A Thyme to Celebrate

It’s not your mama’s meatloaf, but the Junior League’s new cookbook offers recipes that are fast, easy and oh-so-tasty

The ladies who brought us Raspberry Cheese Mold and Better Than Sex Brownies are at it again: Twenty-one years after the Junior League of Tallahassee’s cookbook opus, “Thymes Remembered,” hit the streets, the group is serving up a heaping helping of new recipes in its book “A Thyme to Celebrate.”

It’s a new generation of women compiling the follow-up to the familiar pink-covered favorite, and the latest book’s 230-plus recipes are designed to continue the tradition of crowd-pleasing food — with an eye toward the realities of life in the new millennium.

“A Thyme to Celebrate” has been in the works for about a year and a half. Before the first recipe was taste-tested, the committee solicited opinions from the group’s membership about whether to even take on the herculean task of writing another cookbook, what types of recipes they’d like to see included . . . all the way down to details such as the size of the book.

The cookbook incorporates those recommendations — including tips for creating healthier options, incorporating short vignettes on Tallahassee written by Tallahassee Democrat columnist and local historian Gerald Ensley, and suggesting wine pairings for each of the entrées. But, according to committee co-chair Betsy Couch, the overwhelming majority of Junior Leaguers “said, ‘We want easy recipes,’ so that became one of our core goals.”

“For the most part, we stuck to simple,” says Gina Colley-Holgate, the other co-chair. “The original book has wonderful recipes, but there are some recipes in there that the ingredient list was an entire page. The modern woman now wants to cook for her family and doesn’t have all day to do it. Now, if you go to Publix, they’re even pre-chopping vegetables.”

The call went out to Junior League members and the community, and they responded by submitting more than 500 recipes, says Couch. An initial ranking culled out the copied, too complex or just not good recipes, and the rest went through rigorous rounds of kitchen and taste-testing that lasted six months.

Some, such as a south-of-the-border-inspired Zingy Lasagne, were immediate hits. Others — Colley-Holgate recalls Designer Mac and Cheese as one — went through a little tweaking before being declared book-worthy.

“A little less truffle oil, a little more cheese . . . then it was a hit,” she says. 

Technology helped with the process: The book’s publisher specializes in cookbooks and supplied a computer program to help with inputting recipes and comments, as well as e-mailing information and forms to the testers. By the time it was over, Colley-Holgate says she had a Costco-sized baby diaper box filled with rating paperwork.

“Through the process, we’ve always thought, ‘Wow, how did they do this back in 1988?’” she says.

The 1988 book suggested elaborate menus for special occasions such as holidays and wedding showers. “A Thyme to Celebrate” went with a more traditional cookbook organization, breaking recipes into categories such as “Breakfast and Brunch,” “Appetizers,” “Salads,” “Entrées” and “Desserts.” But a little something extra was added, with sections including “Bakes” and “Cupcakes, Cookies and Cocktails.” While the latter is pretty self-explanatory, “Bakes” are dishes with the time-pressed woman in mind.

“It’s not necessarily a casserole, but it’s something you can mix together, put it in the oven, and it bakes while you’re off doing something else,” Couch says. “Many are entrées, but a lot of them can be side dishes too.” Several are made quicker and easier by using rotisserie chicken and precooked chicken tenders as the meat ingredient.

The new book’s recipes also skew toward chicken, turkey and seafood. This go-round, there are none that include veal or game meats. In addition to Junior League members and others in the community, there are recipes from local celebrities, including politicos Loranne Ausley, Mayor John Marks and Rep. Alan Williams; Gov. Charlie Crist’s chef, Josh Butler; football star/businessman Peter Boulware; and lobbyist Jim Magill. Chefs from some of Tallahassee’s finest restaurants and caterers — Cypress, Chez Pierre, Georgio’s, the Governors Club, the University Club, The Cake Shop, Marinated Mushroom and Leigh Ansley — also are sharing some of their best dishes.

As an extra treat, local-chef-done-good Art Smith wrote the forward and contributed two “divine” recipes.

While creating a cookbook seems like a perfect activity for an active, sociable group like the Junior League, the project has a serious goal: to raise a sizeable amount of money to support the organization’s public service projects, including the back-to-school Kid’s Boutique, Operation Prom Dress and several “Done-in-a-Day” workdays.

“We were used to having money come in every year from (sales of) ‘Thymes Remembered,’” says Couch, but after three printings, the Junior League was down to its last 200 copies. Like the rest of the nation, the economy has put a damper on the league’s fundraising activities.

“These last couple of years, we’ve been challenged with fundraisers (that are) not making as much as they did in the past,” Couch says.

The League’s leadership is hoping cookbook sales will make up for some of the deficit. If the first printing of 10,000 copies sells out — that’s the first-year goal — the organization will earn $100,000.

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