If Dana Traczek can't think of anything to make for dinner, she simply consults the green piece of paper on her refrigerator. On it, she lists meals she knows she has the ingredients to fix. And if the 34-year-old Norwalk resident exhausts the list, she simply consults her cookbooks for more recipes.
Such a system can come in handy with a husband and three children to feed. Traczek, a hair stylist at Christian Roberts Salon and Spa, makes dinner for her and her family four nights a week. She lives with her husband, Steve and sons Daniel, 3, Ben, 6, and Tommy, 9. Daniel attends Christian Day Nursery School, while Ben and Tommy attend Pleasant Elementary. Steve Traczek works for Glidden Paint Center in Huron.
It's sometimes hard to eat dinner as a family with the boys involved in sports, Traczek said. Still, they try to have dinner together three or four times a week. In fact, that is one thing Traczek said she enjoys about cooking.
"It is important for us to sit around the table together," she said. "It's time without distraction for the family."
They can talk about their day over meals such as tater tot casserole, hamburgers, pork tenderloins, au gratin potatoes, salmon and rice and tacos. All are listed on the piece of paper taped to the refrigerator. And plenty of other recipes are available within the pages of the dozen or so cookbooks Traczek has.
She said she enjoys trying new things. For example, she just prepared a pretzel-crusted chicken breast, which was a hit with the family without the cheese sauce in the recipe.
Traczek said most people enjoy her sweet potato casserole, which is this week's featured recipe.
"I've given this recipe out to more people than any recipe I've ever made," she said. "Usually when they try it they ask for the recipe. It tastes like candy. It's a very sweet side dish."
Baking is a tradition in Traczek's family. It began when, at age 6 or 7, she'd make sugar cookies for Christmas with her mother, grandmother and sisters. Ever since, the group has gathered around the second week of December at either the Traczek home or the Milan home of her mother, Velvet Adkins. They begin baking in the afternoon and work into the late evening, preparing goodies that will comprise care packages for Christmas. Her sons help by pouring and mixing ingredients and even eating.
"They don't mind being the taste testers," Traczek said, somewhat jokingly.
But not necessarily when it comes to vegetables.
Then again, Traczek said it is hard to please everybody in a large family.
"It's hard to find something when you're feeding five people that everybody enjoys," she said.