Restaurateur-turned-rockabilly star publishes Americana cookbook
After a scooter accident in Seattle in 2008, Ruby Dee Philippa couldn't remember the word for table.
A head injury had caused her to forget simple words and phrases, including those she'd been using for years as a restaurant owner and band leader.
"As a songwriter, it really affected me because it hurt the language side of my brain," she says. "I couldn't have the conversation we are having right now."
To help her recover, doctors recommended that she find simple tasks that would help her brain relearn how to access common words and phrases, so Philippa started writing down the recipes that she'd been perfecting in her head through the years. "I started writing little stories to go with each one, what makes this story connected to me," she says. "The hardest part is that I don't write down my recipes for good reason: I make them differently each time."
Several months into the process, Philippa realized that she was writing a cookbook that was a lifetime in the making.
She grew up in California and West Texas, but spent time in Alaska and Central America before settling into Seattle, where in 1995, she'd opened Bandoleone, her first restaurant. It was a pan-American restaurant that served food from just about any country that had had any Spanish influence. She opened a second restaurant, Tango, in the late 1990s and a third just a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After her accident, she realized that she was ready to get out from under the weight of owning businesses that employed more than 50 people. "I realized that there's less stress, believe it or not, in music."
She had put together her band, the Snakehandlers, about 10 years ago, and the band would go on tour around the country and to Europe three or four times a year. "We'd been coming through Austin so often that people thought we lived here," she says. She finally closed the restaurants and the band moved to Austin, where it now performs more than 50 shows a year.
In the past year, the band hasn't toured as much because Philippa has been turning her typed-up recipes into a cookbook with her own photos and a CD filled with songs from musician friends including Earl Poole Ball, the Modern Don Juans, Two Hoots and a Holler and Elizabeth McQueen.
She wanted to include a CD in the book to introduce readers to the kind of Americana music — rockabilly, honky-tonk, country western, Western swing, you name it — that Philippa and others are preserving.
"Just like Americana music, Americana cuisine is based on other cultures," she says. "When those people came here with their music and their recipes, they put down roots and were influenced by others around them. The food that came out of those roots are all Americana." Everywhere Philippa and her band travel, they seek out food that represents the region, no matter if it's Cajun rice, Yankee chili or clam chowder.
Now that she doesn't have to do food professionally, she says she enjoys cooking for her husband, Jorge Harada, who is also a member of the band, and hosting friends at their house in Southwest Austin. "Now, I do music full time and I miss doing food, but I like to create something and enjoy sharing it with people, whether it's a song or a dish."
3-4 ice cubes
3 oz. limeade
11/2 oz. bourbon
Shot of something bubbly (7-Up, Sprite, seltzer water, etc.)
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Place ice cubes in a glass. Add the limeade and bourbon. Add shot of bubbly and Tabasco. If you prefer your drink "up" (that is, without ice), mix the drink slightly with a stirrer and strain into a new glass, without the ice. Otherwise, drink up and enjoy!
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 Tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
4 Tbsp. lime juice
Flour, for dredging
4 salmon fillets or steaks
2/3 cup tequila
1-2 tsp. flour
4 Tbsp. cream
1 nectarine or peach, sliced
4 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
4 Tbsp. Triple Sec or other orange liqueur
3 Tbsp. sour cream
In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, sauté mushrooms, shallots and garlic in butter until soft. Add salt and pepper and Tabasco to taste, along with cilantro and lime juice. Stir to blend flavors well.
Lightly dredge salmon in flour and add to the skillet with the mushroom mixture. Cook fish until lightly seared. Add tequila to pan. As the sauce thickens slightly, add cream and fruit. Stir to mix evenly for a minute. Add Parmesan and Triple Sec. Allow to cook, stirring ingredients slightly, but not disturbing the fish too much, for another few minutes. Remove from heat, stir in sour cream to blend, and serve.
Next County Bread Pudding
1 lb. French-style bread
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 1/4 cup milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup pecans
1/4 cup raisins
For bourbon sauce:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. bourbon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. agave syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Tear bread into medium pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar and cinnamon and toss to coat. Mix milk, eggs and vanilla in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add to bread mixture. Place 1/2 mix in casserole. Layer with pecans and raisins. Top with the rest of the mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until lightly brown.
Meanwhile, mix all the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook for another minute, stirring until the sauce thickens slightly. Serve bread pudding warm with bourbon sauce drizzled over it.
— Recipes from 'Ruby's Juke Joint Americana Cookbook' (Bando, $21.95)
Cookbook release parties
On Friday, Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers are performing a cookbook release show at John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes, outside San Antonio. Philippa, along with several of her friends who appear on the cookbook album, is hosting a release party ($8) at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Continental Club on South Congress Avenue.
At 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at BookPeople and again at 5 p.m. Jan. 13 at Waterloo Records, she'll be signing copies of the book and performing a short set with her band.
You can buy the book online at rubysjukejoint.com, at BookPeople or Amazon.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect price to get into a cookbook release show at the Continental Club on Saturday. Entrance to the release party for "Ruby's Juke Joint Americana Cookbook" costs $8.