Mushroom Cognac Pinwheels (make ahead!)

For an easy holiday appetizer that looks elegant, try these winter-inspired pinwheels.  They have meaty portobello mushrooms sauteed with thyme and sage, the two most earthy spices.  Thyme and sage are what I imagine a forest must taste like, wild and fresh.  The cognac was a little improvisation.  With 5 bottles of red wine staring at me and not a single bottle of white to impart flavor on the mushrooms, I was stuck between using gin or cognac for the mushrooms.

My husband looooves cognac and got me to try it once, but never again.  In its pure form, cognac has dragon-like fumes that make you light headed when you get within 4 inches of the glass.  When you taste it, the fumes burn down your throat and clear up your sinuses as if it were a hot pepper.    Still, cognac was a better choice than gin and I knew the alcohol would cook off.  Since I’m an avid cookbook reader, I know that cognac is highly flammable, so I took extra precaution, ok, obsessive precaution when I added it to the mushroom filling; I took the entire pan off the stove, poured the cognac in while holding the pan over the sink, then returned it safely to the stovetop.  I didn’t even want to leave the mixture unattended to go put back the cognac because I was afraid it might light on fire.  If you don’t want to go the adventurous route, hopefully you have white wine you can use, if not chicken broth or the ever-friendly H2o, water.

P.S. I will never hear the end of “remember that one time you cooked with cognac…”

Click here for the printable.

Mushroom Cognac Pinwheels
Makes 15-20 large pinwheels or 30-40 small pinwheels (see note)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 portobello mushroom caps, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
5-6 fresh sage leaves finely minced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/3 cup cognac or dry white wine or water
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated smoked fontina, gruyere, or swiss cheese
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/4 cup of water in a small cup for binding the dough together or 1 egg lightly beaten
1.  In a large saute pan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the diced onion and saute about 3 minutes until the onions are translucent.
2.  Add the diced mushrooms, salt, thyme, and sage to the saute pan.  Cook another 2-3 minutes.
3.  Take saute pan off of heat and away from flames and add in cognac.  Use caution as cognac is highly flammable.  Cook another 5 minutes or so until the mushrooms are soft and have absorbed all of the cognac.  Add the butter, allow it to melt, then mix with a spoon.  turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
4.  On a clean working surface, roll out the puff pastry dough.  Use a sprinkle of flour if the dough has become sticky.
5.  Starting at the bottom (the side of the dough closest to you), sprinkle the puff pastry with the grated fontina cheese.  Make sure to cover every part of the dough EXCEPT the top inch of the side furthest from you.  Add the cognac-mushrooms and spread on top of the cheese in the same manner.  Brush the top inch with water or egg to help bind the dough when you roll it up.
6.  Starting with the side closest to you, roll up the puff pastry like a jelly roll.  It should roll up around itself at least two times.  Use water and your fingers to bind the of dough at the top.  You will have one long piece.
7. Place on a baking dish and refrigerate overnight ( or up to 2 days).
8.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut the log into 1/3 inch slices and arrange on a baking sheet, leaving space between the pinwheels.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
Note: for smaller pinwheels, cut the puff pastry dough in half before topping with the filling and make two smaller logs to cut up.

Chicken in a Fennel Mushroom Sauce

This dinner entree is hearty, more of a winter feel to it due to the predominance of the mushroom flavor.  It is a bit of preparation, and you will need kitchen twine to tie the rolled, stuffed chicken tightly for cooking.  Kitchen twine has more of a cloth-like feel to it, so I don’t think you can substitute regular twine.  I had forgotten about the twine, and Kris had to wildly rush out to find it, going to 3 different stores.  Finally he was successful at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

