A party atmosphere pervaded the TIMES NEWS newsroom last month as we welcomed old friends and new for the finals of the 25th annual cookbook and recipe contest.

There were balloons, a beautiful cake and delicious food, as presented by the seven category finalists.

Although everyone went home a winner, Melody Patrick of New Ringgold took home the grand prize. Her Wonton Sausage Appetizers were a big hit with the judges.

"Everything was wonderful," Patrick said of the judging and celebration, held March 19 at the TIMES NEWS offices in Mahoning Township.

Patrick says she developed her winning recipe for Wonton Sausage Appetizers as a dish to serve when her daughters would have makeup and jewelry parties.

"It became a big hit, so I kept on doing it," she says. "It's a great finger food. Everybody wanted the recipe and it just went from there."

Patrick, who is relatively new to the area, was encouraged by her sister-in-law and daughter to enter the contest. A newlywed, she and her husband, Albert, were married in October, in the middle of a record snowfall.

While this is the first time Patrick entered the annual TIMES NEWS contest, it isn't the first time she's been recognized for one of her recipes. Two years ago her recipe for Chicken and Dressing was selected for inclusion in a Gooseberry Patch cookbook, "Slow Cookers, Casseroles and Skillets."

In addition to cooking, Patrick enjoys baking. She says one of her best moments came when she was asked to bake for a cancer fundraiser.

"At my daughter's job, her boss asked me if I would do all the baking for the Relay for Life benefit. I made over 40 desserts and sold all of them," says Patrick. "I was so proud!"

For her grand prize win, Patrick was presented with a $100 grocery store gift card and a $100 restaurant gift card, as well as a copy of a cookbook from American Profile, "Hometown Get-Togethers."

As the winner of the Celebrations Category, she and the other category winners were each presented with a $50 grocery store gift card and a $50 restaurant gift card; a bottle of The Doctor's barbecue sauce; and an American Profile cookbook.

Other category winners for 2012 include:

Ÿ Shirley M. Leinthall, Summit Hill: A frequent contributor to the annual cookbook, Leinthall was the first place winner in the Salads & Side Dishes Category with her recipe for Dilled Chicken & Walnut Salad.

Ÿ Scott T. Reinhart, Summit Hill: Reinhart is another frequent contributor to the cookbook, and has earned himself a couple of Honorable Mentions along the way. He was this year's winner in the Sauces & Marinades Category with his recipe for Indonesian Satay Chicken Kabobs.

Ÿ Peter J. Krywczuk, Northampton: This was the first time entering a cooking contest for Krywczuk, who was the winner in the Slow Cooker Category with his recipe for Pulled Pork Sliders.

Ÿ Yvonne Zukosky, Palmerton: Zukosky also had luck in her first cooking contest as she captured the top prize in the Money-Saving Meals Category. Her winning recipe, which she crafted over 25 years, was Yvonne's Winter Chili.

Ÿ Kimberly A. Hyska, Jim Thorpe: Hyska, who had the first place recipe in the Main Dish Category, is a frequent contributor to the TIMES NEWS cookbook, along with her mother. Her recipe for Irish Halupkis was a twist on an old favorite.

Ÿ Kayla Schatz, Allentown: Schatz, who is seeking a career in the culinary arts, was also a first time winner and contributor. Her recipe for S'mores Cupcakes took first place in the Desserts Category.

Judges this year included three past grand prize winners: Levina "Lovey" Irvin, Palmerton, who won in 2009; LuAnn Noll, Lehighton, who won in 2010; and JoLynn M. Gazo, who was last year's winner. Casey Parker of Penn's Peak Radio; Marigrace Heyer, former TIMES NEWS lifestyle editor; and sugar artist Candy Repsher Knappenberger, rounded out the panel of judges.

Heyer, who was one of the driving forces behind the cookbook 25 years ago, said she enjoyed coming back and being a judge.

"I had a great time," said Heyer. "It was nice meeting everybody the people who were the judges and all the finalists were so gracious."

Heyer said even after all these years, some things never change.

"I still maintain what I said 20 years ago; the best cooks in the world have to live in the TIMES NEWS coverage area."

She said she was impressed with all of the winners and commends the cookbook committee for selecting those finalists.

"They were just outstanding in originality, ingredients, presentation, and most importantly taste."

She recalls that the reason behind starting the cookbook was for the newspaper to develop a closer, more personal relationship with its readers. She was pleased to see that ideal is still the driving force behind the annual event.

Heyer worked with Don Reese, TIMES NEWS advertising manager, and Richard Forgay II, a former promotions manager at the TIMES NEWS, to launch the cookbook.

In addition, she credits Lee Bond of Penn Forest Township, who at the time, was the Penn State Extension Agent in Carbon County, with helping with just about every aspect of the fledging cookbook and contest; and TIMES NEWS reporter Gail Maholick, for "doing just about anything asked of her."

Helping turn the judging into a real celebration was Knappenberger, whose 25th anniversary cake was an artistic masterpiece. The multitiered cake was topped with a replica of the "Recipes From Our Readers 25th Anniversary Edition" logo. An edible copy of each cookbook cover from the past 24 years, was adhered to the cake, starting at the bottom and spiraling all the way to the top of a delicious layer of orange and lemon cake, iced in buttercream.

"I was so thrilled to help judge all the entrants creations," said Knappenberger. "So much creativity and wonderful flavors! I was surprised at some of the ingredients that were put into some of the entries I didn't know were in there, but tasted great!"

Knappenberger hopes to see the cookbook continue to grow in the future.

"I really would like to encourage everyone to enter their favorite recipe and share their talents with their neighbors."

The 25th Anniversary Edition of the TIMES NEWS Recipes from our Readers is included in today's issue of the TIMES NEWS.

Additional copies are available at the TIMES NEWS office in Mahoning Township.