If Tracy Kotecki of rural Geneseo had her choice, she would probably rather bake than cook meals. “If I had a cupcake in front of me and a steak, I would always pick the cupcake,” she laughs adding, however, she has learned a lot about cooking meats from her husband, Greg.

If Tracy Kotecki of rural Geneseo had her choice, she would probably rather bake than cook meals. “If I had a cupcake in front of me and a steak, I would always pick the cupcake,” she laughs adding, however, she has learned a lot about cooking meats from her husband, Greg.

“Greg also likes to cook. He does a lot of meat dishes and he has actually taught me a lot about cooking meat and letting a good piece of meat be the focus of the meal, without adding a lot of other flavors to it.,” Tracy said. “I like to do the kind of cooking project that takes a long time — cooking or braising.”

Tracy and Greg have two sons, Ryan, a freshman at Illinois State University, and Aaron, a junior at Geneseo High School and a member of the Green Machine varsity football team. “With the team having been in playoff action, it has been a really busy, fun time for all of us,” she said.

Tracy is Geneseo City Clerk, a position she has held for a little more than a year and one she very much enjoys. “I never get bored, there are a lot of different things to do,” she said. “I love what I do and I like the fact that I get to work with lots of different people.”

With their busy schedules, Tracy said it is sometimes difficult, but they try to have their evening meal together as a family as much as possible. “It can be hard to find the time, but we think it’s important to spend that family time together and go over our day,” she said. “Supper is a priority here.”

Tracy explained that, at one time when Greg worked second shift, their main meal was at lunchtime. “Then we would have a lighter meal in the evening,” she said.

A favorite meal at the Kotecki’s might be barbecued ribs that are browned in the oven and then basted with a homemade barbecue sauce. “The ribs are roasted until they are very tender and they take about an hour and a half to prepare,” Tracy said. “We would probably have steamed vegetables and twice baked potatoes with that meal — we do a lot of baked potatoes.”

Tracy learned the basics of cooking from her mother who  is a good cook. “She would let us help in the kitchen and never yelled at us for making a mess,” she laughs. “And when I was growing up my grandmother lived very close to us so I learned a lot about cooking by watching her also.”

Since they both work full time and don’t have a lot of extra time during the week, Tracy said she and Greg often times spend Sunday afternoons in the kitchen cooking.

“We really cook well together. On Sunday we might fix a roast pork that we braised in a pan on high temperature first and then transferred to the oven to bake all afternoon,” she said, adding with mashed potatoes and gravy that is a good comfort meal. “It’s more of a cold weather dinner.”

Tracy explains on Sundays they might start cooking at noon and then spend the day cooking just because they have a little more time to devote to it. “Or we might try something a little different when we have the extra time,” she said.

And about the closest she gets to making a casserole, is a lasagna that she said she makes once in a while. “Greg doesn’t like casseroles so we very seldom have anything like that, our meals are usually some kind of meat and potato,” she said, adding soups are also a   favorite dinner item.

“Chili or vegetable soup is something we all like. I might add sausage or ravioli to the vegetable soup to make it a little heartier or maybe chunks of roast,” Tracy said.

Besides cooking Tracy enjoys sewing and has made curtains for their home. She also completed a T-shirt quilt for Ryan as a high school graduation gift. “I like to do machine sewing.

My mom has always  enjoyed sewing so I guess I picked it up from her,” Tracy said, adding she doesn’t usually use patterns for her sewing projects.

“I’m kind of like that with cooking also. I don’t use recipes a lot. I might start with a basic recipe and then add to it.” Tracy said when she’s making something like soup, she might add something like mashed potato flakes to give a thin soup a little more thickness or substance.

When  planning meals Tracy likes to do it a week at a time, so she has an idea what shopping she needs to do. “Sometimes our schedules don’t work out like that, but I like to try and have our menus planned ahead of time,” she said. “We eat out probably twice a week, but I cook at least five evenings a week. With the kids schedules, sometimes we just have to grab quick meals.”

One of the items Tracy traditionally makes during the holiday season is homemade caramels. “They are fun for me to make and the kids love them,” she said, adding the recipe she uses is one she received from a family friend. “Making the caramels is my down time in the kitchen and it’s very relaxing for me. It takes quite a while for the caramels to cook and you have to watch them very carefully, but I really enjoy doing that. I usually do them about twice a year.”

