monday bites: diy dessert bar.

diy dessert bar.

This past weekend, Americans and (I suspect) many others got together and watched the Super Bowl. Some of us hosted parties in honor of the last football game of the season. Some of us got a little too ambitious with the food planning and ended up in tears on the kitchen floor. This, friends, is my story. The details: 

I had this great idea to do a meatball bar for the super bowl. I’d make four kinds of meatballs (beef, chicken, turkey, lamb) and let people mix and match them with sauces (barbecue, buffalo, teriyaki, marinara, tzatziki) and then have a few little toppings to sprinkle on them, would someone so desire (chow mein noodles, green onion, fresh grated parmesan, blue cheese.) I gathered my ingredients, looked up recipes, and started going about the business of making meatballs for my feast.

And then I remembered, midway through the beef recipe, something critical to the menu: I can’t stand working with raw ground meat.

Oh; and I make a pretty mediocre meatball because if it.

In case you were wondering, it’s why this wasn’t an official “you’re invited” post. I didn’t even have time for decorations, there was so much tragedy.

plates await: my winter woodland deer plaid theme.

Lest you think I’m a baby about it – well, I’m a baby about it. I am completely fine with chicken breasts and raw steaks, and I can break down a whole bird like almost not really a pro. I’m not mad at meat, either; it doesn’t offend me, nor do I cry when I eat it (which, to be honest, isn’t all that often.) I just don’t like working with the ground up stuff. It’s not my thing.

I tried to persevere, but long story short, I crumbled. After my chicken meatballs came out tasting like spongy poultry-flavored french toast, I threw in the towel. I was done. But Mr. Table saved the day. Why? Because if anyone knows how to go out in search of a perfectly decent premade frozen meatball, It’s Mr. Table. I was resistant, but you know what? They’re pretty decent, when you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

Moral of this story? You don’t always have to make everything from scratch 100% of the time for it to be good, especially at parties. The meatball bar was a raging success, even if I didn’t hand-form the balls. They loved mixing and matching the sauces and toppings, making little dollar roll meatball sandwiches (dollar rolls + sliced cheddar + sliced mozzarella = bbq or marinara meatball sandwich option!), and not one soul cared or noticed that they weren’t homemade. If there are any more meatball bars in my future (and rest assured, there will be), I’d do it this way every single time. Way less stress.

snow shovels!

Some fun things happened after my meltdown: we had some surprise overnight snowfall, and the Wee One had her first official snow pants-clad romp in the white stuff. All her mother wanted to do was sled down hills (and indeed I did), but all the Wee wanted to do was shovel. That little one loves a project; sledding just seemed far too lazy for her taste. She also worked on her snow ninja moves.

ninja snow moves.

Natalie at Wee Eats (also a ninja, or so I hear) was my MVP of the day, because I served both her soft pretzels (you remember those, right? yeeeesss) and her loaded potato dip; a perfect chip accompaniment, especially for a Super Bowl party. I had the standard green salad on standby, along with veggie and relish trays, which was great for variety but not so much that people couldn’t find a way to scarf an entire soft pretzel. I did dipping sauces for those, too; nacho cheese, yellow mustard, and a grainy honey mustard. It was a dippy sort of night.

And now, for the most fun part: dessert time. You know how it goes at Super Bowl parties sometimes; after the main stuff is cleared away, you have to trudge back to the kitchen and assemble desserts. Well, I say no more, because I give you the DIY Dessert Bar.

Here’s the deal: you make the things, set the things out, and say “hey: dessert!” and you sit right back in your chair. No racing around, no fussing, no missing Beyoncé perform her socks off at the halftime show, no nothing. And miraculously, everyone will have exactly the dessert they want. What’s more, you will make nothing on the day of your party; all of this gets made the day before, or even two days before. This is how you do it:

DIY Dessert Bar



  • 2 wide mouth Mason jars, 16 ounces (pint)
  • 2 Mason jelly jars, 4 ounces
  • 1 8×8 pan
  • 2 appropriate trays
  • serving spoons (smaller ones for the sauces)

Or, if you really want to be convenient and sporty about it (and you trust your guests to resist food fights), get some squeezie bottles; two large spouted ones for the lemon filling and the cheesecake. Squeezies won’t work so much with the sauces, as their fruit parts are prone to clogging things up.

Some examples:

diy dessert bar: cheesecake options.

diy dessert bar: brownie options.

diy dessert bar: lemon options.

diy dessert bar: other options.

