Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman on their Marin County California ranch.
The couple both hail from the Midwest and return there each December to spend Christmas with family. So, most years, they gather with friends before or after the holiday to host a celebration at home. Since they live on a working ranch, their parties are always relaxed and casual.
And because the house is compact, they're also intimate. The breakfast nook doubles as a dining room, so the adults assembled for the day's party ― Paul and Mary Canales (he's executive chef at Oliveto in Oakland; she recently left Chez Panisse to open Ici, an ice cream shop in Berkeley), Ambjorn Lindskog and Andrea Hyde (who run Bistro Elan in Palo Alto, California), and the Nimans ― seem like a large group. But no one at the table would trade the cozy feeling and peaceful view of West Marin hills for extra elbow room.
Being chefs, the guests can't help but contribute to the meal. The centerpiece is Paul's recipe: Niman Ranch beef, naturally, roasted with rosemary and garlic and served with caramelized shallots and walnuts. That's followed by a sweet-potato gratin, and brussels sprouts with Niman Ranch pancetta, courtesy of Ambjorn. The meal is rich and celebratory, and will be capped with Mary's frozen citrus cups ― a fun and refreshing way to end any holiday dinner.
"These ingredients are so good," says Paul as he sets down his fork, "that all they need are simple cooking, good wine, and good company."