A taste of café society

I REMEMBER the excitement in the Midlands in the early 1960s when the news filtered through that we were to have a design centre in Kilkenny.

A few years earlier, the Irish Export Board had invited five eminent Scandinavian designers to review the design scene in Ireland. Their report was critical of the low levels of design awareness in this country and suggested setting up design workshops to develop the crafts industry.

The Kilkenny Design Workshops were established in the 18th-century stables opposite Kilkenny Castle. The beautiful and sensitively restored buildings were opened by Patrick Hillery in April 1963.

I fondly remember Rudolf Heltzel's silverware, Sonia Landweer's pottery and Helena Ruth's weaving, among many others.

The workshops became a valuable training ground and platform for Irish craftspeople.

By 1976, demand for these unique products had grown sufficiently to warrant the opening of a custom-built retail outlet in Nassau Street in Dublin. This became the country's premier showcase for contemporary Irish craft and design. The space also included a restaurant which offered fine quality homemade Irish food.

In 1988, the Irish Government sold the Kilkenny Design Centre in Nassau Street to Blarney Woollen Mills, a Cork retail company owned by the Kelleher family, who took the decision to retain its unique ethos and craft-based identity and remain faithful to the principle that it should showcase high quality crafts from Irish designers.

In July 1999 the store became simply Kilkenny, an independent entity, under the ownership of the sisters Marian O'Gorman and Bernadette Kelleher Nolan, members of the Kelleher family. Under their guidance, the Nassau St shop continues to flourish, and new Kilkenny shops have opened in Kilkenny city and Galway.

The café and restaurant in the Dublin store soon became an attraction in its own right and a favourite haunt for tourists and locals alike with tantalising views into the grounds of Trinity College.

This year, Kilkenny was awarded best breakfast award for Dublin by Georgina Campbell. Catherine Curran, the manager of the Kilkenny restaurant in Dublin attributes the popularity of the Café to their wonderful chefs.

Annemarie Conway started with Kilkenny at the tender age of 17 and worked her way up to become head chef . Her colleague cordon bleu-trained Claire Russell has been a member of the team for the past three years, having lived and worked in Spain, Morocco, South Africa and France.

The Kilkenny café in Galway was part of a new store opened in 2002 under the direction of chef manager Annette Cook. The creative team of chefs serve a varied menu with traditional Irish and continental influences.

In 2002, some of the Kilkenny team, along with other food professionals, were involved in tasting and choosing "Passionate about Taste" Kilkenny's new speciality delicatessen range.

Most recently, they have produced the long-awaited Kilkenny Cookbook. So, if you've been enjoying their delicious, wholesome dishes for years, you can now discover the secrets. However, I doubt whether aficionados will pass up their regular fix of the original.

Kilkenny fish pie

Serves 6

1 kg/2lbs peeled potatoes

450g/1lb cod

450g/1lb smoked haddock

855ml/1½ pints milk

150g/6oz butter

3 leeks, thinly sliced

1 tablesp. mustard

50g/2oz plain flour

300ml/½ pint dry cider or white wine

1 tablesp. fresh parsley

2 tablesp.lemon juice

200g/8oz baby spinach

3 hard-boiled eggs

50g/2oz chopped dill (reserve a little for garnish)

salt and white pepper

Put cod and haddock in large saucepan and cover with 700ml/13 pints milk. Bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 8-10 minutes until flesh is just cooked. Remove fish carefully and reserve milk.

In the meantime, cook potatoes until tender, drain well, mash or puree.

Add 75g/3oz of butter, salt and pepper to taste. Beat in 140ml/¼ pint of warm milk. Set aside and keep warm. Preheat oven to 190C/375F/gas 5.

Melt butter in large saucepan and add leeks. Cook gently for 5 minutes until soft, then add flour. Cook for 1 minute, stir in cider or wine and then add reserved milk.

Add lemon juice, mustard and parsley. Season to taste. Set aside.

Flake the fish, removing skin and bones. Cut egg into quarters, sauté spinach in a little butter until just wilted.

Put the fish in an ovenproof dish and add the spinach, eggs and dill.

Pour over the sauce. Top with the mashed potato.

To glaze pie: Beat egg with 1 teaspoon water, using a pastry brush.

Brush egg wash evenly over potatoes and bake for 30 minutes, until topping is crisp and golden. Garnish with fresh dill.

Apple Tart

This apple tart is very popular in Kilkenny with numerous requests for the recipe.

