The one recipe you must make for Thanksgiving dinner

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Can you believe that Thanksgiving is almost upon us? As you start planning your holiday menus, I wanted to share one of my absolute favorite Thanksgiving dishes. It’s become a must-have in our house: kumquat cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce is a perfect complement to Thanksgiving turkey, and no table is complete without it. Cranberry sauce can be whipped up in a matter of minutes (yes, even without using a can!), and this one is equally as easy. Plus, the unexpected citrus flavor is perfection.

This cranberry sauce is especially good once the flavors come together which makes it an ideal complement for leftovers (next-day turkey sandwiches anyone?!) I like to serve mine from a jar; it gives it a wonderful homemade quality and is a pretty look for the table. Let me know if you give it a try and what everyone thinks!

Kumquat Cranberry Sauce
You will need:
– 2  cups water
– 1 cup sugar
– 12 kumquats cut into circle slices (cut the kumquat across to create pinwheel like slices)
– 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
– 1 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
– 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
– 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
– 1/2 teaspoon cloves
– 2 12-ounce bags fresh or frozen cranberries

 

To prepare:

Combine water, sugar, orange peel, kumquat slices and ginger in heavy medium saucepan. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat. Simmer 4 minutes to blend flavors.

Add cinnamon, salt and clove and simmer 2 minutes. Add cranberries and simmer until berries burst and sauce is thick, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Refrigerate cranberry sauce until well chilled. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated)

Photo by Stefania Crudeli on Unsplash

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Arrivederci Italia 2019

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It’s always hard to say arrivederci, but his year, in particular, was bittersweet because it was such a wonderful season. Our La Fortezza Workshops started off with a bang: 2 styling workshops in June kicked off the season. We had 3 talented instructors and 4 lovely attendees. Joanna and Maren and Sarah, had a lively group and did some really fun projects with their guests. The second styling session was with moi, the Strictly Styling Workshop. I had my BFF Barbara, a stylist from Modena, join me to teach styling. She brought all sorts of foodstuffs from Modena. It was epic.

This workshop also marked the yearly return of PR maven Liz Lapidus she brought her mega bloggerlious friend, Alexandra Darling in the City (although unfortunately she never wrote about her experience at La Fortezza on her blog? 🙁  But she did write about neighboring towns lol) NOTE* bloggers do not bother to contact me about a free workshop and that you’ll post about it. No comping anymore…live and learn…). I digress…

During that workshop I met one of my favorite guests (there’s always an upside to all negative experiences) of the season, the super talented photographer and stylist Alicia, The Chic Shot. You can see some of her amazing shots of La Fortezza on this post. Thank you, Alicia, for sharing your amazing talent. I LOVED working with you, and thank you for all the beautiful photos of your experience here. We hosted the fantastic podcast host Heidi Rew, her podcast featured me and Philip and Barbara, and the ladies from our first workshop in June. Listen to it here. It’s a great look into what we do.

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We also had our first ever intern in June and July from Wellesley College, Adri. She was a wonder and delight. She speaks perfect Italian and was energetic and eager to learn. We loved having her help us with guests and chores around the fortress. We loved her so much that we are bringing another intern from the same Wellesley Italian Studies program back next spring. Let’s just say whoever she is, she has big shoes to fill.  Plus Adri learned to drive a stick shift during her 8 week stay – pretty impressive!

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In July we hosted our first-ever Artist in Residence with abstract painter, Steven McKenzie for the month. It was a stroke of genius on my part, if I do say so myself. Steve was a delightful addition to the La Fortezza Workshop roster, and he brought the sunshine everyday in the studio. Because of Steve’s curiosity, I visited places and experienced things I never would have. Like visiting the antique book archives at our local library in Fivizzano and caving in Equi Terme. Some I loved more than others. (Caving not my thing, go figure) He made jam from our plum trees and filled the studio with his beautiful art inspired by the region. Even during his opening party when we had a torrential downpour, he never lost his bright smile and positive attitude. The Opening Party was amazing, sometimes when the best-laid plans are dashed, and the skies open up, it turns out to be just as great. At his opening, we had visitors from London, Paris, Greece, and the US and of course all of our friends from all over Italy. It was a great July. We had a fun visit with Rue Magazine Editor and Chief Kelli Lamb, and her lovely artist hubby Timmy, Kelli made an amazing video series about La Fortezza.

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In August our son visited with 3 friends; we cooked and toured and ate plenty. Then I visited Pulglia, a place the had been on my list for a while. I experienced the Messors Workshop, which was interesting. read about it here.