(not pictured: 1 cup dry white wine, lemon zest, salt and pepper)
-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
-3 small fennel bulbs
-1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (or any other dried mushroom mix)
-2 Tablespoons fresh sage
-2 sweet Italian sausages
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
-5 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Basic Prep:
1.  Make sure you have kitchen twine.  🙂
2.  In 1 cup of hot water, add the dried mushrooms to rehydrate.  Mine are in the glass bowl in the back of the ingredients.  They’ll need about 30 minutes.
3.  Place one chicken breast into large gallon size zip-lock plastic bag so that none of the juices or bits and pieces will fly out.  Pound the chicken breast until flattened, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  If you have one of the food mallets use that.  We used a hammer and an iron skillet.3.  Repeat step 2 with remaining 5 breasts.  This is a good time to get out any anxiety or frustration.
4.  Prep any remaining ingredients for the assembly line: chop up the sage, zest the lemon, take out the mushrooms and squeeze any excess water from them (SAVE YOUR WATER FOR THE SAUCE), remove the casings from the sausage and divide into 6 chunks.  Make everything an arm’s distance away from your work space.  You will be arranging and rolling each flattened chicken breast  in an assembly line.

Here’s what you need: flattened breasts, salt and pepper for flavor, sausage, lemon zest, chopped sage, Parmesan cheese, rehydrated mushrooms (REMEMBER TO SAVE YOUR WATER FOR THE SAUCE), and a glass dish to set the completed roll-ups in.

I’m sorry I do not have photos, Kris was out getting me cooking twine.

5.  Take a flattened chicken breast and set on a plastic cutting board.  Sprinkle pepper if you so choose.  (If you like salt you can add salt too.  I found the sausage has enough salt)
6.  Take 1/6 of your sausage mixture and spread all over the flat breast.  Try to cover the entire area.
7.  Sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of Parmesan cheese.
8.  Sprinkle with lemon zest and chopped fresh sage.
9.  Finally, add some rehydrated mushrooms.
10.  Roll the chicken breast as compactly as you can, from one side to the other.  The end you start with is the most flimsy end because you want it rolled into itself to keep the ingredients inside.  End on the side that is better flattened.
11.  This moment in time, you should take 3 small pieces of kitchen twine and secure the chicken roll tightly, however, Kris hadn’t come back yet, so I kept going.
12.  Repeat with the remaining 5 breasts.  Be mindful of how much of an ingredient you take since you have to spread it out over 6 chicken breasts.  (I had to chop more sage and zest more lemon.  Maybe I’ll try to have more than I think before I start.)
Here’s the twine process.

Start with 3 small pieces of twine that run the length of the chicken roll.

Rolling and Securing Chicken

Tie up each piece and make a double knot to secure.

Rolling and securing chicken

After you’ve finished securing each breast, clip off the excess twine.

You will have to brown the chicken breasts in 2 batches, then cook them all together.
13.  In a large dutch oven, melt 2 1/2 Tablespoons of butter.  Wait for it to get lightly browned and start to smoke a little.  This is butter’s signal that it’s hot.  Hot butter=beautifully browned chicken.
14.  Using tongs, add 3 of the chicken breasts to the pot.  Let brown on each side, 5-6 minutes per side.  Remove the breasts.
15.  Add remaining butter, and repeat the same browning process for the other 3 breasts.  Set these aside when well-browned.
16.  Add 1 cup of dry white wine and scrape up the flavor-bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon.  Then add all the chicken rolls to the pot.  It’s OK if you need 2 layers.  Cover.  Cook over simmering heat for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, make your mushroom fennel sauce.
1.  Slice fennel.  Remove the fronds so all you have is the bulb.
2.  Cut it in half.3.  Carefully cut out the core.4.  Now go wash out the sandy soil.  I got mine at the farmer’s market, so you have to wash extra well.
5.  Slice fennel into strips.6.  Place fennel and leftover mushroom water (it will be brown at this point) into a medium sauce pan.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes.
7.  Remove from heat and place fennel and water in a food processor.  Process until smooth.  Then return to the saucepan.
8.  Cook over high heat to reduce the sauce to the consistency you desire.  This took me about 10 minutes.
9.  Serve sauce on the side, so each person can add how much they want.
Servings: 6 or 12, depending on how many side dishes you have.  If you have lots more side dishes, you could cut the breasts in half and serve each person 1/2.  I just gave everyone their own.  Remember to cut the strings before you serve.  I didn’t, so we passed a knife at the table; remember how I said our friends are forgiving.