Truffle Diggers From Italy

The Lagotto Romagnolo is a breed of dog that comes from the Romagna sub-region of Italy. The name means “lake dog from Romagna,” coming from the Italian word lagolake. Its traditional function is a gundog, specifically a water retriever. However, it is often used to hunt for truffles. Lagotto have been hunting dogs for at least three thousand years, and truffle dogs for maybe a hundred years, if that.

Lagotto Romagnolo

Imagine my surprise when I saw these adorable faces at The Blackberry Farm, an upscale hotel and resort adjacent to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The Farm recently started a new initiative to breed Lagottos on property under the supervision of Mr. Jim Sanford, a professional elephant trainer of many years.

Photo by lagottoamerica.com
Photo by lagottoamerica.com

These Lagottos were carefully flown in from Italy and given the finest southern hospitality. They receive 24-hour care, heated kennels, and lots of training time among the crisp mountain air. When I arrived at the Farm, a 2-3 weeks old young litter was being nurtured in a quiet room with hay stack and heated lamps.

Lagotto Romagnolo

Training for these Lagottos starts on day 1. The house broken puppies are sold for $6,000, and ones without training for only $3,000. All the puppies from the Blackberry Farm have found good residences, mostly in celebrity homes and in Beverly Hills.

The Farm currently sources black truffles from the neighboring farm of Tom Michaels.  Upon finding this treasure trove of truffles, he brought them to the kitchen at Blackberry Farm where they were immediately offered at that evening’s dinner service. So began the relationship with Dr. Michaels, which has lead to the planting of Blackberry Farm’s own truffle orchard.

So on future visits to Blackberry Farm, you may just have the opportunity to harvest your own truffle and have it shaved for you at dinner that very night…and on your farm eggs in the morning!

And if you are lucky, you may even be able to take a Lagotto Romagnolo puppy home.

Lagotto Romagnolo

 

Blackberry Farm Guinea and Dumplings Recipe

After you taste the Chicken and Dumplings at the Blackberry Farm, you won’t want to eat your mom’s recipe again. Hand made pasta, shaved black truffles and melt into your mouth roasted guinea are just few of the ingredients that make this recipe so special. It is served at The Barn restaurant located at the resort, which is run by award winning chefs.

chicken dumplings

Here’s the recipe for guinea (or chicken) and dumplings…You will want to eat this all winter long!

  • 2lbs Guinea Hen Leg quarters
  • 1C salt
  • ¼ C sugar
  • 20 sprigs thyme
  • 2qt chicken fat (can substitute duck fat)

Combine salt, sugar and thyme sprigs. Coat chicken leg quarters in mixture and place on a wire rack and allow to cure overnight.  Next, rinse mixture off of chicken and pat dry. Place chicken into a half 4-inch hotel pan and cover with chicken fat. Place in a 250 F oven and cook until tender (approximately 2-3 hours). Remove chicken from pan, and when cool enough to handle pick the meat from the bone and discard skin and bones. Reserve chicken.

  • 1 lb. Idaho Potatoes
  • 2 Eggs (beaten)
  • 1 cup Flour (approximately)
  • 2T Salt
  • 2qt +1C Chicken Stock
  • 1T Chicken fat (can substitute duck fat)
  • Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to 148 F and poach eggs in their shell for 55 minutes and reserve.

Bake potatoes in 350 degree oven until tender. Rice potatoes through a food mill and allow potatoes to cool slightly, but still warm. Fold in egg, 2 teaspoons of salt, and truffle. Add flour gradually until mixture comes together and is not wet. Roll mixture into cylindrical shapes and cut desired length.

In a sauce pot over medium high heat bring 2 quarts of salted water and to a simmer. Blanch gnocchi in until they float. Next, shock in ice water and reserve.

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, heat chicken fat until shimmering. Place gnocchi in pan and toast until golden brown, add reserved chicken and 1 cup of chicken stock. Finish by adding chives and seasoning with salt and black pepper. Crack egg over the top.

~ Courtesy of The Barn at The Blackberry Farm

Rooms for Good

Your next vacation can help a wounder warrior. The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) works to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service men and women. The organization provides direct programs and service tailored to meet the needs of families impacted on or after 9/11. Now you can also help contribute to this important cause and enjoy a fun getaway at the same time.

photo courtesy Gaylord Opryland

Gaylord Hotels has started a Rooms for Good program in partnership with WWP where the hotel will donate 10% of proceeds from booking the special packages in May and June 2012.

If you have not been to the Gaylord Opryland, it is a must visit destination. Read my previous post about the resort.

The Rooms for Good packages start at $179 per couple and includes 1 night stay and breakfast for 2. Special military packages start at $139 per couple. You can chose any of the Gaylord locations – Washington DC, Orlando, Nashville or Dallas. Click here to make a reservation.

Destination Gaylord Opryland

Until a few weeks ago, I had not even heard of the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, TN. The Gaylord Opryland is much more than a resort and convention center, it is an experience. When I arrived there, I had mixed feelings –  it looked like a tropical rain forest, had the creativity of Las Vegas, and the inclusiveness of a cruise ship.

Stepping into the palatial lobby embodied with giant glass sculptures and dazzling ceilings, gave you the impression of stepping into the Bellagio. As porters hauled luggage to one of the 2,880 guestrooms, you found yourself wandering the nine acres of botanical gardens and cascading waterfalls under the 15 story high glass atrium.

The interior of the resort is home to over 50,000 tropical plants maintained at 72 F year round. There is also a quarter mile long indoor river where you can go for a boat ride and tour the property. The guide will make sure to point out the fruit trees and give you some education about the plants. In the evenings, watch the water fountains dance to a sound and light show at the Delta Atrium. Being home to country music, there are live performance and entertainment daily.

