Our table was a place where my siblings, parents and grandparents would gather around on a Sunday afternoon. The menu rarely wavered, but no one complained because the roasted chicken, potatoes, peas and carrots, and fresh bread still warm from the bakery were as much a part of the experience as the stories and laughter shared week after week during the meals. I’d sit directly across from my grandfather and always opted to stay at the table with the grown-ups instead of running to play.
On alternating Sundays we’d visit my paternal grandparents and spend the afternoon with my grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, and even great aunt and uncle! The table would, again, be set with all of our favourites and my grandmother would have her famous carrot cake waiting in the fridge in its Pyrex dish covered with plastic wrap, ensuring no grandchild tasted the incredible cream cheese frosting before it was on the table for dessert.
Our tables were places where we grew up, where we spent time with family, where we laughed and made the memories that we share now on Sundays at my parents house – who have themselves graduated to grandparents.
These memories all came rushing back the second I opened Renee Muller’s cookbook, Our Table. It is more than a cookbook. It is a window into the importance of setting aside time to create memories with family. From the day I started this blog, I’ve always believed that there’s no better place to do that than around the table sharing a meal together. When my Dad picks up the bread from the bakery before the meal or my Mom brings the carrot cake to the table on Sundays now, the line drawn from the past to the present is almost tangible.
First and foremost, this cookbook cannot begin to be discussed without mention of the photography. Absolutely stunning. I can honestly say that the photographs in this cookbook far surpass that of any others I’ve seen (and I love cookbooks). Daniel Lailah’s work is excellent. The images are bold, raw and crisp. The spills, drips and imperfections add the perfect balance to the impeccable dishes serving as the focal point. Having earned a degree in Art History (a.k.a. having spent years studying composition and the finest of details) I couldn’t look at the images without thinking of the countless pieces by Caravaggio I devoted my final year to, and the use of darkness and chiaroscuro. The dark background, raw presentation and use of light to highlight the main dish, are executed perfectly. Renee is not only the author of the cookbook, but also served as the food and prop stylist, and there is no questioning her talent.
The images draw you in and not only encourage you to attempt the recipes, but serve as snapshots of the table. The cutlery strewed about, the spills and imperfections, the hands slicing fruit or meat or reaching out, you can all but hear the memories being made. The unconventional images are also riveting. Two in particular stand out: the cabbage roll recipe has two full page pictures, one a head of cabbage against a dark background with the page next to it the finished baked rolls, as well as the cabbage salad recipe with the ingredients laid out across the page. This is as much a work of art as it is a kitchen companion.
This is a cookbook that I would read not only for the content of the recipes, but for Renee’s voice in the notes accompanying each page. The memories and moments shared with her family and children are often casual, as if you’re shopping with them at Costco and coming across the brownie brittle for the first time. The honest, open and comfortable discourse throughout the book is notable. From the intros to each chapter, to the very beginning where she delves into the meaning of a tavola as where, “life and food meet.” Having also grown up in a traditional European family, I can easily relate to the stories and values peppered ever so naturally throughout the book.
Now, for the food itself! The recipes are not your typical kosher cookbook fare. They are rich in variety and flavours from Creamy Mozzarella Balls with Sugo Della Nonna to Kaas Potjes, each page encourages you to try new, fresh flavours and dishes. We’ve enjoyed the Lemony Dill Salmon, Meat Manicotti, Cabbage Rolls, Tampenade, Brownie Brittle and more! The recipes are accompanied by helpful notes, from which recipes are freezer friendly, to how to prepare that certain dish on Yom Tov to links to videos with further tutorials, and even tips on how to make certain dishes low-carb etc. There’s a Pesach guide at the very beginning, ensuring this is a cookbook able to be used year round, (I was surprised to find a Pesach cake slipped right in to the cake chapter!). On that note, plenty of the recipes bare a gluten-free distinction, appealing to a wider audience! The directions are straight forward and broken down to make the process of preparing each dish as simple as possible.
This is a wonderful cookbook that you’ll want to keep on your coffee table rather than on the cookbook shelf. Its beauty is matched with its freshness in terms of voice and recipes. If you’re looking for a new dish to shake up your menu look no further! You’ll find endless inspiration from the flavour combinations to the gorgeous images in Our Table.
I’m so excited to share the Brownie Brittle recipe, (reproduced with permission from the copyright holder, Artscroll Publications, October 2016). I can already see this recipe being included with other homemade goodies in Chanukah gift baskets, or as the perfect addition to Mishloach Manos! They’re simple and quick to prepare and can be adapted to your taste! We added chips and white chocolate chips as well as pretzels to our batch!
Renee Muller's Our Table p.228
Pareve/ Dairy/ Freezer-Friendly/ 20 Servings
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups oil
2 tablespoons corn syrup
About 1 cup brown salted pretzels OR other topping, such as nuts, chocolate chips, etc., optional
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, on low speed, combine sugars, flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Add oil, eggs, and corn syrup. Mix until just combined, scraping down the sides as needed.
3. Divide the batter between the two baking sheets; using an offset spatula, spread into an even layer. Scatter broken pretzels over the batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely; then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container or freeze until ready to serve.
Use 2 (3.5- ounce bars white almond chocolate, chopped, for the topping (Renee suggests Schmerling’s).
This cookbook was generously provided by Artscroll. The opinions and perspective provided in this review are my own.