Our Table is a beautiful hostess gift for that special occasion or that friend who loves cooking and never tires of inspiring culinary reads.
There are cookbooks you whip out of your kitchen cupboard 45 minutes before dinner in search of something easy, bright and new, and there are cookbooks you take to bed with you for reading pleasure. Our Table (Artscroll, 2016) by Renee Muller falls into the latter category, not because you won’t want to try her recipes, but because there’s a lot of reading involved in many of them.
Muller is a Swiss native who moved to the United States in 2002 and, by winning a recipe contest, landed a regular column in Whisk, a pullout food feature of the national Jewish weekly Ami Magazine. Our Table is a compendium of her favorite kosher recipes, “a cuisine that is heimish yet laced with aromas of my youth,” she writes in the introduction.
The dishes encompass all the usual categories – soups, salads, appetizers, fish and dairy, meat, chicken, snacks, desserts and breads. Many of them are laced with stories about family secrets related to the particular recipe, or how the recipe came into being. For her fragrant standing rib roast recipe, for example, there’s an essay on how and why she created the recipe, as well as tips on how far in advance to make it and how to prevent it from drying out. Her Sugo Della Nonna (Italian-style tomato sauce) contains a half page on the definition of comfort food and the feeling it delivers when she makes it. “I see myself, sitting at Nonna’s table, as a child, feeling nourished and happy,” she writes.
Muller’s insights are written in a conversational style with lots of anecdotes about her family thrown in. By the time you’re finished reading this book, you feel like you know her personally – and you can’t help but like this impassioned chef who adores cooking for her family and friends. That’s because Muller’s enthusiasm is contagious, but also because some of her dishes go way beyond the usual suspects. There is a recipe for onion crisps, a whole page on the art of roasting chestnuts, one on toffee apples, one titled “Really, really good whole wheat challah” and another for brown buttered pear salad. And the pictures? Whoa. They are amazing, mouthwatering bites of full-page color that will leave you salivating as you plan your next dinner party. Most of the recipes are not terribly complex either, they’re just new combinations of ingredients most of us know well and use regularly.
Muller is that friend we all want in our lives – the one whose cooking is fabulous, who isn’t shy about sharing her recipes and whose conversation is full of funny stories, notes from her past and sage bits of wisdom. There are times when the essays feel perhaps a tad too long but, nonetheless, Our Table is a 270-page hardcover recipe book worth having, a beautiful hostess gift for that special occasion (Chanukah?) or that friend who loves cooking and never tires of inspiring culinary reads.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.