Summer time is picnic time!

Elegant outdoor meals were likely first eaten during the Middle Ages, when the European leisure class began organizing hunting parties as a form of entertainment. Historians also believe that the word “picnic” originates from the seventeenth-century French term “pique-nique”, which described wealthy gourmands who brought their own wine along with them when dining out.grillIn those early years, outdoor feasts were largely reserved for the wealthy, but with the growth of the middle class, the picnic gained a more universal appeal. In the Victorian Era, the public was enamored with the pursuits of the moneyed aristocracy, and the popularity of the picnic exploded.grillEven then though, the picnic was a much larger and more elaborate meal than the one we know today. “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management”, the seminal book on Victorian British cookery and housekeeping, provided detailed instructions on picnicking.

The book insisted that a picnic for about 40 people should include cold roast beef, four meat pies, four roast chickens, two roast ducks, four dozen cheesecakes and one large cold plum pudding, just to name a few items. The menu also included three dozen bottles of beer along with claret, sherry and brandy. Just imagine the number of picnic baskets they would have needed for all that food!grillBecause they’re lightweight and sturdy, woven baskets have always been favored to transport picnics, but centuries ago they were often as large as trunks because so many courses were offered. As picnic meals have evolved over the years, so have picnic baskets.grillToday, most picnic basket are designed to feed just a handful of people, but a wide range of styles are available. Some modern picnic baskets are made of modern materials like polyester with waterproof insulated interiors, while others may look more familiar, made from woven natural materials, but are small and simple with washable fabric liners. Attractive and elaborate picnic kits are even available, with dishes, flatware, glasses and napkins included, along with straps to hold all these items in place with plenty of room remaining for your outdoor feast.grill

Meet Yael Peet: Our New Knife Sharpener

I’m SUPER excited to report that Whisk’s knife sharpening service will now be in house at our Flatiron location on Tuesdays between 12:30 and 4pm! Trained by Margery Cohen, who sharpens the knives at the Chelsea Market, Yael Peet doubles as a professional knife sharpener and as a kickass sushi chef at Shuko.

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Knowing very little about the knife sharpening myself, I had to ask Yael a few questions.

B: Starting with the basics, where are you from?

Y: I was born in the city. I currently live in Washington Heights.

B: What got you into knife sharpening?

Y: Cooking! Being a professional cook means you have to have a sharp knife. The boys in the kitchen where I was working at the time made fun of me because I couldn’t make carpaccio. My knife wasn’t sharp enough. When you’re a girl in the kitchen I feel like you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, so I learned to sharpen knives professionally.

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B: How did you get in contact with Margery?

Y: In culinary school they taught us how to sharpen our own knives, but I was so bad at it – I would bring them to her. Immediately after the carpaccio incident three years ago, I went to Margery and asked if she would be willing to take me on as an apprentice. Luckily, my timing was perfect. It was right before the holidays, the busiest time of year for her, so she said yes.

B: I know you work at a Japanese restaurant, did you always want to work with Japanese food?

Y: Yes, I’ve always wanted to work with seafood. I feel like the Japanese have HUGE reverence for it.

B: Tell me about your tools. I see a whet stone. What grit are you using?

Y: I am using a 1,000-6,000 grit stone right now. I use the 1,000 to do the actual sharpening and the finer grit for polishing. I also use a 200 grit to remove holes or jagged edges.

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B: For people sharpening at home, what sharpening method would you recommend? Pull through sharpeners or whet stones?

Y: Definitely go for the whet stone. Make sure that you really soak it. Saturating the stone will make it safer and more effective. The two sided 1,000-6,000 whet stone that you guys carry is a great choice. Although, if you have holes in your knife the 1,000 grit won’t do much. You would need something like a 600 grit. If you have no experience sharpening, I would advise you to seek out a professional.

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B: If you’re sharpening with a whetstone, do you need a honing rod too? What exactly is the function of a honing rod?

Y: Honing rods straighten the blade and whetstones sharpen the blade. I would advise home cooks to use a honing rod before each use and to sharpen with a whetstone once a month.

B: What knives do you have at home?

Y: I probably have about 20 knives at home between my husband and I. My most used knives are probably my Nenox chef’s knife and Misono 6″ paring knife. I’m also a HUGE fan of the Joyce Chen scissors. I use them to break down fish and poultry, and for stem cutting on big leafy greens. It’s faster and easier than using your knife.

B: Tell me about knife storage. Do you use a block, magnetic strip, bag, or sheathes?

Y: I have so many knives so at home I have a block, a strip, and sheaths. I have the Norpro 24″ Knife Magnet. I like it because it prevents my knives from touching. Knife bags are great, but when I take my knives to work I usually put them in a sheath and toss them in my backpack. Definitely don’t store your knives loose in a drawer. You’ll probably hurt yourself and damage your knives.

B: Do you have a dream knife? What is it? (Please tell me it’s one that we carry!)

Y: My dream knife would definitely be a Bob Kramer knife! He’s one of the few American knife forgers and he makes knives out of meteorite rocks! He was featured on an episode of “American Craft” with Anthony Bourdain. You should definitely watch it. I would also really love a handmade Japanese knife. I love the Kikuichi knives that you guys have, but I’m left handed and would have to special order them.

