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What Jew Wanna Eat
Amy is a cooking teacher, recipe developer, personal chef, and food writer. And her recipes have been featured in Cosmopolitan and Bon Appetite just to name a few. Today, we’re talking about Jewish food.
I am so excited to have Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat on the show.
On The Idea Behind Her Blog:
I was living in New York City and wanted a change, so I moved from where I lived to Austin, Texas.
I was working at a corporate job as a consultant and I just felt the need to do something a little more creative. I’d been reading a few food blogs and decided I might as well start my own.
My brother and I, growing up, we were always really into our heritage, our Jewish food, and we had this kind of running joke that we’d open the door for each other and say “after Jew”, instead of after you. So it’s just a Jew thing. It was always a joke we had, and he said, “Why don’t you do Jewish food? Like no one’s blogging about that kind of thing. It’d be different and fun.” So I said, “Yeah, why not?”
I just started it for kicks, and it ended up being my true passion. I looked forward to doing recipes every weekend and I would sneakily go on Facebook at work to update everything, and email my new readers.
It was so fun so I ended up quitting my job to go to culinary school, and that was three years ago. Now, I’ve been doing this ever since.
I’ve always been creative and definitely into writing. One of my prior jobs I had was as a conference producer, so I would write different copy and agendas and interesting things like that. So I’ve always loved writing. And I always loved cooking and baking.
Growing up I cooked a lot with my Grandma, who I call my Bubbe, which is Yiddish for grandma. I’d always cook with her. But I never thought of it as a career until more recently.
It’s definitely something I’ve always had a passion for.
On Where The Name of Her Blog Came From:
It was so my brother, as I mentioned, kind of did the “Jew for you” thing.
We were just kind of chatting about funny things, and I think it came up and we were like, “I don’t really know if that’s going to fly. Should I actually use it?”
In hindsight it’s definitely a name that stands out. People see it, they definitely have a reaction. And 99% of the time it’s a positive one like, “That’s funny. I get it, I get it.” And people are like, “Are you Jewish? Is that offensive?” “No, I am Jewish, that’s fine.” But it’s definitely helped me stand out I think, and it definitely says what my blog’s about right off the bat.
On Jewish Food and Jewish Culture:
In terms of Jewish food, versus maybe Italian food or Chinese food, it’s not just from a particular region. Jews have lived all over the world, and Jewish food’s actually evolved, so in different places the Jews have lived, they’ve taken the Kosher rules that they live by, and also some of the familiar recipes for holidays, like let’s say, matzah ball soup is a favorite of mine. It’s very traditional for Passover.
But if you go to Mexico where some Jews live, maybe they’ve added a little bit of spice or a little cilantro to their version. It’s evolved through the years.
Jews, unfortunately, have gotten exiled from a lot of different places. We lived in Eastern Europe and got kicked out of there. We live in America, and grabbed different things there. So living in Texas, I love to take some spices and local flavors and ingredients and adapt them to my food and my traditional recipes.
I think it’s okay to take something traditional and tweak it and add some modern foods and conveniences that we have.
A lot of the food I make is the Ashkenazi Jewish food. My heritage is from Eastern Europe. So I think if you were going to talk to Jews from the Middle East or Africa or anywhere else, they might have different staples.
Part of what I love with my blog is exploring these different types of Jewish food. And people always email me asking me if I can make a recipe that they grew up with, and it’s not something that I grew up with. So I’ve definitely learned a lot.
I would say you’re going to start with Jewish food with the Ashkenazi heritage, there are definitely some ingredients, such as matzah meal if you’re at Passover. Matzah is an unleavened cracker, and you can use it. It’s very popular around that time of year to make everything from matzah ball soup or you can use it to make matzah pizza. It’s a favorite of mine, or desserts using it.
Other Eastern European ingredients would be different kinds of cabbage and beets are really popular, so I like to incorporate those in different recipes.
