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‘The Well Read Cook’: Amherst’s community cookbook

  • Okonomiyaki, or Japanese Vegetable Pancakes are made from a recipe provided by Christine Stevens of Hadley, one of the cookbook organizers. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cheese Surprise Nibbles, left, made from a recipe supplied by Nancy Gregg, and Katie George’s Dead Vegetable Soup are among the offerings in “The Well Read Cook.” GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Okonomiyaki, or Japanese Vegetable Pancakes are made from a recipe provided by Christine Stevens of Hadley, one of the cookbook organizers. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Captain Video's Candied Cookies are made from the kind of candy once sold at Captain Video’s DVD rental store in North Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • “The Well Read Cook” is a community cookbook being sold by Friends of the Jones Library as a fundraiser. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • “The Well Read Cook” is a community cookbook being sold by Friends of the Jones Library as a fundraiser. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Captain Video's Candied Cookies are made from the kind of candy once sold at Captain Video’s DVD rental store in North Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lucy McMurrer of Amherst, left, and Christine Stevens of Hadley, two of the cookbook organizers, sample one of the Captain Video's Candied Cookie they made from a recipe in “The Well Read Cook.” GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lucy McMurrer of Amherst, left, and Christine Stevens of Hadley make Captain Video's Candied Cookies from one of the recipes featured in "The Well Read Cook." GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



For the Bulletin
Thursday, January 11, 2018

Could it be that the Jones Library in Amherst had never taken on that tried-and-truefundraiser, the community cookbook?

Well, no one could find a record of one. So, in 2012 the Friends of the Jones Library got to work. And now “The Well Read Cook” has arrived.

“It took awhile,” says Lucy McMurrer, co-president of the Friends. “There was a cookbook committee,” but it “ebbed and flowed in its membership as people moved or took new jobs.” At some point or another, she was joined by Rachel Lewellen, Christine Stevens, Mary Ellen Kelly, Nancy Gregg and Kim Ammons.

McMurrer of South Amherst, who is originally from Vermont, recalls her mother loving community cookbooks “because everyone sends in their very best recipes.” And, so, she and the committee set out to find them. And like the best of those books McMurrer’s mother enjoyed, “The Well Read Cook” is a snapshot of what people here like to eat. That includes a wide variety of dishes, many featuring local crops, others brought from afar by residents raised elsewhere.

For example, Christine Stevens, who is from California but now lives in Hadley, contributed the vegetable pancake recipe she got from a Japanese friend.

Sonali Jaju provided instructions for Channa Masala, a recipe that is “sure to steal your heart,” she writes in her contributor notes.

Others are eager to show off dishes that have been hits for them. Sally Fitz describes her peach muffin recipe, which appeared in the newsletter she produces for her customers at Small Ones Farm in South Amherst, as a “favorite with everyone.” Fay Zipkowitz notes her Prussian Prince Potato Salad “won a spot in the Newman’s Own ‘22 Favorite Recipes Book.’ ”

Other contributors offer advice. “Ground mixture of mustard seed, lemon peel and coriander seed is a great mixture for a lot of recipes,” says Rosie Pearson, who uses it in her Breakfast Cereal recipe. Yet others give the history of their dishes. Sue McCoy reveals that her Fig and Walnut Pasta with Gorgonzola “came off the wrapping of the figs.” Kitty Burns Florey says her Molasses Crinkle Cookies appeared in “Solos,” her ninth novel.

And then, what would a community cookbook be without some recipes guaranteed to be attention grabbers? “The Well Read Cook” includes Dead Vegetable Soup, submitted by Katie George, and Captain Video’s Candied Cookies.

To make the book, the committee used a template provided by Morris Press Cookbooks in Kearney, Nebraska, a publisher that specializes in helping with this type of fundraiser. It was “very convenient for us non-cookbook authors,” Stevens says. “They did the layout and index: everything. They really held our hand.”

Committee members did have to do the painstaking work of making sure the recipes were consistent.

