, in the microwave, or in a warm, dry frying pan.

In a small bowl, mix together the nutritional yeast, Braggs, and pepper.

fried tofuIn a large frying pan, heat 1/2 the fat over a high heat, and then add 1/2 of the tofu. Keep the tofu moving until it is browned all over (~10 mins), then tip it into the seasonings.

Repeat the process with the other 1/2 of the margarine and tofu.

Lay one tortilla on each plate.

Smooth out 1/4 of the refried beans on top of each tortilla; top this with ranchero sauce and 1/4 of the tofu.

Serve immediately, decorated with the fresh cilantro (leaf coriander).

Tender Shortcrust Pastry

This is my shortcrust pastry of choice. It makes a tender crust with enough structural integrity to hold itself together, a mild flavor, and a texture that is soft next to the filling, with a crust that will snap off, and a top crust that you can tap.

Cabbage Pie

Gluten free pastry on a cabbage pie, served with garlicky green beans and brown cashew gravy.

To use, either roll thinly between two sheets of parchment paper (and transfer to the baking dish on the bottom parchment paper, or carefully transfer by hand), or crumble into the greased pie plate and press into place with knuckles. The amount of work done to the dough affects the texture, so make sure to knead the dough before using (~30 seconds in the food processor). Unlike wheat dough, this kneading won’t turn the pastry tough, but it will make it just sturdy enough to handle like wheat pastry.

I’ve made this with corn flour (not starch (wrong stuff) or meal (too coarse)) as the second flour, and on a separate occasion I used quinoa. The version with quinoa did have a slight quinoa flavor (which is a little odd, in pastry), though it wasn’t prominent enough to stop my husband from eating the pie! Nutritionally speaking, the quinoa version was better, of course.

Note that you can use un-blanched almond flour, if you want to, but the pastry comes out with a less fine texture, and a browner color.

4 oz blanched almond flour (~1 cup)
2 1/2 oz bean flour, fine ground corn flour, or quinoa flour
1 1/2 oz corn or potato starch
1/3 tsp salt
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking powder

3 oz sugar (if making sweet pastry)
1 oz cold margarine
1 egg

Put all dry ingredients in a food processor. Process briefly to mix.

Pulse the margarine into the dry ingredients so the mixture looks a bit like breadcrumbs.

Add the remaining ingredients, and process for about 30 seconds to develop the xanthan gum.

Add sufficient water (~1 tbsp) to make the dough pliant such that it doesn’t crumble too much when you roll it out and try to pick it up, but not so much that it gets sticky. 

Roll out as discussed, above, and use as required.

Tofu (crustless) Quiche

In the days before I was concerned about egg and dairy consumption, I loved quiche, but wouldn’t make it due to the calorie count. This recipe solves both problems in one hit, providing you don’t make the crust. If you do want to make a crust, check out my recipe for the potato / almond pastry; there’s no need to apologize to your glutenous friends for this adaptation.

The only non vegan ingredient in this dish is the egg in the potato pastry. If you use vegan pastry or make a crustless quiche, the whole thing will be vegan. My husband likes the filling to have a large proportion of chunky vegetables; the kids don’t care, they like it any way it comes. Don’t be fooled by the ingredient list; the tofu custard is rich even though the calorie count is diet-worthy (providing you leave out the crust and don’t eat the whole thing in one sitting)!

pastry made with 8 oz of flour, refrigerated (optional)
1/2 cup cashews, soaked for 1/2 hour in water
1 tbsp non-hydrogenated margarine
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
12 oz broccoli, broken into small florets
14 oz packet of firm tofu, drained
1 tsp salt (use partly kala namuk if an eggy taste is desired)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp light colored miso (e.g. chickpea; optional)
dash of cayenne pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp lemon juice

Soak the cashews in water for at least 1/2 hour.

In a large cast iron pan, bring to the boil 1/4 inch of water, 1/2 tsp regular salt, the garlic, and the broccoli. Cover with a lid and steam until the broccoli is nearly cooked, then remove the lid and let the water evaporate. Add 1/2 the margarine and allow the broccoli to brown slightly.
In a large cast iron pan, fry the onion in the rest of the margarine over a medium heat until browned.
Line an 8” or 9” cake tin with baking parchment.
If you’re making a crust, crumble the pastry dough into the lined pan such that it is evenly spread, and then use your knuckles to press it into place and compact it.

Place in the fridge until ready to use.
Drain the cashews and process in a food processor for 30 seconds. Make sure they’re pretty smooth before adding the tofu, and pulse again along with 1/2 of the broccoli, the onion, and the other ingredients until mixture is smoothish. Don’t over process or the tofu will be too creamy, and have too little bulk.
Stir in the remainder of the broccoli, check for seasoning, and spoon it into the pie pan. Smooth the top, and bake for 40 minutes at 350F.
Eat hot or cold.


Refried Beans

Refried beans are such a comfort food, and so easy to cook that it’s a shame to buy them in cans (not least-wise because they’re so cheap!!!!!). I made up a double batch of them yesterday to serve up with Ranchero Sauce and Tortillas. The beans freeze just fine, so it makes sense to double up when possible.

This is one of those recipes that’s better made the day before (if you can plan that far in advance ……. I’m sometimes challenged in that department). If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just cook the beans in a large saucepan with a tight fitting lid and a couple more inches of water for an hour or two instead of bringing them up to pressure, until the beans are completely soft and starting to disintegrate. Check once in a while to make sure they don’t boil dry.

And in case you’re interested: there are only two things I use distilled white vinegar for: cleaning and refried beans. I have tried making refried beans using lemon/lime juice or white balsamic vinegar, and they just don’t taste right! Weird, I know, but the beans seem to need the cutting flavor of white distilled vinegar.

3 oz (1/4 large) onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, skinned
1 fresh jalapeño OR other chili to taste, stem and seeds removed
1 lb (2 cups) dried pinto beans, picked over, rinsed, and soaked in plenty of water overnight*
1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 1/2 – 2 tsp salt
2 tsp white distilled vinegar

Put the onion, garlic, and jalapeño in a blender with 16 fl oz (2 cups) of water, and blend until smooth. (Or, finely mince all by hand.)

Drain the soaked beans, and put in a pressure cooker (if you have one) or other large pan with a tight fitting lid.

Add the blended onion/garlic/chili water to the beans, and rinse out the blender into the pan with another 16 fl oz (2 cups) of water to make sure you’re getting all the flavorings.

Add the cumin to the beans, and bring the lot up to the boil. Pressure cook for 15 minutes and allow to come down from pressure slowly, OR boil in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid for an hour to an hour and a half (adding water periodically, if necessary), or until the beans are totally soft and starting to disintegrate.

Once the beans are totally soft, add the salt and vinegar, and allow to cool completely. The juices will thicken as they cool and develop the resistant starches (if you’re interested: see resistant starches).

Adjust seasoning, and reheat to serve with pretty much any Mexican food. (… and yes, this is why they’re called refried beans – they’re cooked twice.)

* Fast soak method: after sorting and rinsing the beans, cover them with enough water to cover plus 2-3″ of water. Bring this to the boil, turn off the heat, and allow to soak for 1 hour before proceeding with the recipe.