Spend any time with Jackie Ruby and you’ll likely come away entertained, educated and certainly well fed.
WAG was recently invited into the sunny-and-spacious Waccabuc kitchen of the woman known as “The Cooking Realtor” and all proved to be more than true, particularly on the well-fed front.
Ruby is a vibrant personality – warm and personable, funny and insightful. And she was only too happy to share a few of her kitchen tips to help WAG readers prepare a Valentine’s Day meal that she says, with her trademark raucous laugh, “will get you that ring.”
When two guests step into her charming home on a recent day, Ruby’s enthusiastic greeting yields to a view of the lunch-party table.
It’s a study in red, white and heart-shaped flair.
“It’s Deco Fusion,” Ruby says of her spin on the Valentine’s Day theme. “The Stork Club in the city used to set tables like that.”
Ruby, a New Yorker – “native, 107th and Amsterdam, then we moved to Woodside” – had her love of food nurtured from an early age by her grandmother: “Every Sunday, 12 o’clock dinner and be home by 5.”
In cooking circles, Ruby may be best known for her signature tomato sauce that she bottles with a label called “Let’s Get Sauced.” She’s also famed for the gourmet cooking classes she’s been offering the past few years out of this very kitchen.
And it’s easy to see why it all adds up.
“This is one of the reasons why I bought this house,” she says. “I love my kitchen. When I do my cooking classes, I line everybody up around the island.”
Indeed, there is ample space for the students she welcomes every couple of months to spread out adjacent to the Vulcan commercial stove.
“The classes sell out right away,” she says.
Ruby, you see, is a force in the kitchen, with a confidence that lets visitors know she’s in charge but also with a manner that’s far from intimidating.
AIRY, EAT-IN KITCHEN
A Westchester real-estate veteran now a licensed real estate salesperson with William Raveis Real Estate, Ruby got her start in the field some 15 years ago when living in Edgemont.
She puts her own riff on the “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” phrase – saying she learned the real estate ropes in the tough market that is Scarsdale.
And as any good salesperson will do, Ruby is all about networking, which translates to her cooking as well.
She has a Facebook page where she not only shares cooking tips (“Essential Tools for Your Kitchen” and “Delicious Side Dishes for Your Thanksgiving Feast”) but showcases some of her available properties and past sales.
For a long time, Ruby was serving her dishes to friends, family and colleagues. (She notes that her daughter, Kristen, a marketing and social-media maven, may help her develop her business, but it’s son Brian who got the cooking gene).
“All the Realtors said, ‘You have to do cooking classes,’” she says. Sessions might feature selections such as three different sauces (basic pesto, a Bolognese and a veal-crumble sausage in white wine).
Like a true chef, Ruby has her own way.
“I do it all by eye, making the recipe up.”
Her own thirst for knowledge means she owns countless cookbooks and cooking magazines, endlessly watches cooking shows and is a student of many classes herself.
Food, she says, is a big part of family life. She and her husband, Douglas, who is in financial planning with Morgan Stanley, travel the world, savoring local foods and wines from Tuscany to California.
“We went to Napa. Oh my God. I had so much fun. It was wild,” she says.
It’s just the Ruby way. After all, this is a woman who when asked for birthday-present ideas suggests a trip to Arthur Avenue, a woman who takes a suitcase to the Chelsea Market.
“Am I a tourist? No, I’m shopping,” she says, letting another wild laugh rip.
The travels, though, do stop for one thing, as her husband has found out.
“He knows don’t book anything the end of August.”
There is one weekend that month when her kitchen is turned into a factory of sorts, eight to 10 bushels of tomatoes being turned into her signature sauce.
“That’s what August is all about, the ripest tomato.”
As expected, Ruby says she loves to entertain.
“I do very elaborate dinner parties.”
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy going out.
“I love a good restaurant,” she says. “I go crazy. My thing is to get into the kitchen with the chef.”