“We had to go through them so that we didn’t have some people using just ‘T’ for tablespoon while others used “Tbs.” and things like that,” Stevens says. “And in some cases we had to ask to shorten a recipe so it would fit the template.”

The book is comb-bound to open flat so cooks can follow a recipe without engineering a strategy to keep it the book on the right page. Colorful motifs introduce each section: cupcakes and croissants for the Breads and Rolls section, tomatoes for Soups and Salads. But to keep costs down the committee decided against additional illustrations. “Pictures put us at a different price point,” McMurrer says. “We didn’t want it to be expensive for customers. Nor for ourselves. The Friends fronted the money, but we couldn’t put all our money into the books because we also have other projects to fund.”

Though McMurrer says she can’t recall how much the book cost to make, she notes, “I do know that we have to sell 217 before we actually begin to turn a profit.”

“The Well Read Cook” is being sold for $10 a copy. It is available at the Jones Library, Hastings, The Blue Marble and Amherst Books in Amherst as well as at the Baker's Pin in Northampton.

Following are a few of its recipes.

CHEESE SURPRISE NIBBLERS

It ever there was a recipe that’s more than the sum of its parts this is it. Hard to resist doesn’t adequately describe these munchies contributed to by Ohio native Nancy Gregg, who got the recipe from her mother, who got it from an old friend.

8 ounces butter

2 cups flour

¼ teaspoon cayenne or slightly more if you like

1/8 teaspoon salt

8 ounces grated Cheddar cheese

3 cups Rice Krispies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, flour and seasonings together. Fold in grated cheese. Fold in Rice Krispies gently. Make mixture into walnut-size balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork dipped in water. Bake 18 minutes. Remove from baking sheet to cool. These freeze well. Makes about 60.

DEAD VEGETABLE SOUP

Katie George was on the Board of the Friends of the Jones Library for 25 years. This is her recipe for those vegetables “you are sick and tired of looking at every day. . . Everything qualifies for this soup . . . limp, lack-luster and spotted vegetables, tired lettuce, week-old spinach.” She recommends using a stick blender, and suggests ways to spin the soup out over three days. Day One: leave the vegetables in chunks and top with Parmesan and croutons; Day Two: add stronger spices, a colorful vegetable such as beets or tomatoes, and some chickpeas or shredded meat. And on Day Three “blend the soup to smithereens.”

Broth of some sort – canned chicken, vegetable, a bouillon cube

Fresh onion

Lots of garlic

2-3 tablespoons good-tasting olive oil

Spices of your choice

Contents of your refrigerator veggie bin

Lightly sauté some chopped onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. Add chopped vegetables of your choice from the refrigerator and sauté a bit more. Throw some broth over the veggies to cover. Simmer until the vegetables are soft. Blend the whole shebang according to the manufacturer’s directions that come with your stick blender.

Taste and marvel how transforming that little blender is and you won’t have to clean up the spills from transferring the soup to blender or the mess when the food processor overflows. You will swear you had added a cup of cream. And believe me the soup does not taste like rotten vegetables at all.

Add spices to taste. Try cumin, oregano, allspice, green pepper powder, hot peppers, dill or paprika (though not necessarily all at once.)

JAPANESE VEGETABLE PANCAKES

Christine Stevens’ friend Chieko gave her this recipe, telling her that it’s a great favorite with many regional variations in Japan, where its name is okonomiyaki.

“You can change the vegetables – shredded carrots, zucchini, sweet potato, et cetera,” Christine notes. “And it’s all about the condiments. They vary too.” She advises pressing down on the pancake as it cooks, “even letting the cabbage char a little: delicious!”