Possibilities = endless. Why? Because everything goes with everything, that’s why. You could make all sorts of things, including:

  • lemon tart
  • lemon raspberry tart
  • lemon blueberry tart
  • lemon cheesecake tart
  • cheesecake
  • raspberry swirl cheesecake
  • blueberry swirl cheesecake
  • cheesecake brownie
  • brownie sandwich with lemon filling
  • brownie in raspberry sauce
  • brownie topped with cheesecake and raspberry sauce
  • cheesecake topped with lemon filling and raspberry sauce
  • cheesecake topped with lemon filling and blueberry sauce
  • cheesecake with double berry sauce
  • lemon tart with double berry sauce
  • lemon tart cheesecake topped with double berry sauce…

…and the list goes on. And since you’re letting your guests do the work, you won’t have to do a single thing during the party except snagging a few options for yourself. Here are the recipes for the lemon filling and the sauces, and the links to both the brownies and the liquid cheesecake are above, with some notes on prep below.

Prep Notes: Brownies + Cheesecake

For the brownies:

Make them as directed, but leave out the espresso powder. It makes a more straightforward, classic brownie, which is always good for gatherings. Also, don’t slice the brownies into squares until game day; it keeps them moist. Follow my instructions in the brownies post on how to cut them once its time.

For the liquid cheesecake:

Make and cool completely as directed (both batches, 2 8×8 pans.) Once cheesecake has cooled, scoop into a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the cheesecake on high for 30-45 seconds until any bubbles and bumps are smoothed out. You want it the consistency of jarred, creamy frosting you would buy in the store. Place in one of your pint-sized mason jars: both batches, post-whip, should fit nicely inside (oh, with a little leftover for yourself to hide.)

Recipes/Prep: Lemon Filling + Fruit Sauces

lemon filling:

  • 3 whole eggs + 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 5-6 lemons)
  • zest of 1 orange (it balances out the lemon zippiness a bit)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes

raspberry sauce:

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

blueberry sauce:

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

make the lemon filling:

In the top of a double boiler, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice until combined. Place over a pan of just simmering water, making sure the bottom of the pan doesn’t touch the simmering water. Whisk frequently and constantly, until sugar is dissolved, which will only take a minute or two. Add your butter cubes and continue to whisk constantly (but be relaxed about it, you’re not going for a Guinness world record for fastest motion) until the mixture has thickened, both visibly and by touch, and it coats the back of a spoon, about 12 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then place in the other pint-sized Mason jar for serving.

make the sauces:

The raspberry and blueberry sauces have the same instructions. Place the fruit you’re working with, the sugar, and the lemon juice in a small saucepan and set over medium heat, stirring occasionally and pressing down on the berries as needed. Let the berry mixture reduce over medium heat until jammy and thickened, about 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and pour into 4-ounce Mason jars to serve.

Note: sometimes with jams and sauces such as this, it’s difficult to tell when they’re hot how reduced they are (or if you overdid it.) When they cool, the tighten up, so if you do over-reduce, all you need to do is throw it back in the saucepan (or a bowl in the microwave) to warm up a little. Add a tiny bit of water and whisk it in to the fruit sauce, which should loosen it right up. Add more as needed, but don’t get it too runny. 

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  • Reply sara February 4, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    What a fun idea…love it! Great treats to mix and match. 🙂

  • Reply Faygie Moorvitch February 5, 2013 at 12:24 am

    I LOVE the idea of a dessert bar! I need to keep that in mind for next time we have a party.

    I was looking through Milk Bar the other day, and decided that the carrot cake will be my birthday cake this year. I NEED to try that liquid cheesecake already. I could totally see myself just eating it out of a bowl with a spoon, it sounds so good.

    And I know I’ve told you this before, but your little girl is SO DARN CUTE! 🙂

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 7:29 am

      It was fun! I was thinking about your oven troubles when i was making it, but you have to cook the cheesecake in the oven; the rest, however, you make on the stove! I ate a hot pretzel in mourning for your oven that night.

      oooh that carrot cake! it was glorious; it’s the first one i made. you will LOVE it. and yes, double-batch that liquid cheesecake so you can have some leftover to eat with a spoon; early birthday present.

      thanks! she knows it, which can be troublesome, but she is pretty adorable. i love her sweet face (and that she shovels!) 🙂

  • Reply Brianne February 5, 2013 at 8:44 am

    We made Swedish meatballs from the Joy of Cooking once. To get the texture right, the recipe tells you to USE AN ELECTRIC MIXER to grind up the meat with eggs. An electric mixer in ground beef! It was SO disgusting. Why am I telling you that? Now you’ll be even more grossed out about ground beef. I’m sorry.

    Mad props on the dessert bar! We fried chicken drumsticks using Kenji at Serious Eats’ double fry technique, then tossed them in Frank’s Red Hot and butter. OH MY GOD. So good. I wish we had had some dessert, though!

