© Patricia Niven
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With festive excess long behind us and winter days still ahead, this time of year calls for something that will offer comfort without breaking the bank. Now is a good moment to bring to the kitchen those cuts of meat that can stand the low and slow cooking that this weather demands, cuts that used to be staples and are now rarely eaten. Pork cheeks, lamb breast, oxtail and tongue to name a few, and all wanting nothing more than a few hot hours in an oven or in a braising pot to yield their special flavours and textures.

In British butchery parlance, the cut we are using this week is called Jacob’s ladder: it does look a little like a ladder, with evenly spaced bones resembling steps. The biblical reference is to Jacob, who dreamt of a ladder to heaven, with angels descending and ascending. While it may be a stretch to draw a line between dining and religious experiences, this dish certainly deserves to be termed “heavenly”.

Also known as short rib or beef spare ribs, this cut will, for very little effort and not much money, reward the cook with a spectacular-looking rack of tender beef that will collapse with a touch of a spoon into long and flavourful strands of meat.

We suggest a simple treatment of black pepper, coriander seed and orange zest to complement the strong, beefy taste. The wise cook will save some of the meat and gravy for the next day — shred it and heat it with a knob of butter, then toss in some freshly cooked pasta — two meals for one, both of them glorious.

© Patricia Niven

Short ribs with orange, coriander seeds and black pepper rub

You will need to start this a day in advance for best results: the salt rub will penetrate the meat and give it a great flavour.

To salt overnight
850g-1kg short ribs (or Jacob’s ladder)
1 tbs rough sea salt (sel gris, if you can find it)
1 tbs black peppercorn
1 tbs whole coriander seeds
Zest of 1 orange (use a strip zester if you have one for more effect, but the flavour will be just as good with a fine zester)
For cooking
½ cup orange juice
1 large onion, unpeeled
To serve
1 orange
Green herbs such as parsley, coriander or lamb’s lettuce
  1. Roughly crush the whole peppercorns, coriander seeds and salt using a pestle and mortar or place them on a chopping board and press on them with the flat of a big knife (you want to make sure the spices are all cracked), then add the orange zest. Set aside 1 tbs of the mix to serve. Use the rest of the mix to season the meat generously all around, wrap and place in the fridge overnight or for at least 6 hours.
  2. Heat your oven to 200C. Cut the whole onion with the skin into 6 wedges and place in a roasting tin. Top with the slab of spare ribs to cover all the onion wedges and, once the oven is hot, roast for 20 minutes without a cover. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C, drizzle the orange juice over the top, cover the roasting tin with a double sheet of silver foil or a well-fitted lid and return to the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 160C and cook for another hour.
  3. After an hour, carefully remove the roast from the oven and flip the piece of meat. Baste well with any liquid that has accumulated — there shouldn’t be much, just a few tablespoons you can scoop on to the meat. If it is very dry, add ¼ cup of water but not more. Re-cover and reduce temperature again, this time to 150C.
  4. Continue with the same routine twice more, flipping each time and basting — it will take about 3-3.5 hours to soften fully; the meat should come away from the bone very easily and shred into long strands. Carefully remove it to a carving board, drain off and reserve any of the cooking liquid, skim all the fat from the top, and sprinkle the remaining spice on the meat. Serve with slices of fresh orange, a little handful of green leaves, with the cooking juices on the side ready to be drizzled all over.
© Patricia Niven

It may well be a sales opportunity invented by chocolate manufacturers, restaurateurs and/or rose growers, but a day dedicated to romance is still a lovely idea.

In practice, it can get a bit tricky — it is a silly notion that you can conjure up romance on cue. No matter how hard you try, the build-up is so intense that you are bound to be disappointed.

We never celebrate Valentine’s Day — it is one of the busiest nights on the restaurant calendar, so we end up working not romancing. It is always a particularly complex service as the entire floor is filled with tables of two, which is far harder to manage than you might think.

With both of us in the kitchen, we finish the night with an array of sentiments towards each other, mostly ones that Hallmark doesn’t print on cards. But we go home together and come back to do it all again the next day, which is romantic enough for us.

To give chocolates and flowers a miss this year, try these lovely cookies loosely based on German pfeffernüsse. Somewhere between a cake and a biscuit, their texture is unlike any other baked goods: moist and slightly crumbly, they deliver on flavour with a mix of spice and honeyed sweetness. The pink icing not only gives them that Valentine’s Day look but also provides a dainty and delicate crust. Whenever we make them, they always get the love.


© Patricia Niven

Honey and spice Valentine cookies

Makes 22-24 cookies

For the cookies
120ml strong coffee
50ml rapeseed oil (or other vegetable oil)
50g butter
140g dark brown sugar
180g honey
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Zest of 1 clementine or orange
420g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vinegar
For the icing
200g icing sugar
1 tbs pink juice, squeezed from raspberries, strawberries or redcurrants
2 tbs milk
  1. To make the cookie dough, place the coffee, oil, butter, sugar and honey in a saucepan. Mix all the dry ingredients and spices together in a large bowl.
  2. Heat the honey and oil mixture until all the butter has melted and it just starts to boil. Remove from the heat, add the vinegar and then pour on to the dry mix. Using a large spoon, mix well, until smooth and thick.
  3. Cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for about an hour.
  4. Heat the oven to 180C (fan) and line 2 large trays with baking paper. Dampen your palms using a little cold water and shape the dough into 22-24 rounds (about 35g each). Remember to moisten your palms between shaping each cookie and allow a little space between them on the tray as they will spread when baked. Bake for 15-16 minutes, until they dome up to a nice shape, and remove from the oven. They will still feel very soft, but will set some more as they cool.
  5. Make the icing by mixing all the ingredients together to a thin pinkish paste. Place the cookies on a rack and, using a spoon or a piping bag, cover the top of each with a teaspoon of icing and let it drip down the dome. Allow to set on the rack before removing and serving.

Photographs: Patricia Niven

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