Cuban Family Dinner + Mojito Cheesecake

Mojito Cheesecake

We’ve been on a Latin and Spanish kick with our Sunday Family Dinner themes. But since eldest Seester and her fam were soon headed to Miami for an extended vacay, what better menu for June’s Fam-Din than Cubano?

Plantains

As usual, we started off our dinner prep with a few (okay, more than “a few”) bright and refreshing cocktails. Mojitos for the adults and virgin Valencia Orange-Mojitos for the kiddos.

Mojitos

Eldest Seester, N, kicked off dinner with a duo of Empanada appetizers. She made the dough out of flour, salt, baking powder, butter, sugar, eggs, and cream cheese. It was surprising to see how easy the dough came together but it was truly outstanding! The cream cheese made the Empanadas incredibly flaky and rich. A total keeper!

She filled half of the Empanadas with roasted chicken, mushrooms, cumin and other layered aromatics. The other half was stuffed with a savory Ground Beef mixture.

I could nosh on these all day long. You could definitely make a double batch and freeze them to bake off on a rainy day. Perfect little party apps.

Empanadas

Next came my homage to the beloved Porto’s Bakery. If you’re from Southern California, chances are, you are well acquainted with the renown Cuban Bakery and Cafe. Not only do they make delicious Cuban inspired sweets such as Guava & Cheese Pastries, Tres Leche, & Flan but they also are the creators of some of my family members’ favorite cake–the Triple Chocolate Mouse Cake.

You can also satisfy your savory Cuban cravings at Porto’s by ordering their sandwiches (including a Cubano), soups, or my personal favorite– Papas Rellenas. Essentially, they’re a crispy mashed potato ball filled with a ground beef mixture of onions, peppers, and tons of spices.

We made them a tad smaller than the original version but other than that, I was quite pleased with the copycat recipe and thought it was pretty spot on. I’ll be posting a step by step on it soon but you can find the recipe I used here.

Cuban Potato Balls (Papas Rellenas)

And what’s a traditional Cuban meal without plantains?

My sis and niece made these Tostones by twice-frying plantains. They took slices of plantains that were about 1/2 – 3/4 of an inch thick and fried them until they were golden. Afterwards, they took a cleaver and smashed them to about 1/4 of inch. After being pan fried for the second time, they seasoned them with course sea salt and served them with a peppery garlic dipping sauce.

It’s incredible how starchy plantains are and, in my opinion, are more like potatoes than bananas.

Tostones

Seester, T, made a huge and I mean HUGE batch of slow cooked Frijoles Negro.

They had a wonderful, rich flavor to them and were thick…almost stew-like. She also made rice but I totally blew it and didn’t take a picture of it.

#fail

Frijoles Negro

And for the main course, Cuban Roast Pork with Mojo Sauce.

HOLY aromatic!

The moment we walked into T’s house, we were engulfed with the delicious scent of the pork roasting in the oven. She ended up doing a mash up of several different recipes she found but at the base of it, the marinade included tons of garlic, fresh orange and lime juices, fresh herbs and some spices. The Mojo was a pureed mixture of garlic, cilantro, serrano peppers, citrus juice, and olive oil.

It was surprising how much sweetness the fresh orange juice added but it was because of it that allowed the roast to become rich and caramelized.

Total winner.

Cuban Roast Pork with Mojo Sauce

And finally, dessert. We had a two types that night (as if we weren’t gluttonous enough already).

The first were Sweet Empanadas using the same pastry dough as the savory version. This time, N took whole Guava and cooked them down with sugar and lime until it broke down into a thick, almost compote texture. She then pressed it through a fine sieve to get a floral Guava paste. Seester and the kids stuffed the Sweet Empanadas with a few spoonfuls of the guava paste and a dollup of cream cheese. YUM!

But again, I blew it and didn’t get any good pictures of them.

#failedagain

DOH!

I promise I’ll be better next time!

Mojito Cheesecake

The second dessert of the night was my riff on a Mojito inspired Cheesecake.

What makes this a Mojito Cheesecake?

I started off by making “mint sugar” by pulsing plain ol’ granulated sugar with a few handfuls of fresh mint leaves. The end results in a bright and herbaceous sugar. Perfect for baking like in my Mojito Cookies or in drinks.

Mojito Cheesecake

The filling is flavored with mint sugar, tons of fresh lime juice, lime zest and lime extract. If the kiddos weren’t partaking, I would have also added a few splashes of light rum to the batter as well as the whipped cream. Granted the baking would cook off any alcohol but I didn’t think the munchkins would like flavor.

And since we were already sipping on Mojitos, I thought we could skip on the extra booze. I can practice restraint sometimes. :)

Bellies full, to-go bags packed…..I’d say it was another SUCCESSFUL Family Dinner!

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Mojito Cheesecake
Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

Mint Sugar:
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup loosely packed mint leaves, washed and thoroughly dried
Crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons mint sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 cup mint sugar
1/8 teaspoon cornstarch
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime zest
1½ teaspoon Key Lime extract
1 ounce light rum, optional

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 tablespoons mint sugar
1 tablespoons fresh lime zest
½ ounce light rum, optional

Preheat oven to 325 ˚F.

