We asked Erik Blauberg, the executive chef of Manhattan's "21" Club, to create an elegant, but easy party meal on our entertaining budget of $60 for six people.
Erik Blauberg, who was fascinated by the way a professional kitchen worked, started his career in his teens as a dishwasher.
Blauberg traveled the world to learn and test his culinary skills. He worked in France, Japan, and such well-respected New York restaurants as Bouley, Windows on the World, La Cote Basque and Tavern on the Green.
Blauberg became the executive chef at "21" in 1996, and has been credited with keeping the traditions of "21" but with a modern twist. Last year, he opened "Upstairs at 21" which features a more modern menu. The new restaurant upstairs seats only 32 people, which Blauberg says creates a warmer, more intimate dining experience.
The "21" Club became famous during the prohibition era – standing out in New York as one of the most celebrated "speakeasies." It was raided more than once, but federal agents were never able to close the club permanently. At the first sign of a raid, the "21" Club would activate an ingenious system of pulleys and levers, which would sweep bottles from the bar shelves and hurtle the smashed remains down a chute into New York's sewer system.
It was during this period that "21's" famous secret wine cellar was built. Its two-ton door was operated by placing a meat skewer into a tiny hole in a certain brick. Would-be investigators were further confused by the fact that the cellar was located not in number "21," but number "19," the house next door. The cellar contained 2,000 cases of wine.
Chef Erik Blauber's Oscars Night menu as our Chef on a Shoestring: Grape Martinis; Fava Bean, Goat Cheese and Olive Spread; German Potato Salad; and Ultimate Shrimp Cakes.
Panko: Blauber uses panko in his shrimp cakes. Panko is Japanese-style breadcrumbs, which are coarser than traditional breadcrumbs. They are perfect to use when coating fried food, creating a crunchier crust than traditional breadcrumbs. You can find panko in Asian grocery stores, gourmet shops and even some grocery stores.
Fava beans: Fava beans are the base of Blauber's spread. Fava beans are actually a member of the pea family, and one of the oldest known cultivated plants. Favas are also known by an amazing variety of other names: broad beans, Windsor beans, horse beans and, even pigeon beans. Fava beans were enjoyed by ancient Egyptians 5,000 years ago and 3,000 years later continued to be a prime source of protein in the Near East.
Large and brown, fava beans are often considered the tastiest bean around. They also merit their title as the meatiest-tasting bean. Favas grow in large pods that house approximately five beans each. Fava beans are sold fresh, dried, and canned. When shopping for fresh fava beans, choose crisp-looking pods and avoid wilted ones. Dried beans should be somewhat shiny and smooth. Fresh favas will keep refrigerated up to a week while dried favas will keep for up to a year if stored in airtight glass or ceramic containers. Fresh fava beans come in large, long (7 to 9 inch), thick pods with a white blanket-like padding inside to protect the pretty seeds they carry. Vegetable expert Elizabeth Schneider describes them to a "T" as sleeping bags for the beans. The beans themselves look like small to medium-sized lima or butter beans. Fresh favas are a sign of spring in Italy and in many American restaurants. Chefs today use the fresh beans mashed or pureed to spread on crostini or on plates as the basis for preparations ranging from other vegetables to grilled meats and fish or chicken.
Fromage blanc: Chef Blauberg uses fromage blanc in the fava bean spread. Fromage blanc is an extremely soft, fresh cream cheese that has the consistency of sour cream. Fromage blanc is usually eaten with fruit and sugar as dessert, but can also be used in cooking. If you can't find fromage blanc, Blauberg says you may use sour cream.
Verjus: Blauberg uses verjus for his martini recipe. Verjus (pronounced verjuice) is the acid juice extracted from large unripe grapes, widely used as a sauce ingredient, a condiment and in deglazing. In the Middle Ages, vertjus (literally "green juice") was an acid-tasting stock prepared with the juice of unripe grapes, sometimes mixed with lemon or sorrel juice, herbs, and spices. It was used in many sauces. You can find it in wine shops or specialty food shops.
Yields 1 Serving
1/2 ounce verjus
3 1/2 ounce vodka
3 grapes, peeled and placed on a toothpick
1/2 cup ice cubes
Place martini glass in the refrigerator to chill for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, fill a shaker with ice. Add verjus and vodka, and stir the ice and liquor with a spoon.
Remove the martini glass from the refrigerator and strain the vodka and verjus into the glass. Add the grapes and serve immediately. Repeat for the remaining five glasses.