Another thing Tracy enjoys doing, and something she says she is probably most well-known for, is making homemade cheesecake. “Both our boys love cheesecake and I like to add crushed cookies or candy to the cheesecakes,” she said. “I might start with a plain cheesecake and before I bake it, I might toss in toffee pieces, Reese’s peanut butter cup pieces or crushed Oreo’s.” Tracy adds she might also add a layer of fudge to the top of the  cheesecake.

Tracy’s son, Aaron, has shown an interest in cooking, much like his father. “Aaron likes to help make homemade calzones and he says his macaroni and cheese is better than mine,” Tracy laughs, adding her younger son knows his way around the kitchen. “And if he is the first one home in the evening he will do something like brown chicken breasts to get a meal started.”

The calzones Tracy makes are made with a homemade pizza dough that is a recipe from an aunt of hers. “I divide the dough into four balls and roll them out. Then I put pizza sauce on them and things like pepperoni, mushrooms, or onions,” she said. “The dough is then folded over on the filling and they are baked at about 425 degrees.”

Tracy said her favorite part of cooking is seeing how food turns out when she prepares something different. “It warms your heart and makes you feel good when people like what you’ve prepared,” she said. “I like to make people feel good.”

Tracy Kotecki shares some of her favorite recipes.

Barbecued ribs
Tracy Kotecki
3-4 lbs. ribs
1 lemon
1 onion
1 C. catsup
1/3 C. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. chili powder
1 t. salt
2 C. water
2 T. brown sugar
Place ribs in a shallow roasting pan, meaty side up. Slice unpeeled lemon and thinly slice onion over the top.
Roast in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Mix remaining ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer or 15 minutes. Pour sauce over meat and bake in a 350 degree oven until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Baste every 15 minutes.
Note: “This recipe is from my grandmother who was an excellent cook.”

Italian chicken and sausage
Tracy Kotecki
4 boneless chicken breasts, split, flour to coat
16 oz. jar jardiniére - mild
1-1/2 lbs. Italian sausage, cut into 2 inch pieces
3 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 C. red wine
1/2 t. black pepper
Coat chicken with flour and pepper and place in roasting pan. Brown sausage and place on top of chicken.
Pour 8 oz. of jardiniére (with juice) over meat. Pour 1/4 C. of wine over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.
Add rest of jardiniére and wine and bake additional 15-20 minutes. Serve on buns.

Christmas caramels
Tracy Kotecki
4 C. white sugar
2 C. Karo syrup
4 C. whipping cream
2 sticks real butter
pinch of salt
2 t. vanilla
Mix sugar, salt, syrup and half of the cream. Cook to soft ball stage.
Slowly add the rest of the cream and bring to soft ball stage again.
Remove from heat and add the butter.
When butter is melted, return to heat and cook to 248 degrees on candy thermometer.
Add vanilla and pour into buttered jellyroll pan.
Nuts can be added to the buttered pan.
When cool, individually wrap.
Note: “I make these at Christmas but also on Valentine’s Day. They wrap up beautifully and can be dipped in chocolate. They turn out each and every time. These take an hour to stir/cook. Start with a good candy thermometer.”

Favorite cashew cheesecake
Tracy Kotecki
2 C. finely crushed vanilla wafers
1/4 C. sugar
6 T. butter, melted
1/2 C. finely chopped cashews
3-8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1-14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
1-1/2 T. rum
1 T. vanilla
1/2 T. butter flavoring
2-1/4 t. sugar
6 T. brown sugar
3 T. heavy cream
1-1/2 T. butter
3/4 t. vanilla
1/3 C. finely chopped cashews
For crust: combine crumbs, sugar, butter and cashews in a bowl and mix well. Press over bottom and up side of 9 inch spring form pan.
For filling: beat cream cheese in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in condensed milk gradually. Add the eggs, rum and flavorings and mix well.
Spoon  filling into the prepared crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes or until center is set. Cool on wire rack.
For topping: combine sugar, brown sugar, cream and butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; stirring until the sugars dissolve.
Cook over low to medium heat until the mixture reaches 225 degrees on a candy thermometer.
Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Stir until creamy.
Sprinkle cashews over top of cheesecake and drizzle the mixture over the cashews. Chill for 8 hours or longer.
Note: “Both our boys enjoy cheesecake!”

Italian shredded chicken
Tracy Kotecki
Frozen chicken breasts
1 jar peppercions or jardiniére
Place entire bag of frozen chicken breasts in crock pot.
Pour jar of peppers with juice over chicken and stir in dry zesty Italian dressing.
Cook on low for six hours.
Shred chicken with a fork as it cooks and return to juice mixture.
Simmer for 35 minutes.
Serve with buns.