For Americans, the bar to be charmed by anything British gets set plenty low. We love the accent, the funny words, the history, the royal baby. And we used to love making fun of the food.

But now we’re charmed by the food as well—witness the current mini-craze over the “Great British Bake Off.” And with Paula McIntyre’s new book, we can be charmed by both the food and the funny words from a part of Britain we rarely associate with great food: Northern Ireland.

McIntyre’s warm, relaxed voice—heard in weekly cooking segments on the BBC’s Saturday Magazine show with John Toal (and available on podcasts)—shines through in Paula McIntyre’s Down to Earth Cookbook. Although she repeatedly refers to her “rustic” style, it’s often a fairly fancy rustic, making these flavor-layered recipes well worth a dinner party.

The book focuses on using local produce—in chapters on vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, bread, sweets, and preserving—which McIntyre pumps up with a few powerful ingredients and techniques. Her opening recipe, for a leek gratin with a crunchy topping, gently simmers the leek greens and coats them delicately with cream and thyme. That gets topped with the leeks’ white parts that have been poached, then grilled—scorched, she says—and buttery soda bread crumbs. It’s a great lesson in building flavor by enhancing the natural properties of a few ingredients.

About those soda bread crumbs: This is not “Irish soda bread” as Americans may think of it—an oven-baked, buttermilk and baking soda-raised dome often untraditionally dotted with currants or raisins and caraway seeds.

Here come the funny words: in Northern Ireland, soda bread means “soda farls”—farl meaning quarter—a griddle baked buttermilk bread that looks like scones. (Northern Ireland’s “wheaten bread” comes closer to our idea of soda bread—for which McIntyre also includes a recipe.)

Like many of McIntyre’s recipes, her “treacle soda farls” pose a few challenges to American cooks. The farls require a translation of “self-raising soda bread flour”—how do you substitute for that, and likely for the treacle as well? In other recipes, cooks may need to do similar sleuthing for gorse flowers, Armagh Bramley apples, green elderberries, brown lemonade, soup celery and heather ale—not to mention deducing when the many calls for cider mean something alcoholic, not the “cider” on our grocery shelves alongside the apple juice.

But quick Internet searches answer most questions and often lead to a pleasant interlude learning about five other previously unheard-of ingredients. This is a pretty book with attractive photos, but it’s not precious—so cooks may find themselves jotting a quick glossary in the back cover, to remember what castor and muscovado sugar are or what they did for that soda bread flour.

That said, it still wasn’t entirely clear how to substitute for the flour, but farls made with all-purpose flour mixed with salt and baking soda, a local farm’s thick buttermilk, and a touch of golden syrup in place of treacle were quickly devoured. At least twice, McIntyre describes a food as “scorched”—and she doesn’t mean a cooking disaster. “The smell of buttermilk and scorched flour,” she writes of farls, creates a lasting food memory—and these will become a regular memory-inspiring item on many readers’ tables.

As will many of these recipes—despite a few shortcomings. The lavender shortcakes—rich, toothsome cookies made with butter, confectioner’s sugar, and egg yolks—include no baking temperature (they were tested at 375 degrees); the meat and potato pie lacks the entire final set of instructions on putting together the pie dough and filling. Other recipes lack the sort of regimented (many would say dumbed-down) instructions American cooks have come to expect.

That makes reading through a recipe—and envisioning the steps as you go—crucial to avoiding mid-recipe frustration. But it’s worth it: cider-braised, bacon-topped turnips, blackcurrant Barbados cream (tested with blueberries), a juniper, honey and ale brine useful for many meats, oat biscuits (cookies) with whiskey-soaked raisins, and plum- and spice-steeped gin all proved worthy of a permanent place in the kitchen.

A few recipes seem a bit intimidating—carrot wine, home-brewed whin bush and hibiscus “champagne,” blackberry wine with extremely scant instructions—but they are by far the exception, and may provide a pleasantly relaxed counterpoint to our sometimes hyper-cautious food prep rules.

So indulge in some funny words and fresh takes on the food of a charming country, confident that even the slightly tricky recipes will likely turn out something truly tasty.

Paula McIntyre’s Down to Earth Cookbook by Paula McIntyre (Released August 18, 2016, by Colourpoint Books; 144 pages)

This review first appeared online at the New York Journal of Books.

Book Review: Mast Brothers Chocolate

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Feeling uncool in the kitchen? Need a lot more hipster at your stove? With its painstakingly retro design, bearded Brooklynites, more-artisanal-than-thou essays, and too-hip-to-give-you-much-detail recipes, Mast Brothers Chocolate has you covered.

None of which is to say, if that description turned you off, that the book isn’t worth reading. If you can get past the requisite photos of chocolate milk in—of course—a mason jar, or the mason jar of bourbon next to the bourbon balls, or the yogurt and chocolate granola in—deep breath now—a mason jar, and you read the essays in small bites to keep from gagging at the authors’ ever-adorable and self-deprecating descriptions of themselves and their adventures . . . well then, this book actually is interesting.

The background: Two brothers raised in Iowa eventually find themselves together and scraping by in New York, with Rick working in restaurant kitchens and Michael in film production. Of course (this being a Brooklyn story) they throw many dinner parties (“Rick bought a roasting pan and loved cooking a whole leg of lamb after proudly marching down the street with it slung over his shoulder”).

At one dinner, they realize that though, like good Brooklynites, they make their own beer and bread and ice cream and cake and pie, they don’t know how to make chocolate. So, like good Brooklynites, they must march forth to figure it out (“Our heads were pounding the next day with the excitement of discovery on the horizon”). Along the path to enlightenment, they discover with horror that North American chocolatiers melt down chocolate, rather than making their own from scratch. Of course, being good Brooklynites, they cannot let that stand.

And so they become “craft chocolatiers,” opening a factory and retail store in Brooklyn to sell their chocolate bars wrapped (of course) in custom papers they designed.

After all the essays detailing this journey, the pared-down recipes come as a pleasant surprise (at least to experienced cooks—to fit with the look of the book, presumably, these are not hand-holding recipes; rather, they trust that you are not an idiot/enjoy DIY’ing it like a good Brooklynite).

Alongside the obvious chocolate drinks of all sorts, cookies, brownies, ice creams, candies, and truffles sneak in scallops topped with cacao nibs and browned butter, and a savory chocolate cream sauce for pasta or meat. Few of the sweet recipes will surprise readers—chocolate blueberry pie and peanut brittle made with cacao nibs are about as unusual as they get—but for readers with a canister of those nibs stuck on a pantry shelf, the authors have a host of ideas, from steak or salmon covered in nibs, a meat dry rub, homemade pork sausage, cranberry sauce, pate, coq au vin, butternut squash soup, and nibs in a salad with a cocoa balsamic vinaigrette. All far more interesting than the ending recipe of chocolate Rice Krispie treats.

Still, for cooks accustomed to sweet and bland American milk chocolate or chocolate chips, these recipes, with their emphasis on using good, dark chocolate, all the way to the Krispie treats, should awaken taste buds to the delights of rich chocolate—spicy, citrusy, winey, or floral, enhanced but not hidden by sugar.

Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook, by Rick and Michael Mast (Released October 22, 2013, by Little, Brown & Company; 288 pages)

This review first appeared online at the New York Journal of Books.

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