Fava Bean, Goat Cheese and Olive Spread
Chef's Note: If you are using fresh fava beans, they need to be shelled (removed from their pods). To open the pods just pull on the stem at the top to unzip the string down either side of the pod, then gently push the pod open between your thumb and forefingers. Pop the beans out. Cook shelled beans in a large saucepan in plenty of boiling water until just tender, about 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the bean. Drain well and rinse with cold water to cool. Using the tip of a knife or your thumbnail, slit the translucent skin covering the bean, peel off and discard. You can now use the peeled cooked beans as appetizers, in salads or in other recipes.
Yield: 6 servings
3 cups fava beans, cooked with skin removed (see method above)
8 tablespoons virgin olive oil for the spread
3 cups fromage blanc, or sour cream
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup black pitted olives, cut into slivers
8 slices of thick, crusty bread
olive oil for brushing on bread
Puree the fava beans and 8 tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor and puree. Press the puree through a fine sieve to remove any lumps. Place puree in a mixing bowl, and whisk in the fromage blanc until the mixture is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to your serving bowl.
Arrange goat cheese and olives on top of the puree. Using a pastry brush, brush each bread slice with olive oil. Place the bread slices on a grill or a grill pan. Grill on each side for about two minutes.
Serve the bread along with the spread.
German Potato Salad
Yield: 6 servings
4 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
9 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoon parsley, chopped (optional)
6 red bliss potatoes
1/4 cup cracked black pepper
sea salt to taste
Cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water.
Try to cook the potatoes perfectly so that they just fall off the blade of a knife when you stick it into them. (You don't want the potatoes raw, but you certainly don't want them falling apart, either.) This should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
As soon as the potatoes are cooked, drain them and put them into a bowl. Let them cool, then slice them 1/8-inch thick. Do not peel the potatoes.
In a mixing bowl, whisk in the lemon juice and mustard. While whisking, stream in the olive oil and parsley. Add the sliced potatoes and black pepper. Toss all ingredients well. Season to taste with salt.
Transfer to your serving bowl or platter. Let everyone help themselves.
Ultimate Mini Shrimp Cakes
Yield: 6 servings
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon jalapeno, seeds removed, minced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, seeds removed, minced
1/2 cup onions, minced
salt to taste
fresh white ground pepper to taste
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
5 tablespoons mayo
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chives
1/2 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
2 teaspoon cilantro, chopped fine
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 pounds medium-sized shrimp, peeled, boiled and cubed
1/2 cup soft white bread crumbs (see method below)
1 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 thyme sprigs
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the shrimp to the boiling water, stir, cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 8 to 10 minutes, or until shrimp are just cooked through. Strain in a colander and transfer the shrimp to a large bowl. Let shrimp cool. Then cut them up horizontally into cube -like pieces.
Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a medium-sized sauté pan the heat should be on low. Add the jalapeno and bell pepper with the onions; cook on a low flame. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables (make sure you don't brown the vegetables) until translucent - approximately five minutes. Remove from heat. Let the vegetables cool.
In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, Tabasco sauce and lime juice. Using a whisk, make sure all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Then add mayo, mustard, chives, parsley, cilantro and cayenne pepper. Again whisk well.
Add the cubed shrimp and the vegetables. Stir and add the soft breadcrumbs, and 1/4 cup of panko crumbs. Mix well. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Spread out the remaining panko on a large cutting board. Using your hands, take the shrimp cake mixture and shape into round, slightly flattened cakes or patties, about 2-inches in diameter by 1/2-inch thick. Make mini shrimp cakes and place on top of bread crumbs. Gently press the patties so panko will adhere to the patties. (Be careful not to break up the patty shape.) Gently flip each patty over, and again gently press to make sure both sides are coated with panko.
Add 4 tablespoons olive oil to a sauté pan, heat until medium hot. Carefully add the shrimp cakes to the pan and cook slowly for about 2 1/2 minutes, then turn them over and add thyme sprigs and butter. Place into a preheated 375 degree F oven and cook for approximately 2 1/2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the pan. Serve immediately.
For Fresh breadcrumbs: Simply remove the crusts of the bread, place two slices of bread in the bowl of a food processor, and process until fine. If you have bread crumbs left over, put them in an airtight container and refrigerate up to one week or freeze for up to six months. Chef Blauberg says never use stale bread to make breadcrumbs, because they will taste just that: stale.