Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Baking

When I went to the Peranakan Museum after Hungrygowhere's Big Eat Out, I spotted something in the "Junk to Jewels" exhibition which I did not come across in my first, rather rushed visit to the Museum. It was a nonya's recipe book - not a published cookbook but a series of recipes which she had collected and copied into an exercise book. The originators of the recipes were also faithfully recorded as well, eg "Mrs X's Fried Chicken".

I smiled when I saw that because it reminded me of my mother's well-worn "Mrs Handy's Cookbook" (2nd Edition). These cookbooks probably started off the same way, when women recorded their favourite recipes in exercise books together with the source of the recipe. Finally, of course Mrs Handy published her cookbook with its references to "Kwa's layer cake" (for eg). These cookbooks also had no photos at all (hard to imagine today), and empty pages in each section. Why? Of course, the answer is so that ladies have space to insert their new additional recipes! My mother was certainly no exception. Her "Mrs Handy's" is bristling with additional recipes, cut out from magazines (or off the backs of those soup and carnation evaporated milk tins) or copied from other sources.

I must now admit that my mother and I just love reading cookbooks and collecting recipes. But we have only ever tried out a small proportion of these recipes. One of my projects, indeed, is to cook through more recipes from our cookbooks. The problem is that the rate we acquire cookbooks seems to be far greater than the rate at which we try out the recipes in them. Having said that, there is one tried and tested recipe amongst the many my mother has copied into her "Mrs Handy's" - for Shortbread Biscuits.

I remember as a child my mother happily making preparations for Christmas - the Christmas tree, the presents, the food. She would bake trays of these shortbread biscuits with her two young children "helping out" along the way. She did the heavy work (creaming the butter and sugar) whilst we assisted with cutting out the biscuits, pricking the tops with forks or toothpicks and making little snowmen out of the remnants of the dough. And eating bits of the uncooked dough as well (it was so rich in butter and sugar). We'd then put them in the oven and the smell of the baking would fill the house. The biscuits were better than any commercial shortbread. They were a big favourite with visitors because of the way they just melted in the mouth.

For various reasons, we'd stopped baking for Christmas for a few years. But this year, I had started baking again. It seemed only natural that we should bake a batch of shortbread again this Christmas. And yes, the uncooked dough was as good as I remembered...
So here's the recipe (and you know it is pretty old because it is all in ounces). Be thankful, it is at least in weight measurements and not volumes:
8 oz butter
6 oz granulated sugar
10 oz flour
2 oz cornflour
1. Cream butter and sugar till white (or light)
2. Sift the flour, and fold into the creamed butter and sugar to form the dough.
3. Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1/3rd inch. Cut out the biscuits using cookie cutters. Prick holes on top using a fork/toothpicks.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes in preheated oven (temperature of about 180 degrees C).
5. Dust with icing sugar.
A lot easier to bake than pineapple tarts, too!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Big Eat Out!

The food website hungrygowhere, together with food blogger ieatishootipost and the Peranakan Museum, has organised a major food event, Big Eat Out as part of the Explore Singapore! festival. Held on 22 Nov 2008, selected "master" hawkers were invited to contribute their efforts to charity. There was satay, poh piah, hokkien mee, char kway teow, nasi padang, indian rojak, beef noodles, peranakan food etc.

Needless to say, two of the hawkers (the pohpiah and char kway teow stall) have their stalls in the east and two others were previously located in Katong but since have moved out. So the reputation of the east coast area as the prime foodie zone in Singapore has been certainly upheld.

My cousin and I turned up at the event venue - the Peranakan Museum car park - bright and early. In fact she got there 10 minutes before the official start of event and had gotten her poh piah before the queue built up. Indeed, Kway Guan Huat Poh Piah is the best! (All stall reviews can probably be found on ieat's website. I echo his views completely on this one - their poh piah skin is indeed a culinary marvel. It is thin yet strong enough that the filling doesn't break out of it. The filling was tasty and juicy and I loved the crispy bits inside. To remember it is to want to revisit it - Original stall is at 95 Joo Chiat Road.)

We went on to eat the Hill Street Char Kway Teow (now at Bedok South Hawker Centre), the Thye Hong Fried Hokkien Mee and the Kwong Satay and much more. My father and his friend turned up when we were half way through our meal and helped us finish up some Indian Rojak and Satay after they had eaten their nasi padang. We ended up with some Apom from Peramakan, which has been the subject of earlier posts, most recently here.

Some downsides though - the marquees did not completely cover the venue and so people ended up queueing for food in the noonday sun. The drinks stall was pretty pricey and if I pay $2 for a canned drink, I do expect a straw. But by and large, this was an excellent and worthwhile event, especially as it was for charity. Finally, it also came with an opportunity to revisit the Peranakan Museum for free! More of that later (hopefully I'll get to it at some point).
Photos (not many though) here.


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