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September was filled with great cooking by Chef Philip. There were cooking lessons and artisan food visits with our Slow Food Experience group. We had the lovely photographer Kate Blohm visit again, she was part of a workshop with Angie Mosier in 2018. This year she was our BTS photographer; she’s amazing and will be joining us every year in the fall to document the Slow Food Workshops, something that is close to my heart.

September is the time of year we do our grape harvest, although this year the harvest was a month late, we still had an amazing time with our incredible group. One of our guests were a married couple, PR team Valerie and Garrett, a powerhouse PR team in Atlanta specializing in Chefs and Food, from Via Failla PR and Events  They will be part of the La Fortezza PR team helping to promote La Fortezza Workshops in 2020. I can’t wait to see what they have in store. We also hosted a shopping workshop with Lisa Burnett a whirlwind tour with shop til you drop attendees that left me breathless.

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October was the month of photography with 2 of my favorite photographers joining us. Bill Abranowicz and Ros Atkinson of Her Dark Materials on Instagram. I am honored to call them friends and I am excited to announce they will be back with us in fall 2020. The workshops were not only informative but really fun. We got so many beautiful shots!

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These incredible workshops have proved to be even more wonderful than I had imagined. People gathered around the table, like-minded with so much passion to add to the discussion. Being surrounded by creativity from all creators, from what Philip creates and places on the table, to the interesting creatives from all over the world, (this year we had our first attendee from India) they have so much to offer. It is my idea of heaven.

Although our surroundings are gorgeous, I must say without the people that come to visit, it would be much less beautiful. Thank you to all the support people in our village that take great care of me, and to Chef Philip who is gracious and talented and helpful always with a smile on his face he goes above and beyond. Thanks Philip for all the amazing Pizza Parties!

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To the guests that grace our doors, grazie mille. I look forward to welcoming new faces in 2020. Please check the website November 9th for our new workshops to post. We have limited spots, first come first serve with private rooms. So grab your spot in 2020 La Fortezza Workshops and Retreats.

x

Photo Credit: The Chic Shot, Kate Blohm, Nandi Shaw, Ros Atkinson, William Abranowicz

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Halloween Block Party Spread

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Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web manager and friend, and I’m back again to share a great idea for celebrating Halloween with friends later this week: a few easy recipes for a Halloween block party.

A few years ago, I realized that while we have plenty of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood, many of them venture to other, longer streets to get their candy. Parents would walk by with their caravan of kiddos, and we wouldn’t get anyone knocking on our door for candy. As someone who absolutely loves Halloween, I would be so disappointed with the lack of festivities on our street, so I decided to do something about it.

Last year, we had our first official neighborhood driveway party. We provided everything, and neighbors stopped by as they passed to and from trick-or-treating. The party lasted well into the evening, and it was so fun!

As I started planning for this year’s festivities, I turned to Annette’s archives for some inspiration, and of course, I found it. Here are a few quick recipes for a fun block party spread:
white-bean-chili

White Bean Chili
Serves 8

You will need:
– 1 lb ground sirloin
– 1 lb ground turkey
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 small onion chopped
– 3 cloves chopped garlic
– 4 tablespoons chili powder
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 teaspoon white pepper
– 1 teaspoon cinnamon
– 8 cups chicken stock
– 2 cups canned cannellini white beans
– 2 cups canned pinto beans
– 2 tablespoons dried coriander

On the side:
– Tortilla chips
– Avocado
– Chopped fresh cilantro
– Sour cream

To prepare:

In a stockpot, sauté sirloin and turkey, with a slotted spoon remove cooked meat and set aside. Pour out any excess oil. Place olive oil and onions, garlic into the stockpot, heat on medium and cook until translucent. Add cooked meat, chili powder, salt, pepper and cinnamon and stock, simmer for 1 hour, add beans and coriander Cook for 3 hours.

Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream and sliced avocado and chopped fresh cilantro tortilla chips.

Photo Courtesy of: Victoria from Mission Food
My Devil's Food Cupcakes are one of my go-to desserts for Halloween(or any time of year, really). They're a decadent demonic dessert if I do say so.

