Weekend Cooking: Bánh Chúng for Lunar New Year #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

Inspired by the Vietnamese food market photos shared with Weekend Cooking by Jackie of Junkboat Travels, I decided to cheat today and write about Bánh Chúng (Rice Cakes) – one of the Vietnamese recipes my husband has been trying over the past few months. (I say “cheat” because my only participation in the cooking was to take the photos and to hold a finger on the string when the knots were being tied.)

He modified the vegetarian recipe for  he found on the Kitchn by adding some spicy shredded pork in the center. The Vietnamese students (a group of six nuns or “sisters”) whom my husband is tutoring twice a week to help them learn enough English to attend college here said the rice cakes tasted authentic.

The name “rice cakes” is a little misleading, because they’re nothing like the crunchy puffed rice cakes we might buy at the store here.

package of Quaker rice cakes
Bánh Chúng aren’t this kind of rice cake!

Bánh Chúng are constructed like tamales. They are made by molding glutinous (sticky) rice around scoops of mashed beans and spiced, shredded meat on top of banana leaves; wrapping the leaves around the rice;  tying them up with string; and simmering the tidy little packages in a big stockpot of water for about six hours.

Very elaborate and time-consuming to make, but my husband enjoys learning from his students (a charming group of six nuns from a Dominican order in Vietnam staying in a convent near us) and he has taught himself some Vietnamese, as well. It was a great snow day project!

The Lunar New Year fell on February 19 this year, right in the midst of several record-setting snowstorms, but roads were clear enough at the time for the celebration to go on. The snow also allowed my husband to be one of the drivers for a fun sledding expedition with his students that month!

group photo of my husband with the six sisters from Vietnam
After a sledding expedition with the sisters from Vietnam my husband (aka Teacher) is tutoring in English. In their twenties and thirties, they had never seen snow before this winter!

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking buttonThis post is part of Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click on the image for more Weekend Cooking posts.

Beginner-Friendly Cookbook: Everyday Gluten-Free Slow Cooking by Kimberly Mayone and Kitty Broihier #weekendcooking

cover imageI received Everyday Gluten-free Slow Cooking by Kimberly Mayone & Kitty Broihier as a gift at Christmas, and have made several recipes from it. If you’re looking for beginner-friendly, gluten-free recipes to make in a slow cooker, this cookbook includes an excellent introduction to the gluten-free diet in general (reasons for it, precautions to take, stocking your pantry, etc.) and also to slow cooking in general (Slow Cooking 101). The authors also write about adapting your usual slow cooker recipes with g/f alternatives.

The authors outline many good reasons why using a slow cooker works well with maintaining a gluten-free diet or preparing meals for someone else who is. Another reason is that a removable crock insert can be washed in a dishwasher and usually doesn’t have scratches where trace amounts of gluten could be retained, or you could even buy disposable liners to be even more on the safe side.

Easy Vegetable Dal
The Easy Vegetable Dal was easy to make and delicious! I substituted white beans for the chickpeas because it was what I had on hand.

The cookbook has a good variety of family-friendly, basic recipes like Corn Chowder; Easiest Pulled Pork; Cincinnati Chili; and Mimi’s Classic Pork Roast and Vegetables with Gravy, but there are many that would also appeal to more adventurous tastes, such as Brazilian Black Bean Soup; Easy Vegetable Dal; Shrimp and Scallop Thai Curry; and Garlicky Salmon with Leeks and Wild Rice.

Tex-Mex Chicken on plate
Tex-Mex Chicken with Black Beans topped with feta cheese and cilantro! Yummy!


You’d expect plenty of meaty and vegetarian soup, stew, and chili recipes from any slow cooker cookbook, and there are many of them here, but there are also chapters for Breakfast and Brunch; Appetizers and Snacks; and Sweets. I haven’t tried any of those yet, but the Tex-Mex Egg Bake and the Chocolate Risotto are a couple of the ones I would like to try sometime when we have a crowd.

