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Published March 03. 2012 09:01AM

I love cooking and baking. I learned that from my dad.

On the weekend, you'll usually find me in my kitchen attempting a new recipe for me and my husband Bob, that I found while searching the website, Pinterest, or settling in with an old family favorite like dad's ham and bean soup, haddock au gratin, or pulled pork barbecue.

Over the years though, I've come to realize recipes are meant to be broken.

I never follow what the recipe calls for, and must alter it to inject my tastes whether it be to add an ingredient or two that it doesn't call for or take out a few things. By the time it hits our dining room table, it has an Amy flair to it. Sometimes my alterations work. Sometimes they don't.

Either way, I enjoy playing the "mad chef" in the kitchen.

Ever since I was a little girl, I could remember being in the kitchen, where I enjoyed preparing new "recipes" for my family. They weren't edible by any means because they contained pepper, salt, a number of other ingredients and dish soap, but it was still my attempt to be creative. Thankfully my parents were more than happy to allow me to play the mad chef at the sink.

A lot of time has passed since the days when I was standing in my parents' kitchen, making up new and unusual recipes, but my interest for trying new culinary combinations has not changed. Not that I'm adventurous with trying to eat new things, because for those who know me, that is the farthest thing from the truth. I eat with my eyes and if I don't like how it looks, I won't eat it.

I guess that's why I like to be the cook in control. That way I know exactly what I'm eating.

In honor of the many mad chefs, like myself, in the TIMES NEWS coverage area, we here at the newspaper gather family favorites and new creations from our readers annually for our Recipes From Our Readers cookbook, published in April.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of this fun and tasty supplement, so we're trying to get as many recipes from our readers as possible.

The category prizes are pretty cool for creative cooks as well. Who wouldn't want to win a $50 restaurant gift card and a $50 grocery gift card just for submitting a fun recipe you made yourself.

I know I wouldn't mind winning that prize, as we all know food prices are rising. Any free money helps keep your family fed and your inner "mad chef" happy.

Plus one winner will go home with an additional $250 grocery gift card. That could help make a few nice, new meals for the family.

Recipes in any of our seven categories Main Dishes; Desserts; Salads and Side Dishes; Slow Cooker; Money Saving Meals; Salad Dressings, Sauces and Marinades; and Celebrations can be submitted to the TIMES NEWS until midnight March 10.

Recipes must be created or modified by the person submitting the recipe or a member of that person's family and printed or typed on a single 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch sheet of paper. All entries must include the contestant's name, address and telephone number, as well as the name of the recipe and category it is being entered in marked on the top of the page.

Mail entries to the TIMES NEWS, P.O. Box 239, Lehighton, PA 18235, Attention Donna Hall; or email recipes to

A winner will be chosen in each category and notified the week of March 12. They will be required to prepare their dishes and bring them to the TIMES NEWS office in Mahoning Township, where I will take your photo with your dish for our cookbook, and a panel of judges, including some previous cookbook champions, will choose the next TIMES NEWS cookbook champ.

Don't delay! Let that inner mad chef flex his or her culinary muscles and send in those recipes today!

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