When it comes to the local dining scene, Ruby can direct you to a transcendent pasta fagiola in Bronxville or suggest heading to Rye for the best cowboy rib eye.
“That’s what I like to do. I go all over. What’s the best of the best?”
And she’s a tough critic.
“I’m telling you, when I go out to a restaurant, I send it back,” she says of her exacting standards. “I’m not a trained chef, but I have a trained palate.”
FOOD = LOVE
As WAG settles into Ruby’s casual kitchen, she begins to prepare a menu designed to impress.
Tequila-infused watermelon with pepper and honey will begin the meal, followed by filet mignon in red-wine reduction with mushrooms and lemon-basil red potatoes.
As if that weren’t enough, what follows is truly decadent, a cherry, walnut and chocolate tart.
Ruby says food is a comfort – and a sign of love.
She remembers the time she had her wisdom teeth out and could barely touch anything. A few spoonfuls of sauce made her feel better.
“The world could be falling apart and I could eat some sauce,” she says.
While Italian style cooking is Ruby’s signature, she is a fan of other cuisines.
“I like Asian-fusion, also, I like Spanish.”
And watching Ruby cook is a crash course in itself, as she throws out tips with abandon.
“If you’re organized in the kitchen, it’s very simple,” she begins.
“Everything is about ingredients, and olive oil is crucial,” she says, talking about her favorite brand from France. “It’s grown next to artichokes so it’s infused with that taste. I can never be without this.”
And there are the shopping tips.
“Whenever you’re out, look for great honey,” she says.
Or pick up some dry porcini mushrooms and “put them in a coffee grinder and they become a powder. Poof.”
She pulls out a box and asks if you’ve seen cut spaghetti?
“It’s perfect when you’re not feeling well,” and proceeds to boil some up for her from-scratch chicken soup destined for delivery to a friend recovering from an operation.
Ruby says she is constantly inspired. She can see a dish on television or taste it in a restaurant and be able to recreate it in her kitchen, as she did once with a soup.
“My husband’s amazed,” she says. “I make him take me to the A&P at 11 o’clock at night. Anything that was open. And I made the soup and he was amazed.”
As she picks up the filet mignon, she shows how she’s cut into each piece.
“When I’m cooking steak, I always make a cut,” she says. That way, she has a window into its cooking status.
“It’s always about the sear on the meat,” she says, adding that meat should be brought to room temperature before cooking begins to ensure evenness. And let it “rest” for 15 minutes before serving.
The mushrooms now have her attention: “Don’t put salt on them until they’re done. Otherwise they get soggy.”
And she likes to spice things up.
“You should always buy unique spices wherever you go, because you’re going to be shocked at how you use them,” she says, opening doors to show she follows her own shopping advice quite well.
Her table is set with Wolfgang Puck knives. Her pans are by Todd English.
“They’re stainless steel with ceramic over them, so they really do cook evenly.”
Equipment is key.
“Tongs,” she says, holding up a pair. “You never need a spoon or a fork.”
And even on keeping a clean kitchen, Ruby has advice.
“I find if you clean up as you go, there’s really no cleanup.”
Presentation is also key.
“Plating is also very important,” she says. “There’s nothing casual in my house… A barbecue? I’ve never done hot dogs and hamburgers in my house.”
A LITTLE ROMANCE
Valentine’s Day is all about spoiling the one you love, so Ruby has chosen to make a special meal.
“Most men love meat, and to me, filet mignon is the best of all.”
And the dishes she’s preparing this day, she says, are designed to impress a fellow and perhaps even lead to a marriage proposal.
“It’s a hit,” she says of her menu. “She’ll be getting that ring one day. ‘Oh, she can cook.’”
Her husband, she says, enjoys her approach to food, from the most elaborate to the very basic.
“He likes the way I pair everything together,” she says, and talks about how the couple might make a simple Friday night special with a selection of wine and cheeses.