Serves 6

225g/8oz plain flour

75g/3oz butter, diced

75g/3oz lard, diced

100ml/3fl.oz ice cold water

pinch of salt

30g/2 tablesp granulated sugar

6-8 cooking apples or Granny Smith apples

3 teap. Ginger

3 teasp. Cinnamon

1 pie dish 23cm/9 in wide

1 egg for glazing

Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Firstly prepare the pastry; combine sieved flour and salt in bowl. Cut butter and lard into flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Add enough iced water to make a pliable dough.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide in half, wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Peel, core and slice the apples and toss in bowl with cinnamon, ginger and sugar.

Roll out the pastry about 30cm/12 in wide into 2 circles.

Lay one circle on pie dish, arrange apples on top. Brush edges with water to seal.

Cover with second round and press edges together to trim any excess pastry and crimp edges.

Make 3 slits to allow steam to escape.

Brush with egg wash and bake for 30 minutes in the centre of the oven.

Chicken and broccoli pie

Serves 6

5-6 chicken fillets

8 potatoes, peeled

440g/14 oz broccoli

1 egg 30g/3 tablesp. flour

75g/3oz butter

500ml/1 pint chicken stock

150ml/5oz milk

150ml/5oz cream

salt and pepper

2 teasp. mustard

½ teasp. nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.gas 4. Cook potatoes until soft. Drain and mash, add salt, hot milk and half the butter. Beat until smooth.

Keep warm.

Poach or steam the fillets until well cooked, reserving the stock for the sauce.

Cool and cut into bite sized pieces.

Steam broccoli until al dente, drain and refresh under cold water to preserve colour.

Break into florets.

Make the sauce; melt the butter, add flour and cook for 1 minute.

Add warm stock stirring as it cooks and thickens.

Season with salt and pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and mustard. Add the cream. The sauce should be of pouring consistency.

Pour sauce over chicken and broccoli and mix well.

Pipe potatoes on top. Beat egg with 1 teaspoon of water and brush over the potatoes.

Bake until bubbling and golden, about 25 minutes.

Spanish chorizo and chickpea soup

Serves 6-8

2 x 400g/8oz can cooked chickpeas, drained

45ml/3 tablesp olive oil

2 leeks sliced thinly or diced

2 onions diced

2 carrots diced

2 sticks celery diced

2 potatoes diced

2 x 400g/8oz can chopped tomatoes

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 teasp. turmeric (ground)

1 teasp. cumin (ground)

salt and pepper

225g/8oz chorizo sausage diced

1.7L/3 pint chicken stock

Heat oil in a saucepan. Add spices, onions, garlic, leeks, carrots and celery and cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chickpeas, potatoes, tomatoes, chorizo sausage and seasoning. Cover and gently simmer for a further 15 minutes. It should be thick with vegetables and contain very little liquid.

Serve piping hot with crusty bread.

Fluffy Lemon Pudding

Try this lovely light fresh tasting lemon pudding to sharpen the taste buds after Christmas.

Serves 4-6

This is an old fashioned family pudding which separates into two quite distinct layers when it cooks; it has a fluffy top and a creamy lemon base.

1oz (30g) butter

6ozs (170g) castor sugar

2ozs (55g) flour

2 eggs (preferably free range)

1-2 unwaxed lemons

8flozs (250ml) milk

Decoration: icing sugar

1 x 1 pint pie dish

Cream the butter well. Add the castor sugar and beat well. Grate the rind of the lemon and squeeze and strain its juice; separate the egg yolks and add one by one, then stir in the flour and gradually add the finely grated rind and juice of the lemon (see below). Lastly add the milk. Whisk the egg whites stiffly in a bowl and fold gently into the lemon mixture. Pour into a pie dish and bake in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 40 minutes approx. Dredge with icing sugar.

Serve immediately with softly whipped cream.

Note: If the lemons are very pale, use the zest of 1 or 2 to give a sharper lemon flavour.

Gluten-free scones

Makes about 14 scones

450g/16oz Gluten free flour

50g/2oz granulated sugar

75g/3oz butter

250ml/8 fl.oz milk

3 eggs and 1 egg for glazing

Preheat oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together. Add eggs and milk and combine well. Turn out onto a floured board and knead to form a smooth pliable dough. Roll out to about 2.5cm/1 inch in height. Flour a scone cutter and gently cut out your scones. Place on a baking tray. Egg wash and bake in oven for 15-20 minutes.

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