Our Table: Time-Test­ed Recipes, Mem­o­rable Meals

Renee Muller
  • Review
By – March 2, 2017

With writ­ing skills honed as a mag­a­zine cook­ing colum­nist, a nat­ur­al tal­ent for food styling, guid­ance from oth­er cooks and cook­book authors, and point­ers from her moth­er and moth­er-in-law, Renee Muller has cre­at­ed her first cook­book. It is beau­ti­ful­ly designed and pro­duced; the instruc­tions for each recipe are clear and well laid out, and the pho­tog­ra­phy makes a reader’s mouth water. Help­ful­ly, the author spec­i­fies whether each recipe is meat, dairy, or pareve, and explains whether or not the dish can be frozen. For some recipes, there even a video link for prepa­ra­tion tech­niques. With plen­ty of notes and per­son­al com­ments, Our Table is enjoy­able both to peruse and to use.

Muller’s pro­fes­sion­al back­ground is not as a chef, but as a food styl­ist. Her inter­est in this art began when, as a child grow­ing up in Lugano, Switzer­land, she would plate and dec­o­rate desserts in order to help her moth­er when the fam­i­ly had guests. Muller’s pro­fes­sion­al styling is vis­i­ble in the pho­tos in her book — she did all the food and prop styling her­self. For the home cook, she offers sug­ges­tions as to how to step pre­sen­ta­tions up a notch with ease; a pret­ty dish, a gar­nish for a dash of col­or, or an unusu­al serv­ing piece will enhance a plat­ter or a plate.

For Muller, hav­ing grown up near the bor­der of north­ern Italy, the tastes of child­hood are Ital­ian. And the dom­i­nant fla­vor of her food remains Ital­ian even though she now makes her home in Lake­wood, New Jer­sey. She includes recipes for man­i­cot­ti (with short­cuts), Euro­pean cheese­cake, those cream-filled, con­i­cal puffed pas­tries (ie, can­nonci­ni), a beau­ti­ful Swiss fruit tarte.The title of her book, Our Table, is from the Ital­ian a tavola, mean­ing the place where fam­i­ly, friends, and neigh­bors gath­er to social­ize — and to eat. Our table is where life and food meet,” she explains.

Muller’s goal is to evoke the same sen­ti­ment in her own home, even though, geo­graph­i­cal­ly, she’s a world away from where she start­ed. This new world also has its influ­ence on her cook­ing. We find detailed instruc­tions for mak­ing her mother-in-law’s stuffed cab­bage, split pea soup with nock­er­lach (lit­tle dough balls), flanken, and bab­ka, in addi­tion to con­tem­po­rary sal­ads and gra­nola bars.

As her moth­er did, Renee Muller invites her chil­dren to the table with the Ital­ian, A tavola!” Tra­di­tion­al­ly, this was a phrase drawn out and yelled; Muller doesn’t say if she does the same. What remains a con­stant is the pre­scrip­tion this moth­er of five offers and fol­lows her­self: A mother’s love is to be used like any oth­er spice. Put it into the food and you will taste the difference.”

Relat­ed Reads:

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

Discussion Questions