Prepare the mint sugar. In a food processor, pulse the granulated sugar and mint leaves until the leaves have been ground down and combined with the sugar.

Prepare the crust. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, mint sugar and butter until moistened and resembles the texture of wet sand. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan and press crumbs into the bottom of the pan and about one inch up the sides. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden and cool to room temperature.

Prepare the filling. Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese and sour cream until its light and fluffy. Gradually mix in the mint sugar and cornstarch. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the lime juice, lime extract, zest, and rum (optional) until well combined. Pour the filling over the cooled crust. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven with a pan half full of boiling water on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is set. Turn off the oven and allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door propped open for about 30 minutes. (To prop the oven door, I use a wooden handled spoon to keep it ajar a few inches). Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Allow the cake to cool for an additional 30 minutes. Wrap well with plastic film and foil. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Carefully remove the sides of the pan by running a hot knife around the outside of the cake.

When you are ready to serve, prepare the whipped cream. Using a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the chilled heavy cream on high until it just holds stiff peaks. Slowly sprinkle in the mint sugar until you reach a thick consistency. Add in the zest, rum (optional) and whip until combined.

Pipe the whipped cream on top of the cheesecake and garnish with additional lime slices and mint leaves.

Mojito Cookies……Havana is Calling.

Mojito Cookies

 

 

I know I should be a little more humble about this but…….

I make amazing Mojitos.

As in so freaking good, you would think you were being whisked away to the streets of Havana.

 

 

Mojito Cookies

 

So when I saw that my beloved neighborhood Cuban patisserie, Azúcar offered mojito cookies, I felt compelled to try my hand at making some!

Using a sugar cookie base from Baking Illustrated , I incorporated a “mint sugar” I made and fresh lime zest to give that bright kick that mojitos are so known for.

 

Mint Sugar

 

Chewy, crispy, slightly sweet, and minty.

 

 

Mojito Cookies

Now if there was only some subtle way I could sneak the rum into them…….. :)

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Mojito Cookies
Makes approximately 2 dozen
Adapted from Baking Illustrated Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
½ Teaspoon Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon salt
1 Cup Unsalted Butter, softened but still cool
1 Cup Granulated Sugar, plus ½ cup for rolling dough
1 Tablespoon Light Brown Sugar
1 Large Egg
1½ Cups Loosely Packed Mint Leaves, washed and thoroughly dried
1 Tablespoon Lime Zest
1½ Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

In a food processor, pulse one cup of granulated sugar and mint leaves until the leaves have been ground down and combined with the sugar (see photo).

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream the butter, the mint sugar, and the brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg, lime zest and vanilla; beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Place the ½ cup sugar for rolling in a shallow bowl. Fill a medium bowl halfway with cold tap water. Dip your hands in the water and shake off any excess (this will prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and ensure that the sugar sticks to the dough). Roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a 1½-inch ball between moistened palms, roll the ball in the sugar, and then place it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, moistening your hands as necessary and spacing the balls about 2 inches apart (you should be able to fit 12 cookies on each sheet). Butter the bottom of a drinking glass and then dip the bottom of the glass in the remaining sugar. Flatten the dough balls with the bottom of the glass until they are about ¾ inch thick, dipping the glass in sugar as necessary to prevent sticking (after every 2 or 3 cookies).

Bake until the cookies are golden brown around the edges and their center are just set and very lightly colored, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets about 3 minutes; using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.


Cheers…with a Lemongrass Mojito!

Lemongrass Mojito

I love me some Cocktails. True Story. So when the holidays come around, it gives me the perfect excuse to go into frantic baking and cocktail-shakin’ mode!

This little number is a spin off of one my favorite cocktails to make–Mojitos. I just heart mojitos as they epitomize some of my favorite flavors—bright citrus, vibrant herbaceous notes, and just the right amount of light rum. :) The lemongrass simple syrup offers a wonderful pairing to the traditional mojito as it mirrors the citrus of the limes but adds a little kick of spice.

And with that dear friends, here’s a toast to you and the Holidays! Salute! Kampai! Prost! ʻŌkole maluna! L’chaim! Gan Bei! Sante! Can ly!

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Lemongrass Mojito

Ingredients:

¼ Cup Packed Mint Leaves
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
2 Tablespoons Lemongrass Simple Syrup*
2 Ounces Light Rum
6 Ounces Club Soda
2-3 Cups Crushed Ice

*Lemongrass Simple Syrup
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Water
2 Lemongrass Stalks, coarsely chopped

Prepare Lemongrass Simple Syrup by combining water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let the sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat and add lemongrass. Allow syrup to steep and cool to room temperature. After 60 minutes, strain the syrup to remove the lemongrass.

In a cocktail shaker, thoroughly muddle the mint leaves and lemongrass simple syrup. Add lime juice, rum and fill the shaker with ice. Vigorously shake and strain the liquids into a tall glass filled with ice. Top off glass with club soda. Garnish with lemongrass stalks and mint leaves.

Cheers!

Lemongrass Mojito