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 7:32 am

      no no! it doesn’t make me more grossed out; i think, in fact, it makes it less gross? although i guess if the meat caught the wrong way and flung itself upon me while i was doing that…..eeeeeaaah. 🙂 I’m going to try and get over it; it may have been a combo of it being so cold, and you know that ground meat like chicken is more slimy than beef, etc. so maybe it was just poorly planned on my end. I don’t love it, but i should be able to work with it. Certainly i handle slime well most of the time; i hand-seperate eggs like it’s nothing, so.

      thanks! Man, you gotta love Kenji for his techniques with things, right? he’s so nerd-smart about food; he sort of reminds me of an Alton Brown in the way he dissects things to get them right. They sound AMAZING; this was maybe the first year we didn’t do wings, and i missed them. no dessert? WHAT?

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats February 5, 2013 at 8:56 am

    OMG I LOVE IT!!! I’m totally stealing this idea from you for some point in time in the future (if I ever have a party in my whole life) haha! Mom loves cheesecake so maybe I’ll save it for her birthday in June.

    I’m the SAME WAY about ground meat. So gross. Although I feel like Brianne’s mention of a mixer would help things vs make it more gross, like use a mixer then scoop it with a scoop and you pretty much don’t ever have to touch the meat! I might have to try that next time… For the mean time though, seriously, no shame in storebought meatballs. At all. I’ve totally bought the ikea meatballs because meatballs are one thing I’m not as inclined to make on a whim.

    and, OMG, don’t even get me started on Wee One. She is so cute that it physically hurts to look at her! Her tiny little legs, and rosy cheeks… I die! Too bad she will probably be less excited about shoveling the driveway when she’s old enough for it to be a real chore, lol!

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 7:24 am

      you have total permission to steal! My own mom made this for their big football party down in FL (and yes, she gets to throw parties with 30 people and i have a total of 5 people here, the irony is not lost on me) and made her own dessert bar using liquid cheesecake and a few other things. she said as she scooped the cheesecake into the cups people were just grabbing them; polished off in under 10 minutes. Moral of story: you need to make this cheesecake for your mom.

      why does it have to be so grooooooss! and also cold; i think sometimes i’d do better letting it warm up a bit on the counter, because chilly AND slimy? EW. I may try Brianne’s mixer method (although i need to not watch that happen or something, idk). i never used to have this problem with ground meat, either. or as much. The frozen meatballs turned out really well, i was pleasantly surprised, although i now wish they had been Ikea meatballs (I’m so jealous you have an Ikea and i don’t)

      She is pretty adorable; it makes it SUPER hard to say no to her most of the time, and that’s a big problem. it’s like she just looks at you and says “i love you.” and you’re all “I love you too. you’re wonderful.” and then i can’t remember why i was correcting her. UGH. and yes; this shoveling bit will be fun until i ask her for serious to go do it. then she’ll be all “mooooooommmm noooooooo!” and i’ll show her this post so she KNOWS I KNEW THIS WAS COMING.

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog February 5, 2013 at 9:10 am

    A meatball bar and a DIY dessert bar! These are the things I dream about at night. I need to come live in your world.

    Your way sounds easiest; better than slaving in the kitchen for 12 hours (like I did).

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 7:17 am

      i would be fine with that. you’ll need to bring all your recipes down here though, as i lust after them all the time.

      OH, GIRL! I know the feeling, for sure. Even though you know secretly it’s fun to spend all day in the kitchen making food; why else would we do this? 🙂

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats February 5, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Love the idea of a fuss-free evening for the chef! And I’m totally all for doing semi-homemade. You could even put out box mix brownies since you’re adding all the wonderful homemade toppings to them anyway. Wish I coulda been at your party!

    Oh, and your wee one looks absolutely adorable in her little snow suit. Wish we had gotten that much snow here in NY!

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 7:14 am

      agree: it was nice for once! I thought about box mix – my mom uses a Ghirardelli chocolate chip brownie mix that’s EXCELLENT – but i had all the ingredients for my normal ones at home. I wish you could have come too! we had so much food leftover; my freezer is now filled with meatballs. 🙂

      she says thank you; she was really excited about her first big snow. although i have to chuckle as i read this…maybe you should be careful what you wish for (AS YOU GET PELTED WITH A WINTER BLIZZARD.) stay warm!

  • Reply Ashley February 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Your Super Bowl eats sound infinitely better than the eats I had (chili cookoff – only 2 of the 6 were tasty, though). A meatball bar AND a dessert bar? Let’s just say you could trust me to eat far too much of everything, assembled into every possible combination. And I might just be caught scooping spoonfuls of the dessert bar fixings into my mouth when no one else was around… Love your ideas, as always.

    Wee One’s snow ninja skills are darn impressive! She also seems way more dedicated to shoveling than I am. One shoveling a year (with a too small shovel and car-compacted snow to boot!) surpasses my quota.

