December 2015

What's Next? Life Coaching with Penny Rackley

For Your Listening Enjoyment
-- New Podcast Series --

Learn how to live a more gratifying, 
beautiful, courageous and soulful life, 
from the people who already know how. 

Episode 1: How to Enjoy the Holidays -- and maintain your health & weight
with fitness expert Deb Hammett



Episode 2: Love Your Home Now 
and After the Holidays with 
interior decorator Elena Johnson

In harried times like these, it can be almost impossible to relax, set worries aside, get your head together, enjoy the quiet. If this is your struggle, then the recipe detailed below could be your ticket to some well-earned peace. I'm telling you, this dish takes hours of blissful, earnest (yet relatively mindless) work, and the delectable end fully justifies the means. 

Could you accomplish the same with a rotisserie chicken, frozen vegetables, some boxed broth and a can of biscuit dough? MmNo. 
I wouldn't recommend it. 

This month, I hope you enjoy taking good care of yourself and those you love, and maybe even some people you don't know. It's important.   

- Penny

Chicken & Dumplings
Chicken and dumplings are at once an expression of power and submission. The submission is required in accepting this hard truth: It takes all day to make real chicken and dumplings. But if you can live happily with that commitment and some dirty dishes, the rest is easy.

Broth: Better Than it Sounds

First, boil a chicken. Parts or a whole chicken are fine, but in the end you will need about three cups of cooked, chopped chicken meat. Figure this out. Do you like dark meat? Use four legs and two thighs. Only white will do? Cook three breasts. Whatever you choose, it's going to be okay. Too much or too little chicken will not matter. 

Once the chicken is fully cooked (give it 90 minutes in gently boiling water), scoop it out of the pot, let it cool, then take it off the bone and cut into bite-sized pieces. Please watch for little bones.

What's left in the pot is the beginnings of real chicken broth. Put all the bones back in, plus two whole carrots, two celery stalks with their leaves, an onion (skin and all, yes), herbs that you like (perhaps the clean taste of bay leaf? the darker mystery of thyme?), a few black pepper corns, several garlic cloves and some leftover white wine (Ha. A joke.) A cup or so of white wine. Let this just barely simmer for four hours. When some icky looking gray bubbles collect on top, skim them off. If you have a cat, watch out. He will want to investigate the good smells.

Strain the liquid into a container and throw away all the solids. Then store this precious golden elixir in the fridge for an hour and let the fat rise to the top. Skim it off with a big spoon and throw it away. 

Now here is your broth. Taste it! Add some salt if you like. Drink a little cup and you'll feel better. It's full of vitamins and minerals and did not come from a can or box. You made it! Enjoy this.

Vegetables: Choose Wisely

Get a sharp knife that's nice to work with, and chop three carrots, three celery stalks (no leaves this time), one medium onion and two garlic cloves (or more) into the size pieces you like to eat. Do you like big, round carrot slices, or those tiny cubes like in Campbell's Soup? What do you think your child or guest might enjoy? Think about what looks pretty in a bowl and feels best in your mouth, and cut the vegetables to that size. If you get it wrong this time, next time you'll do better. 

Put that perfect broth you made into a clean pot. It should be deep and big enough so that the broth only takes up half of its space (so, not a sloshy-shallow sauce pan). Bring the broth to a simmer. Drop the chopped vegetables in and cook them until they are barely thinking about being done (not too mushy, but not still crunchy).

All I Am Saying, Is Give Peas a Chance

While the vegetables cook, get a big rectangular casserole dish. (Or you can do like me and make one small square pan to serve tonight and one small square foil pan to freeze for later, for which you will want to HUG yourself next week when you don't have all day to loll about stewing a hen and you're desperate for an almost instant, nutritious, hot and homey dinner.)

Put the chopped chicken in the dish and sprinkle in some frozen peas. Keep in mind, green is so attractive, but peas can be a dealbreaker for some eaters. You know what you do and don't like. After going to all this work, I think it's most important that YOU -- the cook for Pete's sake! -- really enjoy this meal. So add peas according to your taste and any pea-haters can pick them out. Those types always do.

By now your vegetables are done, so scoop them out of the broth with a slotted spoon and directly onto the chicken and peas. This will be so pretty, what with the bright carrot orange and soft celery green and those glistening peas. It's an exciting step. Set the pan aside, for now it's time for the magic of dumplings.

Dumplings: Thou Shalt Not Peek

In a smallish bowl, add one cup of sifted flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tablespoons cooking oil and 2 tablespoons snipped parsley. (In this case, fresh parsley really does make the dumplings taste bright, but if you don't have it, you don't have it. Use dried, don't mention it and no one will know.)

Now you are thinking, "Why sifted flour? I'm worn out from all this cooking; I won't sift." I've thought this very thing, skipped the sifting and what I got is what you will get: slimy, leaden dough lumps instead of fluffy, steamy dumplings. Do not make my lazy mistake and gamble your beautiful meal away over a three second chore. Just sift.

Mix these ingredients with a fork just until they bind into a smooth dough. Remember, your pot of simmering broth is still on the stove. Prepare for action; drop tablespoons of the dumpling dough directly into it and hurry to put the lid on tightly, then reduce the heat to very low. DO NOT TAKE THE LID OFF FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, THIS IS CRUCIAL, STAY IN CONTROL. Simmer for 12 to 15 minutes. Spend these minutes cleaning up a little, look at a magazine, and maybe have a bite of something sweet.

Wait for the timer you've set to go off and then scoop up these miracles of springy, steamy fluff, and place them on top of your gleaming vegetables in the casserole dish. You're almost there! Now the gravy. 

Gravy: Don't Be Scared

Strain the broth again and pour a quart of it into a saucepan. (Store the remaining broth in the fridge or freezer for later. Everything it touches will benefit from its salty authenticity.) Heat to boiling. Meanwhile, whisk 1/2 cup flour with a cup of cold water, smashing the lumps until they're all but gone. 

Gradually add this to the boiling broth. Stir constantly until it thickens and -- TaDA! You just made gravy. Nobody makes gravy anymore and you just did it, and now that you've done it you can do it again. It is never too late to improve one's lot in life.

Justice is Served

Pour the gravy over the casserole of vegetables and dumplings. Put in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, then take it out and let it cool for another five. 

Please know, this is a meal for which the word "savor" was invented. We aren't going to rush it. But the smells in your kitchen will be practically crippling for any hungry person in the vicinity. If you're feeding chronic gobblers, give them a cheese plate during this waiting period so all will take their time with your special dish. They should also set the table, find your good napkins and start the fireplace.

Since we've conspired to make gravied dumplings, it's presumed we're not on a diet here; this meal is the very soul of comfort food, possibly served to ease a queasy New Year's Day, or celebrate the first snow, or mourn the passing of a raucous middle school football season. So sit down and let someone pour you a glass of that white wine and butter your biscuit. Your work is done. It's time to eat.

Herein lies the power, and it is delicious.

Coaching with Penny


If you want to make a life change, are recovering from a loss or just need help defining your goals and reaching them, then you might be a good candidate for coaching.


My first session is always free, so we can get to know one another. Call 214-793-1503 or email me at for an appointment.