Ruby's Juke Joint Americana Cookbookby Ruby Dee Philippa
Bando Press, 166 pp., $21.95 (paper)
When I first moved to Austin and knew absolutely nobody, I would hang along the walls of the Continental Club and watch couples two-step to lively honky-tonk songs. Some nights, it could be like a magic carpet ride to another time: the twirling skirts, the rolled-up jeans and white socks, the unabashed desire to dance. That's the feeling one gets from Austin-transplant and rockabilly singer Ruby Dee's new cookbook, Ruby's Juke Joint – like it was pulled from the shelf of another time in history. It's not for highbrow foodies, but for "real Americana folks," she writes. "You won't find any squiggly little lines across your plate."
Her style of cooking mirrors her style of music – Americana, with lots of influences and ingredients mingling. Hers is a collection of recipes and entertaining stories from her family and years of travel with her band, Ruby Dee & the Snakehandlers; Juke Joint offers up comforting, sometimes funny-sounding soups, simple one-dish bakes, Southern-style vegetable dishes, and an entire chapter dedicated to Thanksgiving dinner, when, of course, mac and cheese is on the menu.
Opening with a chapter on cocktails and typical Southern drinks, Dee gives us the recipe for the Snakebite, a drink she put together for the happy hour shows she played at the Continental Club. It includes limeade, bourbon, and Sprite or seltzer water. Easily replicated at home, it came off as tart, summery, and strong. Other fun drinks include mint sun tea, a Texas Martini (which she ran across on her first visit to Güero's Taco Bar), and spiced sangria.
Letting strips of beef marinate in flour, baking soda, milk, and Worcestershire sauce for hours made tender her crispy steak fingers, which, as simple as they sound, were delicious and elevated when paired with her suggested easy-to-make horseradish mayonnaise. Sugared cucumbers were a crunchy and delicious partner to her family's recipe for fried chicken, which sets up stations for the "dredge" and the "drench" and isn't shy on spice at either stage.
For a fine finish, delve into the Next County Bread Pudding, a dish of her mother's named for the need to procure the bourbon for the sauce from the next county over, which wasn't "dry" like where she grew up. It is heavy on pecans and raisins and browned up nicely. No high-paid professional took the food photos here, and, while sometimes a bit blurry, they fit right in with the down-home style of the recipes. A darling, 14-track CD of her food-centric songs accompanies this giftworthy cookbook and makes for some nice toe-tapping in the kitchen. There is much to like here.