B: I’ve definitely had customers come in before asking for lefty knives.

Y: It’s INCREDIBLY time consuming, but it is possible to re-shape a knife to be lefty. The eastern knives, like the Deba, can’t be manipulated. But I can definitely change the orientation of the Western knives.

B: How long would it take you approximately?

Y: At an absolute minimum maybe two hours, but if a customer wanted a knife to be made lefty, I would take it home for the week and work on it little by little every day.

B: Would you be willing to offer that service?

Y: Definitely. I would charge $50.

B: Are there any major differences in the process of sharpening a Western knife vs. an Eastern knife?

Y: Western knives are a harder steel. They’re harder to sharpen, but retain the edge for a longer period of time. Eastern Knives are softer steel and a bit brittle. They need to be sharpened more frequently, but get much sharper.

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B: Any jams you like to sharpen to?

Y: The Spice Girls! I always sharpen to music. The average sharpening time for me is three songs/knife. So three three-minute songs. Approximately nine minutes per knife.

B: How do you set the prices for knife sharpening? We usually tell customers it varies depending on the condition of the knife.

Y: I charge $1 per inch, so most knives cost between $4 and $9. I charge an extra dollar for bread knives because I hand-file each indentation using a file. I charge an extra dollar or two if the tip is damaged and an extra dollar if the knife is exceptionally rusty.

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B: Aside from a whet stone, are there any other tools that you like to work with when sharpening?

Y: I use a regular file (the kind you find at Home Depot) to sharpen serrated knives and a rust eraser by the North American Trading Co. for rust removal.

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B: Last question. As a chef, are there any kitchen must-haves that you couldn’t live without?

Y: Yes. I have SO many. I love my Immersion Circulator! They’re amazing for home cooks because they’re not complicated to use and because they allow home cooks to cook like a professional without being professionally trained. There are blogs all over the internet on how to use them if you have any questions and it’s science! The Immersion circulator does all the work! All you have to do is throw it in a stockpot (I have a 10qt Le Creuset).  Plus during the summer, it saves energy and doesn’t heat up your house.  I also love my vacuum sealer (it has completely eliminated the need for ziploc bags), my 12″ cast iron pan, my fish spatula, and MICROPLANES. I love microplanes. I could be a spokesperson for microplanes.

B: What do you use them for?

Y: EVERYTHING. Garlic, ginger, parm, lemons, limes, nutmeg. I also think every home cook needs a decent cutting board. Not a plastic one, but a thick, heavy wooden one like one of these guys (gestures to a cutting board on the shelves).

B: What cutting board do you have at home?

Y: My cutting board is MASSIVE. My brother-in-law, Tim, is a carpenter. He’s incredibly talented and does custom woodwork. He mounted our colossal board onto a set of legs for us, so it’s more like a table.

I hope you found this interview to be as educational as I did! Clearly this girl knows her stuff, so stop by on a Thursday to see Yael in action and ask her any questions that I may have missed!
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Baking with booze for Saint Patrick’s Day!

Saint Patrick’s day is coming up quick and to most young Americans that means heavy drinking. If you’re someone who wants to join in the fun but doesn’t indulge in the same way some people like to, you could always bake with your booze instead of chugging! This time of year anything made with bright green creme de menthe will get you into the spirit, the combination of chocolate and Irish whiskey always does the trick too, and you can’t go wrong with a dark rich guinness chocolate cake! We thought it might be fun to share some of our favorite recipe inspiration with you below! This week the recipe of the week in our stores is a decadent minty chocolatey grasshopper bar from Serious Eats, with a nice boozey boost of mint and great pale green color from real Creme de Menthe.

photo from Serious Eats

photo from Serious Eats

If you’re more interested in Irish whiskey than creme de menthe, check out this recipe from the New York Times for a rich dark chocolate whiskey cake amplified with black pepper and strong coffee!

photo by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

photo by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Or if you really want to pack as much whiskey punch into your baking as possible, why not try this chocolate whiskey bundt cake with whiskey caramel sauce from Love and Olive Oil?

photo from Love and Olive Oil

photo from Love and Olive Oil

Whiskey not your style either? Why not try your hand at this moist and flavorful Bailey’s Irish cream bundt cake from Gonna Want Seconds?

photo from gonna want seconds

photo from gonna want seconds

If chocolate cake is more your speed, the luck of the Irish will certainly shine down on you if you make this chocolate guinness stout cake from Design Sponge

photo by Katie Quinn Davies for Design Sponge

photo by Katie Quinn Davies for Design Sponge

The end all be all of Saint Patrick’s day baking does it up right and combines three different types of alcohol into one perfect handheld confection. How could anyone resist these car bomb themed cupcakes from Smitten Kitchen featuring chocolate guinness cake, irish whiskey chocolate cream filling, and Irish cream icing?

photo from Smitten Kitchen

photo from Smitten Kitchen

Of course, Whisk is well stocked with all you might need to make any of these devilishly decadent desserts, whether you’re looking for cupcake or bundt pans, deep dark cocoa powder, festive green cupcake liners, or a cupcake corer to make room for boozey cream filling, we’ve got it all folks! We even have a great selection of shamrock shaped cookie cutters and more green sprinkles and food coloring than you can shake a shillelagh at!