Deb Levar turns to baking to relieve stress; sitting down to a plate of Over My Dead Body Chicken is another calming strategy.
Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
Over My Dead Body Chicken
Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
Deb Levar shares her "Over My Dead Body" chicken
Hair stylist a cut above the rest with her cooking
Deb Levar is a big-hearted gal, always willing to bake a treat for clients and co-workers, prepare dinner for family get-togethers and share her best recipes.
Well, almost always.
The Schaumburg hair stylist, whose sense of humor must serve her well at work, concedes that there was just one recipe she refused to share, until today.
She calls it "Over My Dead Body Chicken," a killer dish, if you will, and the only thing her ex-husband asked for when they divorced 14 years ago.
You can probably guess her response.
But that's many years and dozens of recipes ago, and Deb doesn't mind if what's-his-name gets the recipe now. It's just a funny story she'll probably include in the cookbook she's writing.
A hair stylist for 27 years, Deb has always loved cooking. But she experienced an epiphany 10 years ago when she discovered baking, an art that demands focus and precision measurements.
Stress melted like chocolate chips in hot butter.
"You can't think about anything else," she says. "That's how I relax."
Since that ah-ha moment she has been baking cakes and cookies and even birthday cakes for her clients and co-workers.
For Christmas she bakes as many as 18 kinds of cookies, until she can't stand to look at another one.
"I take one whole weekend; I don't leave my kitchen," says Deb, whose walk-in pantry is so well stocked "I could bake for a bakery right now."
During the year, Deb schedules marathon cooking and baking sessions for Sunday afternoons so she has plenty to eat and share for the week.
"I'm in there for four hours, and then I sit down and have a really nice dinner and watch 'Desperate Housewives,'" Deb says. "I've been called 'Brie' many times; she's always baking for the new neighbors."
Typically Deb prepares two big dinners, like gnocchi with vodka sauce and spaghetti with meatballs, plus a dessert, like glazed pumpkin cake.
Chicken soup and chili are two more standards that work well after her longest days at the salon; they taste better when their flavors can develop for a day or two in the refrigerator.
"I even cook for my dog," says Deb, whose 2-year-old Cairn terrier, Dixie, loves banana "pupcakes," a recipe from the Food Network's Rachael Ray.
This week Deb offers us people food, including the chicken-to-die-for recipe.
"It's really moist and tender and crisp on the outside," she says of the chicken that gets dipped in seasoned sour cream and coated with bread crumbs.
For a quick weeknight dinner, she recommends Shrimp Scampi Pizza made with prepared pizza crust. The shrimp cooks in the oven with a simple sauce of butter, garlic and olive oil.
Of course, the meal's not over until dessert, especially when you have Aunt Marie's Chocolate Cake.
"She has always been the baker in the family. I had to give her props," Deb says. "She's 86 years old and makes 50 chocolate éclairs for Christmas Eve."
The secrets to her airy, moist cake are old-fashioned lard, cake flour and five solid minutes of beating, no cheating.
The secret to resisting its charms? Take it to work.
"I don't keep anything in the house," Deb says. "I would weigh 500 pounds, and I'm not a big sweets eater anyway.
"I'd rather have a bowl of pasta."