2 cups shredded cabbage

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 cup flour

4 eggs

Oil for frying

Condiments: mayonnaise, soy sauce, sesame seeds, avocado, bonito fish flakes

Combine the cabbage and green onions. Mix the flour with water to make a pancake batter consistency. Heat the oil for frying. Pour a pancake-size amount of batter into a frying pan. Place a generous amount of vegetables on top of the batter, making a small depression in the middle. Crack one egg into the vegetables. Spoon more batter over the egg and vegetables. Fry until the bottom pancake is quite firm. Flip. Fry the other side. Serve with a smear of mayo, a dash of soy sauce, and sprinkles of sesame seeds. Avocado and fish flakes for the brave.

RICOTTA GNOCCHI

This recipe is from Dan McMurrer, who often makes it with his daughter, Crocker Farms pupil Bridget, whose mother Lucy describes her as “a proud cookbook contributor!”

8-10 ounces ricotta

1 egg yolk

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ounce Parmesan cheese

2 ounces flour (plus extra for dusting the board)

Tomato sauce for serving

Discard excess liquid in ricotta container, then add ricotta, egg yolk, salt and Parmesan in a large bowl, mixing well with a wooden spoon. Stir in flour until just barely combined (dough should still be sticky). Prepare a large pot of water, add salt and bring to the boil. While it is heating up, flour a board, and your hands and the knife blade you will be using. Take a large tablespoon of dough, dust it with flour, and roll into a finger thick roll. Cut in small “pillows” placing each on a floured board or baking tray lined with parchment. Repeat until you have used all the dough. Continue as quickly as possible to prevent them sticking. When all gnocchi are ready, reduce the heat under the water until it is bubbling lightly, then add the gnocchi, stirring lightly to ensure they don’t stick to the bottom. Cook until they start floating to the top — about 2-4 minutes. Remove them with a skimmer and serve immediately with tomato sauce or your favorite topping.

CAPTAIN VIDEO’S CANDIED COOKIES

Amherst residents will remember the vivid candies offered at Captain Video’s DVD rental store in North Amherst. Alas, it’s no longer there, but Captain Video has metamorphosed into Captain Candy of Thornes Marketplace on Main Street, Northampton. Here’s his way to use favorite candies in a cookie.

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup butter, melted

½ cup peanut butter

2 cups light brown sugar, packed (or less)

½ cup granulated sugar (or less)

3 eggs

2 tablespoons vanilla

3 cups assorted candies (such as 1 cup chocolate covered raisins, ¾ cup Milk Duds, ¾ cup Reese’s Pieces, ½ cup M&Ms)

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together the flour and baking powder. Combine melted butter and peanut butter. Stir until blended. Beat on medium speed the eggs, vanilla, and sugar until smooth. On a lower speed pour in the butter/peanut butter mixture and mix until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture until combined. Batter will be thick. Add assorted candies and stir until they are evenly distributed. Form batter into golf-ball size balls. Place on baking sheet 2 inches apart and sprinkle with sea salt if desired. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cookies will be puffy but golden round the edges. Let cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.

CHOCOLATE ICE BOX PUDDING

Missy Vineyard Ehrgood says that this recipe “is a very old and much beloved family favorite,” which explains the words “ice box” in its name. She adds “It’s not a pudding as much as a sweeter but divine mousse. Your children will lick the pan.”

1 pound good quality dark chocolate

½ pound butter

8 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2-3 packages plain lady fingers

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Line the bottom and sides of a Bundt pan with lady fingers. Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler over hot water. Stir in vanilla Set aside. Separate 8 eggs. Beat yolks lightly. Add sugar, continue beating (by hand) until mixture is frothy and sugar is dissolved.

In a mixer, beat the whites until stiff. Add chocolate and butter mixture to the egg yolks and blend. Add a third of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture, beating well with a spoon to mix. Gently fold in the rest of the whites. Pour pudding into the prepared mold and arrange additional lady fingers on top.

Chill in refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

To unmold, place the Bundt pan in a sink of hot water for 2 minutes. Turn out onto a plate. Return to the refrigerator for another hour to firm. Whip the cream. Serve slices of pudding with cream on top.