Antoni in the Kitchen
I absolutely love Queer Eye, and I adore Antoni Porowski!
Queer Eye is such a feel good show! I have it on in the back as I write this because it's so comforting. It's the Jones BBQ episode, and I cry. I tear up during at least 50% of the episodes, and that's a low estimate. I mean they refer to the individuals on the show as "heroes" How sweet!
But back to Antoni, the foodie in the fab 5!
I had a crush on Antoni immediately. Tan and I would be BFFs, and we would brunch together. But I imagined that Antoni and I would eat great food, and drink amazing wine, and have a borderline romance.
I know my assessment is right because I took a few Buzzfeed quizzes that confirmed it.
When I saw that Antoni was putting out a cookbook, I wanted it. But I was also trying to avoid purchasing cookbooks. When I found out Antoni was going to be in Champaign-Urbana I thought, well one, I have to see him, and two, he can't sign the cookbook if I don't have it!
So I caved.
Spoiler alert, there was no opportunity to ask Antoni to sign it but he was such a delight! He was just as adorable as ever, if not more. You get an idea of the kind of person he is from the show, but it was so nice to see him get to talk about himself and really expand on those parts of his personality and his emotions, in a way that it was about him and not in relation to that episode's hero.
Months went by and life got in the way, but this past June, with it being Pride and a new season of Queer Eye being released on Netflix, I decided I should dive in and finally try some of the recipes!
When I went to pick which recipes to try, I wanted to get some variety, but with seven different sections, I also didn't want to get overwhelmed. Plus with some of Greg's dietary restrictions, and social distancing, I wouldn't have the usual help eating all this yummy food. So to avoid waste, I had to pick carefully.
The first recipe I tried was the Olive Oil and Pepper Marinated Watermelon Bites with Halloumi.
This sounded summery and fresh, but not super sweet. Plus, I love any and every cheese!
It's amazing how just a handful of ingredients can come together and make something interesting. Most of us have olive oil and black pepper in our pantries. Every BBQ has fruit, and does it get any more summer than watermelon? The addition of grilled halloumi adds something unexpected, and a different texture. I loved how light this was! It was easy to throw together. The mint was a nice touch and the colors were beautiful.
The first recipe being a hit, I moved on to one that I was excited to try because I recognized it from an episode of Queer Eye!
Reema's Masala Nuts are introduced during the Burning Man episode and I love that Antoni gives a shout out to the person whose recipe it is. So much of his love of food is rooted in his love of family and friends and sharing a meal, and building memories. It's nostalgia and, essentially, Antoni's love language.
I love that he didn't just pretend this recipe was inspired by a friend of his. Her name and all credit is right there in the name of the dish. Antoni doesn't just talk about how important food was to his family life, but he really does acknowledge the people and honor them whenever possible.
This was another pretty simple recipe, but if we're being honest, I messed up.
The recipe called for kosher salt, and I used regular salt, because it's what I had and I didn't think. So I made this dish WAYYYY too salty.
So if you're like me and out of kosher salt, remember that you don't need as much regular iodized table salt. In fact you need like half. So you can imagine how salty my masala nuts turned out.
I didn't want it to go to waste though, so I actually diced up a fresh mango and it was really nice! Everything tasted super fresh and flavorful. The sweet mango helped cut the disastrous amount of salt I added by accident.
But look how great it looks! Honestly I can't wait to make it again. As soon as quarantine is over and we're hanging out again, I'm making this for our next family movie night.
Last but not least, there was one recipe in the book, that I was so excited to see, I knew I was going to make it come hell or high water.
Bigos, or Polish Hunters' Stew.
Many of you may not know this but, for about half a decade, I waitressed in an authentic German restaurant called Sebastian's Schnitzelhaus. There, not only did I rock a dirndl, but I learned quite a bit about German cuisine.
The owner, Krystyna, is actually a Polish woman who has been kicking butt running this restaurant since her husband Sebastian passed away. So in getting to know her, I learned about Polish and Bavarian culture, picking up tidbits about similarities and differences between these neighboring cultures.
One day at the restaurant, Krystyna had whipped up some bigos. It wasn't an item on the regular menu, but that's a perk to owning your own restaurant. When you want something you can make it!
It was the first time I had bigos and it was so comforting! I wished she would make it more often. Since moving away I miss that restaurant, and try my best to swing by for a bite when I visit home. But I think about that bigos so often.
Knowing Antoni has strong Polish roots, I flipped through his book when I first got it, looking, hoping, WISHING, for a recipe for bigos.
Antoni did not disappoint, and there was no way bigos wasn't going to be one of the first recipes I tried.
Side note: check out the mise en place (above). So organized. So beautiful. I tried to put in the kind of care a Polish grandmother would in making this dish.
Although in hindsight, a grandmother would just get things done, and probably not care to stop and take pictures. Oh well, I tried!
Antoni names his recipe New Style Hunter Stew, or Bigos Revisited. So I knew this wouldn't be like the one I had, but flipping through the book, I noticed that Antoni puts his own little twist on each of these recipes! I expected the same for bigos.
This bigos was heartier than what I had previously. The kielbasa to sauerkraut and cabbage ratio that was heavier on the sausage than I was expecting.
But the flavor was still there, warm and comforting. I think if I were to make it again, I would use a bigger pot, because I messed that up too, and add more broth or wine. Or maybe I would just be careful not to let the broth reduce as much as it did. I would also consider adding more cabbage and sauerkraut and less of the kielbasa.
Note, these tweaks are personal preferences. They mean nothing as it relates to the authenticity of Antoni's recipe. I do not eat a lot of meat, so it was too heavy for me, personally. And I want more broth because I picked up a loaf of Polish Rye, as recommended, and I wanted to soak up all of the yummy broth with this bread!
Some of the recipes come with a little background which was nice. Most of the recipes come with a tip, usually about one of the ingredients. This is great since you could be a novice chef, or you might want to try a recipe, but not want to get caught up in exact ingredients. This little touch makes the recipes more accessible, which is Antoni's job on Queer Eye. Making the kitchen a less scary place.
Aside from some delicious recipes, the book starts with a lovely introduction, that's essentially Antoni's "memoir," if his memoir needed to fit into a 30-second elevator pitch like they make us practice in business school. It might be long for an introduction for a cookbook, I don't know I've never bothered to read one before, but it was really lovely to read about Antoni's love of food and how it's always been a huge part of his life.
There's also tons of great pictures of Antoni, because as we all know, he is great eye candy. Seriously, so many people crush on Antoni, for many reasons and rightly so, but his good looks are definitely on the list. I've seen some reviews that make fun of how many pictures of Antoni there are, but seriously, the publishers and editors knew what they were doing. They were giving the people what they want.
I love the idea that some guy somewhere will see a cool guy like Antoni obsessed with food and cooking and feel like he can be that guy! And it will be okay! In fact, it will be super cool! Antoni is living his best foodie life and he's sharing it with us. He's not trying to be cooler or fancier than he is. These are recipes that he loves and that he would share with his friends. So while I loved the recipes I tried, I adore an authentic Antoni.
If you're interested in trying these recipes yourself you can grab a copy of Antoni in the Kitchen here!
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