Serving dish of Classic Pot Roast with Potatoes
Classic Pot Roast with Potatoes was as easy as it sounds to make.

The recipes for the pictured meals are not available online, but check out the authors’ Gluten-Free Slow Cooking blog for several recipes you can sample and to see their style of cooking and writing. In case you’re thinking that it’s time to put the slow cooker away now until the fall, there are seasonal recipes for spring and summer posted there. I found a Ham and Navy Bean Soup recipe there to use up the ham bone and leftover ham that I put in the freezer after Easter!

photo of candied pecans cooling on pan
Just made these Candied Pecans this afternoon. Seriously addictive. Took only two hours in the slow cooker. This recipe isn’t online, but you can find similar ones.

There are no photos at all, which I don’t mind, but others might. (Most slow cooker meals aren’t very photogenic, anyway!) It’s a very nicely designed book, though, and stays open to your recipe, even near the beginning or the end.

Everyday Gluten-Free Slow Cooking
Mayone, Kimberly & Broihier, Kitty
Sterling, 2012
225 pp.

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking buttonThis post is part of Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click on the image for more Weekend Cooking posts.

Better on Audio: Excellent #Audiobooks

Looking for a great audiobook? Here’s a list I’ve kept over the years of memorable ones. (And I listen, on average, to one or two audiobooks a week!)

Why do these audiobooks stand out? It goes without saying that all of the narrators are incredibly talented. Also, all of these books also seem ideally suited to the audiobook format for one reason or another. Many are in the first-person, which I especially like in audio format because it’s like a story being told; three are actually memoirs. Others are written using a lot of words in languages other than English or with some distinctive quality that makes it especially nice to hear it in, for example, a voice with a particular accent, or a teenager-sounding voice. Several are really funny, so the comedic timing of the narrators makes them absolutely hilarious.

Try one of these wonderful audiobooks if you’ve never listened to an audiobook or haven’t listened to one in a long time. (They’ve gotten way better since the early days!) If I reviewed it on the blog, I’ve linked to the review.

Excellent Audiobooks

Classic, Literary, Historical, Humorous, Speculative, & Suspense

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, read by David Colacci
Anansi Boys
by Neil Gaiman, read by Lenny Henry
The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz, read by Jonathan Davis
The Cat’s Table
by Michael Ondaatje, read by the author
Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins, read by Xe Sands
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, read by Ralph Cosham
Defending Jacob by William Landay, read by Grover Cleveland
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, read by Will Patton
The Good House by Ann Leary, read by Mary Beth Hurt
I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck, narrated by Barbara Caruso
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, read by Robin Sachs
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, read by Fenella Woolgar
Lisey’s Story by Stephen King, read by Mare Winningham (Simon & Schuster)
Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard, read by Mark Honan (AudioGO)
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian, read by Alison Fraser and Mark Bramhall
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (and others in series) by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, read by Gretchen Mol
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, read by Davina Porter
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton
The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, read byTai Simmons
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, read by Jonathan Davis
The Spellman Files (and rest of the Izzy Spellman series) by Lisa Lutz, read by Christina Moore
Still Life (and all the Armand Gamache mysteries) by Louise Penny, read by Ralph Cosham
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, read by the author
The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland, read by Xe Sands
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, read by Kathleen Wilhoite
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, read by Simon Slater


Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, read by the author (Random House Audio)
Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author
100 Names for Love by Diane Ackerman, read by Barbara McCulloh (Recorded Books)

Young Adult Fiction

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, read by Stina Nielson
Bartimaeus sequence (starting with The Amulet of Samarkand) by Jonathan Stroud, read by Simon Jones
Beauty Queens
by Libba Bray, read by the author
Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, read by Nick Podehl
Delirium by Lauren Oliver, read by Sarah Drew
The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, read by Mark Boyett
Swim the Fly by Don Calume, read by Nick Podehl

Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian


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