Ruby has plans to take her cooking to a wider audience, though her audition for a cooking show actually led to her being tapped by the same production company for a real-estate program (side-by-side talent?)
Finally, it’s time for dessert, with Ruby uncorking some bubbly.
“Did you ever have hibiscus flowers?” she asks.
Soon, she has dropped one, in syrup, in the bottom of a flute she is filling with Prosecco.
“Now that flower’s going to open up. Tell me that’s not impressive.”
Though meticulous, Ruby is far from pretentious. If you show interest in a dish, she will send you the recipe – and ask you to let her know how it turns out.
It’s simply the way she is. She says she gets “great joy” when she’s able to help someone say, “I can do this.”
And, she says with a laugh, some meals can prove pretty successful.
Taking our Valentine’s theme to heart, Ruby suggests calling this piece the “How to get the ring meal.”
“Want that huge rock? Follow this recipe,” she says, breaking into yet another laugh.
And, she says, guys can cook this just as easily as the gals.
“He can impress a girl. He can cook. She’ll have to get him a ring.”
Before WAG heads off, Ruby suggests one final thing.
“You should put a note. If you get engaged, call Jackie.”
You heard her…
For more details, including information on upcoming cooking classes, contact Jackie Ruby at (914) 417-1005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
RECIPES for JACKIE RUBY’S “HOW TO GET THE RING” MEAL, as featured in WAG’s February issue
½ cup lime or lemon juice
1 teaspoon tequila, if desired
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon salt
Dash white pepper
2 cups watermelon, cut into cubes and seeded
1 cup crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese (optional)
Preparation: Mix all ingredients except watermelon in a small bowl and stir to dissolve honey. Taste for seasoning, cover and chill for one to two hours to blend flavors.
To serve, dip watermelon in juice mixture, then sprinkle with blue cheese and eat.
Filet Mignon in Red Wine Reduction with Mushrooms
2-3 pieces Filet Mignon
½ cup good red wine
1 box sliced mushrooms
2 sage leaves
1 large shallot, finely sliced
Salt and pepper
Preparation: Salt and pepper meat, leave at room temperature at least 20 minutes. Cut a small (1-inch) line in the meat. (This way when you cook it, you can see rare, or medium or well done to your liking). Sear the meat 4 minutes on each side in hot pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Remove meat from pan. Add drop of olive oil to drippings in pan and sauté shallots. Add wine and sage leaves and reduce to half. In a separate frying pan, add olive oil and sauté mushrooms. Drain liquid. Pour mushrooms and red wine reduction over meat and serve hot.
Wine suggestions: 14 Hands Merlot or Evodia.
Lemon Basil Red Potatoes
16 new potatoes, chopped small
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice plus 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
¼ cup finely chopped basil
Preparation: In a medium saucepan, place potatoes, stock, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper; bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Toss basil and lemon zest over them and serve hot.
Cherry, Walnut and Chocolate Tart
½ stick unsalted butter (chilled)
8 biscotti cookies, 4 ½ inches long (or 6 ounces vanilla wafers)
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup cherry preserves
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup dried cherries
¾ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon orange zest
Crust: Combine biscotti, sugar and butter in a blender. Blend until you have moist crumbs that stick together when pressed. Firmly press the crumbs into the bottom of a greased spring-form pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake crust 15 minutes until golden and feels firm to the touch. Cool to room temperature about 20 minutes. Spread cherry preserves over the cooled crust, leaving ½ inch border around the pan.
Filling: Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat to just below boiling. Pour hot cream over chocolate chips and stir until mixture melts and is smooth. Add dried cherries, nuts and orange zest. Pour filling over the cherry preserves and sprinkle additional nuts on top. Refrigerate at least five hours or overnight.
Unmold the tart from the pan and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Place one hibiscus flower (sold at Whole Foods and gourmet shops) in the base of a tall flute and fill the glass with dry Prosecco.