Devils Food Cup Cakes
Makes 36 cupcakes

You will need:

For the cupcakes:
– ½ cup water
– 1 cup high quality cocoa powder
– 3 sticks butter softened (1 ½ cups)
– 2 cups sugar
– 4 eggs beaten
– 1 tablespoon vanilla
– ¼ cup canola oil
– 1 cup sour cream
– 3 cups all purpose flour
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

For the Chocolate Frosting:
– 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
– 7 tablespoons high quality cocoa
– 1 stick of butter softened
– 6 tablespoons evaporated milk

Cake Preparation:

In the microwave, place water, then place cocoa powder in hot water, set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle blade place butter and sugar combine until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, add vanilla and oil and sour cream add cocoa mixture, beat on medium speed until combined.

In a bowl mix flour and baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture on slow speed until combined, and add chocolate chips. Spoon batter into muffin tins, lined with cupcake liners fill liner until ¾ full. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes until a pick is inserted and comes out clean. Cool and then frost.

Frosting Preparation:

Sift sugar and cocoa together in a bowl set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter, add sugar cocoa mixture slowly to the butter alternately with the evaporated milk, until fluffy.

Photos via Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn & Design Sponge
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Party Favors

Select your favorite varieties of spooky, color-appropriate Halloween candy, fill cupcake liners, and tie with a cute string.

xx Annette

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Festive Halloween Charcuterie

SpookyCharcuterie4 I chose pickled okra instead of gherkins because they reminded me of a witches' fingers.

Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web-manager and friend, and I am taking over the blog today to bring you a spooky charcuterie spread for Halloween. Annette and I both love Halloween, and we’re always looking for ways to celebrate. I pulled together this easy, cheesy, festive Halloween charcuterie a few years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite posts.

Over the years, Annette has done some pretty phenomenal charcuterie spreads, and she even has a step-by-step guide to creating one yourself. I used her post as a starting point for my grocery shopping. It was so nice to be able to make a shopping list directly from her post.

SpookyCharcuterie1 The "cauldrons" are actually tiny copper food prep bowls, and the "witches broom" breadsticks are held in a skeleton drinking glass.

One pro tip is to make sure that you get food-safe containers for your own spooky charcuterie spread. The “cauldrons” are actually tiny copper food prep bowls, and the “witches broom” breadsticks are held in a skeleton drinking glass.

SpookyCharcuterie3 The end result is a spooky charcuterie spread that is sure to be a hit at your next party!

As I shopped for remaining accouterments, I kept the Halloween theme in mind. I chose pickled okra instead of gherkins because they reminded me of a witches’ fingers. I added dried apricots (a tip from Annette’s post) because they are a lovely shade of orange. I decided on prosciutto because it’s so fatty and veiny.

The end result is a spooky charcuterie spread that is sure to be a hit at your next party! If you really want to carry the theme throughout, add some festive bottles of red wine. The Prisoner is one of my favorites and quite on-theme, too!

Thanks for having me, Annette, and Happy (almost) Halloween, everyone!

xo, Nicole

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Decadent Grilled Cheese

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Is there anything better on a fall day than sitting down to nosh on grilled cheese? Honestly, I’m not sure there is. Grilled cheese is one of those comfort foods that is always good, but it can be made even better if you gather top-notch ingredients. I like to use unexpected cheese and unique condiments. Oh, and bacon…because everything is better with bacon. Meet the decadent grilled cheese.

This sandwich would be perfect with a bowl of soup or chili on a crisp fall day. If you have guests over, set-up a station allowing them to create their own sandwiches mixing and matching ingredients while you man the grilling station. Interactive foods are always so much fun for a party.

You can also cut these into quarters and serve them as an appetizer or finger food. How fun is that?!

This recipe is from my first book, Picture Perfect Parties, and the photo on this post is from a fabulous party that Design Sponge threw a few years ago using Picture Perfect Parties as a guide.

Decadent Grilled Cheese with Brie, Crispy Bacon, and Apricot Jam
serves 6

You will need:
– 1 loaf challah bread
– 6 pieces bacon cooked and crumbled
– 1 12 oz. wheel brie cheese
– 6 tablespoons apricot jam, 1 tablespoon per sandwich
– 6 tablespoons butter softened 1 tablespoon per sandwich

To prepare:

Cook bacon until crisp in the oven at 400 degrees F, drain set aside.

Slice challah into 12 slices. Assemble the sandwiches. Place crumbled bacon , thin slice of brie, and apricot jam on the bread, place another slice of bread on top forming a sandwich. Butter the top and repeat until you have made 6 sandwiches.

In a heated sauté pan place sandwiches butter side down, butter the top half. Cook until golden brown, flip and cook the other side. Continue until all the sandwiches are done. Let set for 1 minute and cut sandwiches into quarters.

Serve at room temperature.

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