Appetizers/Small Plates · Beef · Sunday Family Dinner

Papas Rellenas – Cuban Potato Balls

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

Not gonna lie….I could really use a Papas Rellena right now.

Or two, or three—okay….probably 4. Well, for now at least.

We made Papas Rellenas {Cuban Potato Balls} for our June Sunday Family Dinner as an homage to Porto’s Bakery. Papas Rellenas are incredibly addictive crispy, mashed potato balls that are stuffed with a savory meat filling. At Porto’s Bakery, they fill their Papas with ground beef, veggies, and spices.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

I had stumbled upon a wonderful recipe for Papas Rellenas from Jonathan over at The Candid Appetite. If you haven’t seen his site, you must check it out. But be warned, whether you read it on a full stomach or not, his posts will leave you drooling!

As for the Papas, not only was his post incredibly informative but his step by step photos were gorgeous! I was so inspired that I had to try and take pics along the way as well. Clearly mine weren’t nearly as stunning but let’s just go with it.

On to the Papas!

After washing, cubing and boiling a ton of potatoes–smash them up to smithereens! Then, get started on the aromatics.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

You’ll want the aromatics nice and fine. Throwing them into a food processor will definitely make life easier but if you’re a glutton for punishment, take a chefs knife and go at it!

After you pulse each item, you’ll want to drain it through a very fine sieve to get rid of any excess liquid. Sound crazy? Nope, it’s brilliant.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

After everything is prepped, begin browning the beef in a large skillet. I drain the liquid from the beef before adding in the chopped onions and garlic. Once the onions become translucent, add the red and green peppers into the party.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

Once the filling has been seasoned and cooked down, you’re ready to start assembling. Lucky for me, I enlisted the help of my niece, Nini, to join the Papas Rellenas Assembly Line. She also served as the hand model for the next series of photos.

Huh…what if this is the catalyst to her budding Hand Modeling career? Um, don’t tell my sister.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

Back to the Papas……

To get uniformed potato balls, grab an ice cream scoop. Porto’s Bakery make their Papas Rellenas quite large but I opted for a smaller size for a 1-2 bite. Using the gadget of your choice, scoop out a dome of the cooled mashed potato mixture.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

Using the palm of your hand, try to flatten it out into an even round—about 1/4 – 1/3 inch thick.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

Place a heaping spoonful of the cooled filling in the center of the potato.

Now let me warn you, despite what every fiber in your body says–DON’T OVER STUFF them! If you do, they won’t seal properly and things will get down right wonky.

Willy Wonky!

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

Carefully fold the sides over the filling.

This is where you’ll kick yourself if you overfill it.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

Then gently roll it into an even, smooth ball.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

Once all the potato balls have been filled, start the 3-step process to bread them.

Flour. Egg Wash. Bread Crumbs.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

After the Papas have chilled for several hours, it’s time for a 3-5 minute “soak” in an oil jacuzzi that’s been heated to 375 degrees F until they’ve become golden brown.

Bada-Bing! Bada-Boom!

That’s it!

On a random note (as if I wasn’t random enough), my other niece, Nina, took over hand modeling for the “completed” Papas pics. What can I say? I’m prepping the kids for the Hand Modeling Olympics.

Papas Rellenas - Cuban Potato Balls

These Papas Rellenas can be served at room temp with a sprinkle of freshly chopped cilantro & a few lime wedges. You can also serve them with a Mojo dipping sauce or by itself.

And the kicker? They can definitely made in advance and frozen so that you can fry them whenever you get a Cuban Hankering! So double the recipe! You’ll thank me…..or maybe you should thank Jonathan since it’s his recipe 🙂

Want to know how to make these golden delicious Papas Rellenas? Pop on over to here.


Desserts/Pastries · Sunday Family Dinner

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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!

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Mojito
Appetizers: Chicken Empanada, Beef Empanada, Papas Rellenas
Entrees: Cuban Pork Roast with Mojo, Frijoles Negro, Tostones, Rice
Dessert: Mojito Cheesecake


Mojito Cheesecake
Serves 8-10


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

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.