February 12, 2014

How to prepare a sustainable Valentine's Day dinner in AustinValentine’s Day is just around the corner and couples across the country are preparing to say, “I love you.” As a student of an Austin culinary arts school, you have an edge. Prepare a delicious home-cooked meal for the apple of your eye. But before you start preparing, consider making this Valentine’s Day dinner for two a sustainable one. Bring the farm-to-table experience to your home with these tips:

Plan a seasonal menu
Plan your dinner menu far in advance so you can gather the necessary ingredients and get cooking. Make sustainable choices by preparing a host of seasonal dishes. It’s winter time, so that means looking for produce that thrives in this climate. Consider using produce such as beets, pomegranates, turnips, leeks, parsnips, kale and more. Basically, many root vegetables and hearty greens are ready to be harvested.

Get creative using these seasonal produce options. For example, consider roasting organic lamb and laying it on a bed of parsnip puree. Let your imagination drive you with inspiration provided by seasonal foods.

Source your ingredients locally
Once you’ve planned a menu and written down all the necessary ingredients, take your shopping list to a local food source. Your Austin farmers market is a great place to start. Ask the vendors how they grow their crops and care for their livestock. They should use sustainable practices, avoiding things like monocropping (only planting a single crop) and the use of pesticides. Choose meat and poultry that is antibiotic-free and grass-fed.

If the farmers market doesn’t carry everything you need, you can head to a grocery store that buys from food hubs. Regional food hubs support area farms by supplying their products to grocery stores. Ask your grocer if the store partners with a food hub or local farm, then have him or her point you in the direction of the food you seek.

Decorate with organic flowers
Spruce up the dinner table with a vase full of lovely, organic flowers. According to the Environmental News Network, the cut-flower industry relies heavily on pesticides. In fact, 62 percent of the flowers sold in the U.S. come from Colombia and they were protected from bugs by pesticides. Avoid purchasing flowers that were outsourced and instead by local and organic. You might find a gorgeous bouquet while you’re out shopping at the farmers market. There are also websites that provide consumers with organic flowers. For example, Organic Bouquet’s products have been certified organic and fair trade.

Serve local wine
Find sustainable wine from your local winery. There are a ton of wineries near Austin, so you should be able to find a great bottle to serve on Valentine’s Day. For a complete list of local wineries, visit the Texas Hills Country Wineries website. While you’re picking out a bottle, get a tour of the vineyards.

Go paperless
Be eco-friendly on Valentine’s Day by laying out cloth napkins. Not only are they waste-free, but these fabric napkins are more formal than the paper varieties. They will help set the romantic mood of the night. Consider serving food on bamboo plates or bowls, as this material is sustainable. Bamboo grows incredibly fast, so using it as a wood substitute is great for the environment.