This might have been a bad idea. I'm in the middle of Manhattan and I've handed myself a challenge: organize and execute Home State Plate night all-local foods, wines and (to up the ante) decorations. New York City streets aren't populated with farms anymore; there are no vegetable gardens and fruit trees with produce ripe for the picking. Planning the menu and finding the food is, therefore, slightly (okay, VERY) daunting. How do you plan an all-local-foods dinner when the nearest large-scale farm is 50 miles away? Here it is; the making of my first Home State Plate...
Eating locally grown food is a trend on the rise. Aside from being environmentally friendly, local eating means fresher, healthier, tastier food. In Manhattan, the corner groceries carry few local selections, so farmers' markets are the places to find in-season, New York State food. Before heading to the market, I checked the National Resources Defense Council Website to get a list of what foods were in season and then drafted a possible menu.
The fun of farmers' markets is how they often convince you (sometimes force you) to stray from your plan. At this particular market, there were loads of juicy peaches that, though not originally on the menu, could not be passed up. They were ripe and ready to eat, so into the shopping bag they went. To find your local farmers' market, use The Daily Green's Get Local Info tool on the homepage.
An added benefit of local eating is that you know where your food has originated. This was particularly important when deciding to serve meat as a main course. Though I am a vegetarian, the majority of guests were omnivores, so I wanted to find a farm that was certified as Animal Welfare Approved (AWA). At the market, I headed to the Grazin' Angus Acres stand, where I met the owner, Dan Gibson (pictured here with his son, Keith). The farm, situated in Ghent, NY, offers 100% natural, grass-fed and finished Black Angus meat and has been award the AWA title, as their animals are "raised humanely on pasture or range and allowed to exhibit natural behavior with minimal environmental impact."
Since the majority of the budget was devoted to food and wine, there was a limit on how much could be spent on decorations. An inexpensive choice was a bouquet of local flowers composed of Rudbeckia, Lamb's Ears and Mint, all from the Hudson River valley. A perfect (and affordable) centerpiece!
While guests savored Hawthorne Valley Farm cheeses, apricots, jams and edible flowers (another impulse buy at the market),"organic" flare enhanced the theme of the night. I opted to leave some vegetables in the cartons they came from the market in (instead of serving them on plates) and scattered a few heirloom tomatoes to add extra color to the appetizer table.
Also on display: the wine selection for the night. Astor Wines suggested serving Home State Plate guests wines from Long Island, NY, like Wolffer's Reserve Merlot (shown here). If local wines and liquors are not available (or to your liking), think about local ingredients to add to mixed drinks. Try TDG's Organic Cocktail Recipes.
An unexpected hurdle was the amount of time it took to prepare some side dishes. Fresh vegetables are often higher in water content than their imported counterparts, so to avoid a runny, soggy dish, the tomatoes for the tomato-zucchini gratin had to be sliced and laid out to drain some water. After 45 minutes, these tomatoes still had too much water in them...
...As did the zucchini, which took quite a while to firm in the frying pan. Note to self for future Home State Plate nights: schedule extra preparation time.
Hours yes hours after guests had arrived, the food was ready. Guests were greeted by the most stunning locally made decoration of the evening: hand-written menus (personalized with guests' names), provided by Brooklyn-based calligrapher Bryn Chernoff, who can be found on Paper Finger. Also included on the menu were the names of the farms from which the food was sourced.
The finished Home State Plate: Grazin' Angus Acres rib eye, served with simple sliced potatoes and a tomato-zucchini gratin. All local, all fresh, all delicious!
For dessert, a budding local chef (and friend) baked two fruit tarts, one raspberry, one peach and served guests a slice of each, along with Van Leeuwen Ice Cream from Brooklyn.
Late summer on the East Coast brings the widest variety of fruit and produce, so finding things to serve was easier than expected. From raspberries to tomatoes, the selections were almost endless, but what will happen for Home State Plate night in fall and winter is anybody's guess. ... Are you planning your own Home State Plate or have ideas on how to plan the fall version? Let us know in the comments below.