The Jews had a lot of the tougher cuts of meats, such as brisket, or tongue even. So I’ll experiment with those as well. Things that people aren’t necessarily cooking. If you just give it a little love, you can make it really delicious.
On Some Good Resources to Learn About Jewish Cooking:
The good thing is Jewish food is kind of in right now, so there are definitely more books and restaurants about it.
A classic book, which is not Jewish per se, but Ottolenghi the Israeli chef. He makes gorgeous Middle Eastern-inspired food that definitely has some Jewish heritage to it. Joy of Kosher is a great blog, and she does some more kosher food, not necessarily always Jewish, but around the holidays especially it’s more Jewish food. The same with the Shiksa in the Kitchen, Tori Avey. She is a great resource. Jewish Food The Nosher, is a website as well.
It’s funny, growing up I wasn’t that big into cooking. I was more of a baker.
I was more artsy, so I loved to make cupcakes and decorate them. I would definitely lean more towards baking brownies and cookies.
When I initially started my blog I wanted to start a baking blog. And then I starting thinking like, “Do I want to make cookies every day?” I’m like, “I don’t know if I want to do that.” So I started experimenting with more cooking, and I found that I loved it because you can be a little more freehanded with it.
When I’m cooking for my website, I measure everything to make sure I can let people know exactly how much I used. When I’m cooking for a fun, I’ll just throw a little bit of this and this in there, and clean out my pantry, and add different spices. You can really experiment, and I find it just very relaxing.
On Cooking Non-Jewish Food:
These days I definitely cook mostly Jewish food, I’m really busy with my blog and all my freelance work as well. But I like to experiment, especially with different kinds of Mexican cuisine. I like to try different Middle Eastern recipes that aren’t quite Jewish.
I don’t think I had any total disasters. I have had some times where, especially during Passover, when you’re trying to use weird ingredients, because you’re not allowed to have any leavened products. So you’re not having any flour during that time, so I’ll try to make a cake with some weird ingredients and it’s just totally flat and not the best thing. But I don’t think I’ve had any horrible, horrible failures, knock on wood, so far.
On Introductory Jewish Food for Beginners:
I think it may seem a little complicated, but I love making brisket, because you really can’t go wrong with it if you cook it. The only thing that can go wrong is if you try to boil it instead of cooking it at a low and slow temperature. It’ll take all day, but it’s really mostly hands off. You can even do it in your crockpot.
If you just let it go long enough, seven or eight hours, it’ll come out delicious every time. And you can really add whatever spices you want. I’ve cooked brisket in beer, in whiskey, in wine. I did a little spicy version, added some tahini, so you can really get creative with it, too. I think it’s impressive. People are always impressed.
I think that it’s a little more complicated, than maybe beginner, but it’s really not. I think people just think it’s tricky. That’s definitely a staple.
For more Middle Eastern I always make my own hummus now, and it’s not hard. I think people are a little afraid of using dried beans, but it makes a world of difference. And again, it’ll take a little time, but it’s way better than the stuff you can buy in the store.
One of my favorite hummus recipes is a hatch chile hummus. It’s a little spicy. And recently I did a pomegranate hummus, which is a little sweet.
And one of the most popular recipes on my site is for a whiskey and cranberry braised brisket that I did two years ago. Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving, so they dubbed it Thanksgivukah, which was really fun. So I did a lot of combo recipes. This is kind of my Thanksgiving meets Hanukkah brisket, but I still make it all the time.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I am obsessed with Chopped, I could watch that all day. I just love to see what they do with these super weird ingredients, and I think what I would do.
I really love Top Chef, too. The chefs are just on another level, the stuff they come up with, and how fast they can cook things. It’s super impressive.
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
My Name Is Yeh is a really awesome blog. She’s actually half Jewish, so she makes some Jewish tweaks on her website as well.
One of my good friends, Little Ferraro Kitchen, she does a lot of ethnic foods. I love to see what she comes up with during Hanukkah. She did eight days of different Hanukkah food from around the world, so a lot of them were even new to me, so that was super cool.
