A perfect Minnesota summer night. A gleaming and glowing home with a bustling kitchen, counters overflowing with delicious food. A sprawling green yard, surrounded by lush trees reflecting in the still pool. Smoke wafting from the MYOKebabs on the barbecue. Sweetly clinking wine glasses and warm laughter. And then…
someone said “pork in a box” and it was all downhill from there.
Stephanie Meyer (Minnesota Monthly’s Fresh Tart Steph) graciously hosted the MN Food Bloggers earlier this week for a backyard barbecue and bars bake-off. Her home is lovely. The food, provided by Tastebud Tart Molly Hermann of Kitchen in the Market, was delectable and summer perfect — cool salads, build-your-own kebabs with tons of “accessories” and sauces. Shaina and Ole from Food for My Family provided the Chinese Box, a mobile smoker, and Ole manned the great hunks of pork as it crisped on the outside and become more and more tender on the inside. The Fulton Beer guys were there with cold, crisp local beer and Kitchak Cellars were there sampling deep ruby wine that K loved.
I may have mentioned that I’m no photographer. K takes most of the photos for this blog (and takes *all* of the good photos), but I’m giving myself points for remembering a camera this time and taking a few photos — even though I didn’t remember until it was dark.
The food, the drinks, the atmosphere and the conversation were absolutely perfect. And just when the mosquitoes chased us all indoors, it was time to witness the results of the judging for the bars bake-off and enjoy the sweet fruits of our labor.
Given the competition, it was ridiculous that I attempted a bars entry and I *agonized* over what I should bring. I finally decided on Lemon Thyme Meringue Bars which were a compilation of shortbread cookie crust, lemon meringue pie filling and vanilla meringue cookies and my imagination that adding the herb lemon thyme would elevate the whole thing.
First I made the shortbread crust:
1/2 c. Confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 cup butter at room temperature (1 stick of butter = 1/2 cup)
Mix the sugar and flour together, add butter and mash together with a fork (or your hands, if you’re impatient) until it forms a dough. Press evenly into a pan until it’s about 1/4-inch thick, make sure some go up the sides of the pan as well. Bake at 350 degrees until it’s golden brown (25-35 minutes).
Then I made the meringue cookies. It has been AGES since I’ve messed with a pastry bag and tips and it showed. These, however, would become the crowning achievement and most identifiable factor in the bars.
3/4 cup of sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
4 egg whites
3/4 tsp vanilla
big pinch of salt
Beat the egg whites, vanilla and salt on high speed until soft peaks form. Combine the sugar and cornstarch and add slowly to egg white mixture, beating while you add the dry ingredients. Crank the mixer up to high and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Put the mixture into a pastry bag and pipe into cookies (I used a large star tip). The faster you can do this, the better they will turn out.
Bake for 1.5 hours at 225 degrees then turn off the oven and leave them for about another hour (or until they’re cool and crispy).
Mine were not cool and crispy and I had to put them back into the oven where many of them burned. They didn’t end up a lovely white with the “s’mores marshmallow” streaks, they were a toasty beige color.
With the meringues chilling in the oven, I made the lemon filling.
1 1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
big pinch of salt
6 egg yolks
1 Tb. lemon zest
1.5 TB lemon thyme (you should add more, I couldn’t taste the lemon thyme)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 TB butter
Simmer the water, sugar, cornstarch and salt over medium heat in a saucepan. When it starts to bubble and thicken, whisk until it starts to get clear. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time then the lemon juice, zest and butter. Let it simmer for a minute then remove it from the heat. Add the chopped lemon thyme. Let cool (stick a piece of plastic wrap on top and let it touch the filling, like pudding, it will help prevent a weird skin from forming). Put into the crust and bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.
I dipped some lemon thyme leaves into egg whites and sugared them. When everything was cool, I placed the meringue cookies on top of the lemon bars and voila …
I did not notice at the time that these very closely resemble breasts. So while I did not win the bars bake-off, at least I gave the judges a good laugh with what were alternately called “Boobie Bars” and “Nipple Bars.” I’m not even going to tell you what K called them.
If I ever make these again, I’d add chopped lemon thyme to the crust, more to the filling and even sprinkle some fresh lemon thyme over the top.
The well-deserved winner was Kelli from I Had a Delicious Time with her rosemary, apricot, Captain Morgan creations (you’ll have to get the recipe from her for yourselves). Here she is posing with her hubby and some of those amazing bars.
After briefly meeting the delightful Andrew Zimmern, a latecomer to the party who wisely stole the last of the crusty pork bits, we headed out — full, sugared up and simultaneously buzzing with energy and exhaustion from a wonderful evening. And if you’re wondering what the aftermath of a MN Food Bloggers event looks like…
Thank you to Stephanie Meyer for being such a gracious hostess and to everyone who made the evening a delicious success. We had the best time chatting with friends, meeting new people and, to everyone we didn’t get a chance to meet yet, there’s always next time. And we’re looking forward to it. We are so fortunate to have come across this amazing community of people who gather, not only online, but to share in real life the joy of food and everything that comes with it.