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The first three hip-hop albums I bought were Beastie Boys’ License To Ill, Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell, and LL Cool J’s Radio. While those three albums formed the base of my love for hip-hip, I, unfortunately, do not believe LL made much of a major contribution to the genre. Over the years, he’s been uneven musically. He’s never really done groundbreaking music, just decent tracks here and there. For every killer track like “Rock The Bells” or “Mama Said Knock You Out”, you get a “Dear Yvette” or “Big Ole Butt.” I’ve been far more interested in watching him make the rare successful move from a recording artist to an actor with his role in Toys being a highlight. If, however, I had to choose one favorite LL Cool J track, the theme song here is certainly it. It’s a stripped-down minimal track reminiscent of Radio with the sort of laid-back swagger Cool J now brings to his acting. It’s a perfect summer car song and the perfect theme for another recipe in my cauliflower obsession series.
Growing up in the midwest in the ’70s, I ate my fair share of Hot Pockets. Through the hazy filter of time, I think I might even have liked them. I know better now. I have not had an actual Hot Pocket in decades mostly because I know they suck. I figured, if I could make a better, fresher Hot Pocket with real ingredients made from scratch, then I could recapture a bit of my childhood.
I decided to make a classic pizza style Hot Pocket with a vegetarian filling. I wanted something more interesting than peppers and mushrooms in cheese and sauce, so I pulled out a revision of the Buffalo Cauliflower recipe I first used for the Cauliflower Dreamin’ sub to make something like a Buffalo Chicken Hot Pocket.
My research on homemade Hot Pockets yielded a variety of dough options. Pie crust, pizza dough, and puff pastry were the most common suggestions. My vague recollection of an actual Hot Pocket (no – I was NOT going out and buying a box) was it had a crust like a deep-fried McDonald’s apple pie. Pizza dough would be more like a calzone which, while perfectly fine, is not a Hot Pocket. Pie dough might work, but I couldn’t find sheets of pie dough at my grocer. That meant puff pastry won, and turns out is a great choice.
The next consideration, especially when using puff pastry, was moisture content. As the plan used Ranch dressing and sauced cauliflower, I needed a pizza sauce and cheese that would not add much more moisture to the mix. Low moisture mozzarella was the obvious choice here. It’s a Grill Club staple for pita pizzas as I prefer how it melts and would rather save great fresh mozzarella for snacking and caprese. The sauce also ended up being a BGC staple: Tomato Pesto. Technically not really a pesto (no nuts – no fresh basil), this is a quick pizza base I always keep in the fridge. A can of tomato paste mixed with garlic, Asiago, dried basil, and olive oil. The heat of baking lightly melts the “pesto” to create a sauce without adding significant moisture to the dish.
So dough, sauce, and cheese were chosen, now I needed a topping. I had made Buffalo Cauliflower a couple of times but wanted to try a slightly different method for this recipe. Usually, I cut the cauliflower into florets and then roast them. Research lead me to an Epicurious recipe from Dale Talde. For his Buffalo Cauliflower, he roasts the whole head then breaks it down after roasting. That seemed like a more efficient method and would solve one issue I had with previous attempts: some florets cooking more than others.
The results were stunning:
Once cool enough to cut apart, I broke this down into Hot Pocket size pieces and tossed it in a pan with some Red Devil Hot sauce and butter.
From there, it was a simple task to cut puff pastry pieces and assemble the hot pockets. Here’s a look at the filling construction prior to covering with the top pastry piece. Granted, it ain’t pretty but ugly can be delicious.
Then 15 minutes in the oven and just like that I had some beautiful much-better-than-childhood Hot Pockets.
It was a revelation. A bit of puff pastry & a bit of filling: the possibilities are endless. I have already made some with homemade apple sauce, cranapple compote, and chicken & broccoli. This is definitely going to be a new staple at BGC.
GOING BACK TO CAULI HOT POCKETS
Buffalo cauliflower, tomato pesto, mozzarella, and Ranch dressing in a puff pastry
I box frozen Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, thawed
Buffalo Cauliflower (see recipe below)
Tomato Pesto (see recipe below)
Low moisture Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 egg, lightly beaten
Unwrap one sheet of puff pastry on a clean work surface. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the pastry lengthwise into 3 equal strips (follow the seams as a guide). Cut each strip in half crosswise for a total of 6 equal-sized rectangles. Transfer the rectangles to a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the other pastry sheet.
Evenly spread 1 tablespoon of Tomato Pesto onto 6 rectangles, leaving a ½-inch space along the edges. Top with 2 tablespoons of Buffalo Cauliflower. Finish with a sprinkle of mozzarella and a drizzle of Ranch dressing. Brush the edges with beaten egg and top with the rest of the rectangles. Gently press the edges of each pocket to adhere.
Cut small diagonal slits at 1-inch intervals along the top of pastries. Brush top and sides of pastry with beaten egg. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes before baking.
Preheat oven to 425°
Bake pastries until puffed and light brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.
To freeze the pockets, allow them to cool completely. Freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet, then transfer to an airtight bag and return to the freezer. To reheat, cover in aluminum foil and warm in a 350°F oven, or cook in the microwave for 3 minutes.
(with a hat tip to Dale Talde)
One 2 to 2 1/2 pound head of cauliflower, leaves removed and stem cut to 1 1/2 inches
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup cayenne-based hot sauce, like Frank’s or Red Devil
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature and cut into chunks
Preheat oven to 450°F
Place the cauliflower, stem side down, onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the top to coat, then sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Roast until tender and browned on top, about 35 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes.
When cauliflower is cool enough to handle, cut the florets into bite-size pieces. They should be small enough to go easily into the hot pocket, but not chopped fine. Think small chicken nuggets. Cut the stem into small chunks.
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the hot sauce and cauliflower over medium heat, tossing to coat. When the sauce begins to bubble, add the butter. Continue cooking, tossing and stirring, until the butter melts and the sauce gets creamy and glossy.
This makes far more than you’ll need for the hot pockets. You can eat the leftovers as an appetizer while waiting for the pockets to bake or let cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat in a pan for a great quick taco filling or snack.
One 6-ounce can of tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon dried basil
3 ounces Pecorino, Romano or Asiago cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork. Cover and let rest on the counter at room temperature for 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.