Dinner at the ranch

Celebrate the season with a menu inspired by rancher Bill Niman and friends

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No-fuss appetizers

Welcome guests with these light snacks made with ingredients available at most specialty food stores.

• Add a generous amount of salt and pepper to ricotta and serve as a spread for halved radishes.

• Top cucumber slices with dollops of crème fraîche and Nova Scotia-style cured salmon. Top with wasabi-flavored whitefish roe (also available from www.tsarnicoulai.com) and/or small sprigs of dill.

• Wrap strips of roasted red pepper around white anchovy fillets and secure with a toothpick.

• Spread soft, creamy blue cheese (like gorgonzola dolce) on thin slices of fig cake.

• Serve crudités (carrot halves, celery sticks, fennel cut into wedges, broccoli and cauliflower crowns ― whatever combination of raw vegetables appeals to you) with fennel salt (grind ½ tsp. fennel seeds in a spice or coffee grinder and mix with 2 tbsp. kosher salt).

Better beef

In order to sell their meat under the Niman Ranch label, farmers and ranchers must abide by a strict set of sustainable animal-husbandry practices. Niman and the many chefs who buy his meat ― including those at Zuni Café in San Francisco and Lucques in L.A. ― believe these standards are better for the environment and for the animals, and produce better-tasting, better-textured beef, pork, and lamb. Among their practices:

• Sustainable grazing involves limiting the number of cattle, rotating them among pastures, and keeping them from harming rivers and streams.

• No antibiotics are used on animals sold under the Niman Ranch label.

• No hormones or growth-promoting additives are given.

• A later age at slaughter means slower weight gain and more intensely flavored meat.

• Smaller feedlots ensure individual care of the animals and less impact on the surrounding environment.

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