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 7:11 am

      chili cookoffs are fun, though! or I suppose less fun when you only have two good ones. 🙂 I’d love to say i went to great lengths for this one, but some frozen meatballs and a few souped up sauces, and it was like i didn’t even need to do anything. The dessert bar was a breeze, too, since i had made both the cheesecake and lemon curd so many times before i could basically do them in my sleep. (and i was eating the toppings with a spoon, yes. it’s hard not to do that.) thank you. 🙂

      oh, she’s got some snow ninja skills, for sure. i think during the action shot she was trying to figure out why the snow stayed on her boots when she lifted the toes up. I’m with you: i was in her sled making lanes through the snow while she was shoveling, and she DIDN’T even want to get in with me. her loss. 🙂 i’m way more down for acting like a fool than doing actual work.

  • Reply Sue/the view from great island February 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Oh my gosh I wouldn’t have needed anything but those desserts. Mr. Table sounds like the perfect supportive and resourceful hubby, and a daughter that does the shoveling? You’ve got a good thing going there, girl!

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 7:03 am

      thanks, sue! He is very much into digging me out of messes, that one. I think he enjoys being able to rescue me (he’s just that sort of guy.) as for the Wee One, i bet she’ll love shoveling riiiiight up until she has to do it for a chore. then…there will be fights and eye rolling. 🙂

  • Reply Emma February 7, 2013 at 5:02 am

    You need to tell the Wee One to get her act together and buck up that tree I see lying on the ground behind her. Oh my gosh, Wee One Chainsaw. How cute would that be?

    I am impressed by your dedication (and perseverance) to parties and party food. We just ate leftovers while watching the Super Bowl, and then I fell asleep on Eli and missed the last thirty minutes – the important minutes!

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 6:59 am

      i know, right? amateur. i can’t believe she hasn’t gotten out her toy chainsaw yet to go help out with the fallen limbs.

      you know, it’s like, i want to be that person who just lets the little “holiday” stuff go by and not make food to honor whatever it is we’re celebrating. And. I. CAN NOT. it’s like a disease. I feel compelled to make party food. This comes from my mother as well, who would use any excuse to make finger foods around the house. Did we have a rather excellent day at school? Party food. 3rd saturday of rain in a month? Party food. and so on. I want to fall asleep on someone cosy too, but i just keep moving. (sigh)

  • Reply Katherine {eggton} February 7, 2013 at 11:20 am

    This sounds like so much fun! And I love your reindeer platter/plate. I need more reindeer in my life.

    The way you get with ground meat is the way I get with mayonnaise. It makes me shiver. Practically the only time I have it is in deviled eggs, which I adore–and even then I have to will myself to squirt it into the smashed egg yolks quickly and without choking in order to get the job done!

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 6:52 am

      who doesn’t need more reindeer in their lives, i ask you. it was super fun to make, and mostly because when it’s dessert, you can bring down jars of things and say “GO.” and people just attack it.

      i can see how people would be squeamish about mayo; it is not my favorite thing to work with either, although the jarred sort makes me way more shivery than the homemade sort, which is an entirely different texture. it’s…yeah. like creamy jelly. aagghh.

  • Reply movita beaucoup February 9, 2013 at 6:21 am

    GAH! Dessert bar! Awesome. I kinda want to make one for 2.0 and I as we are snowed in for the day. Sure, a dessert bar might seem excessive for two people, but when there’s a blizzard, exceptions should most certainly be made…

    Do you think the Wee One might come dig us out?

    • Reply shannon February 9, 2013 at 6:31 am

      i saw your snow up there! a dessert bar should be a snow essential (and not at all excessive; it’s in jars! that’s like a cannned good or something, right? they always suggest stocking up on canned goods during blizzards.)

      she says she’d love to. she will bring her own shovel.

  • Reply Carla September 15, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    I’m squemish about handling raw meat too (even boiled chicken). One time during high school in our home ec we had to go to the market to buy the ingredients. We haven’t entered yet but was grossed out by the smell already. Willing myself not to puke and stalling for a little bit more time before entering when I suddenly heard someone puking. I was so embarrassed for her that I was able to go inside and buy stuff. Sorry if TMI.
    Also since I’m going backreading I’ll probably be commenting on much older posts.

    • Reply shannon September 18, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      i’m cool with tmi! 😉 and it’s fun, actually, to remember some of my old posts this way: i like to go back through the gallery every so often just to remember what i’ve done so far. Thanks for my little walk down food memory lane!
      raw meat is hit or miss with me: some days, i’m fine. other days, not fine. and it’s always the smell, too; bad meat smell is really one of the most horrifying things ever, i agree.

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