Tori Avey, I mentioned. She does a lot of food history, too, so if you’re interested in history, that’s a great one.
And then you mentioned the Food 52. I love that. I don’t even know if I’d consider that a blog anymore, because they’re on another level. But they are great for discovering new foodies and their recipes are always on point.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
Make me happy, let’s see. I’m really into Instagram especially. I just love the visual aspect of it. I just feel like that’s the new social network, beside Snapchat, but it’s like the cool one, I guess. I like to follow food people and non-food people, so for laughs I’ll follow Andy Cohen. He always has good stuff going on. I like to follow The Garden of Eatin, she’s in Toronto, and it’s E-A-T-I-N, The Garden of Eatin. She does just gorgeous food displays. It must take her an hour to set up these gorgeous shots. But I love following her.
And Infatuation on Instagram. They’ll repost different, other people’s stuff, and they’ll post a different restaurant. Their food always makes me drool, and I won’t even be hungry, I’m like, “I need to eat something.”
I love Instagram. There are so many interesting people.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
I think besides the immediate staples, something I like to add is unique spices.
Something I’ll have for dinner all the time is just roast of some seasonal veggies with a different spice on it. Maybe make like with a spicy yoghurt sauce on top, or poach an egg and put it on top and that’s it. Especially if I’m eating something heavy during the day, or I’m going out to dinner, I’ll have a nice light lunch.
I think what makes the difference is adding a unique spice. I love using za’atar. It’s a Middle Eastern spice. It’s a blend of actually different spices. The main ingredient is sumac, which is a very citrusy lemony flavor, kind of subtle. There’s oregano in there, sesame seeds, thyme, and sea salt. So you can make it yourself, but it’s just got a really nice balanced flavor.
Then using smoked paprika I like a lot, especially if you’re keeping Kosher, so you’re not having bacon. It adds a nice smoked flavor to the foods, too, in different chilis or stews. It gives kind of a smoky aspect. So I would say a few unique spices can take your dishes, your staples you always make, and bring them to the next level.
Name one ingredient you cannot live without?
Oh, let’s see. I might say tahini. I’ve been really into tahini lately.
Something that I always have in my fridge is Greek yogurt. I’m obsessed with Greek yogurt. I have it a lot as a savory thing, too, so I’ll make like a savory breakfast with some Greek yogurt, and I’ll put in some pumpkin seeds and some hot sauce, which it sounds really weird. But if you think of Greek yogurt as just a very neutral flavor, and you can do so much with it. I’ll even mix that with some tahini some thyme and make a sauce.
Tahini is a sesame paste used in hummus, or I’ll mix it with some hot sauce and put it over some veggies. It’s just extremely versatile. It has a lot protein, so it’s really filling, too.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
I mentioned earlier the Ottolenghi, all his cookbooks are just gorgeous, even just looking at them for the food photos, I love. I always go back to the Joy of Cooking. It’s a classic.
There’s a cookbook called Schmaltz, and Schmaltz is a rendered chicken fat, and it’s a whole cookbook dedicated to what to do with this chicken fat and how to make it. So it’s your traditional Jewish ingredient, but to see it in different ways is really fun. I’d love to try to experiment with that cookbook a little more.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I don’t know if I should, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Taylor Swift.
People who don’t like Taylor Swift are lying, I think. It’ll pump me up, and I’m really into 90s music.
I’m a 90s child, so I’ll put on like the 90s Pandora Station, or I don’t know, Whitney Houston, Pandora, and see what comes up. Just something kind of fun and pop-y, and it’ll get you in the mood for cooking for sure.
Keep Posted on Amy:
All my social media links are What Jew Wanna Eat, and you can sign up for my emails on my website. That’s the most consistent way. There’s a few boxes you can sign up there, or follow me on Facebook, Instagram, whatever your favorite way is. Instagram and Facebook are my favorites.