Besides the overall architectural marvel, there are also the restaurants, spa, pools and boutiques to enjoy at the resort. Strolling along the shops at the Magnolia pavilion feels like you have stepped into a piazza in Florence. The two stories building have Italian look and feel while the flooring is of cobblestone. Again, this reminded me a lot of the shops in the Venetian and Bellagio in Vegas. The boutiques carried souvenirs, sundries and unique art and gift items.

A number of dining options are presented to you at the hotel itself. There are 20 restaurants that offer everything from British pub (which includes Indian), Italian, Mexican, sushi and contemporary fast food to an upscale Steakhouse. The food is prepared by some of the best chef’s in the country and the service is exceptional. Most employees at the Gaylord Opryland have long tenures so you can tell they are truly passionate about their work.

The little ones would particularly enjoy the special activities organized just for them. Besides learning about the plants and walking through the waterfalls, they can also sneak into Shrek’s den and hang out with the characters from the movies, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and Shrek. At Christmas time, the property converts itself into a wonderland with 2 million lights and many festivities.

Whether you are looking for a romantic weekend getaway or an adventure for the entire family, the Gaylord Opryland is not just a place to stay, it is a destination like no other.

Dining in a fish tank


Aquarium restaurant describe themselves as an “underwater dining adventure.” While the restaurant itself is not technically underwater, it boasts an enormous aquarium.

Located at the newly re-opened Opry Mills Mall in Nashville, guests dine while seated around a 200,000-gallon tank, home to a wide variety of fish, sharks, stingrays and more. More than 100 species of colorful, tropical fish from the Caribbean Sea, Hawaii, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean – reside in the tank. Every table at the restaurant allows for an exceptional floor-to-ceiling view.

Walking through the host stand to the table is an experience itself. You go through a walkway with an arch of fishes and then around the aquarium tank. Both kids and adults seem to take several pauses admiring the colorful fishes that tend to swim in pairs and enjoy greeting the customers.

The food at Aquarium restaurant is as magnificent as its ambiance. I started with a white sangria which is light for lunch and goes well with white meat. For appetizer, I selected the shrimp and crab dip served with warm bread. The dip was creamy and dense, made with crabmeat, salad shrimp, spicy roasted poblano peppers, chopped tomatoes and cheese. For main course, I had the broiled fisherman’s platter which I was told by the server “is fit for a queen.” Truly, it was a giant platter with everything imaginable! Lobster tail, grilled shrimp, stuffed shrimp, sea scallops, mahi mahi and stuffed crab, served with Aquarium rice and broccoli…oh my! 

Some might question consuming seafood in the presence of live fish, so there is a good section on chicken and meat entrees as well.

My server was exceptional and offered his suggestions throughout. He lost me at dessert though. Like everything else, the desserts were over sized portions of delicious irresistible creations. One of them looked like a brick of chocolate and could be handy if we were characters of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But I settled with a key lime pie with toasted meringue. Not so bad either.

Aquarium restaurants is a great dining experience for the entire family. Think of it as a trip to the aquarium and a fine meal, all rolled into one. They have four locations in Denver, Houston, Kemah and Nashville.

Aquarium Restaurant Nashville
516 Opry Mills Drive
Nashville, TN 37214
www.aquariumrestaurants.com

Mexican Paella

Cinco de Mayo is over now but if you still have some craving for Mexican food, here is a very special recipe for you. Created by Chef Paulina Suarez from Solario restaurant at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, this dish is authentic to her homeland. It is very different from a Spanish paella, which you find more commonly at restaurants. The Mexican paella is cooked with parboil rice (made the day before), broth made with beer and leftover meats. It does not have saffron like the Spanish paella, is spicier and somewhat soupy. Try out the recipe for yourselves….

Arroz a la valenciana (Mexican Paella)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup parboil rice
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion
  • pinch of dry Arbol peppers
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 mussels
  • 6 cherry-stone clams
  • 1/4 cup Mexican beer
  • 2 links cooked chorizo
  • 7 shrimp (uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup frozen green peas (thawed)
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels (thawed)
  • 2 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 tablespoon butter

For the tomato broth: Blend tomatoes, onion, 1 garlic glove in a blender. Mix with the chicken stock and set aside.

For the rice: In a heavy bottom pot, heat half of the oil and butter. Add the rive and cook till it has a nice golden color. Add 2 cups of the tomato broth and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice absorb the leftover liquids.

To assemble the paella: In a large paella or saute pan, add garlic, butter and oil. Saute for 1 minute, then add clams and mussels. Add 1/4 cup beer and allows for the shells to open up. Add chorizo, rice and rest of the tomato broth. Use the peppers based on how much heat you like. Add the shrimp, corn and peas; salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and cook till the shrimp turns pink (if using raw). Garnish with sliced lime and green onions. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Dining in Knox-Vegas

Southern Tennessee is known for down right authentic southern food – biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, BBQ and fried chicken. That is very true to an extent. You will see no shortage of Pancake Houses while driving around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. In fact, even the lodges and stores are named after pancakes!

But Knoxville, TN is a college town and the restaurants cater to artistic and athletic students and young professionals. While you can still find the traditional favorites in the city, there is also a good offering of sushi, Thai, Italian and other ethnic cuisines.

I start the day with breakfast at Pete’s Coffee Shop, a family-owned and operated downtown Knoxville landmark for 25 years.  Situated in a diner style setting, Pete’s seemed to have entertained many local celebrities, whose photos you will find on their wall of fame. Pete’s serves hearty breakfasts at reasonable prices, six days a week, beginning at 6:30 a.m. For under $5, you can get scrambled eggs, homemade biscuit and coffee.

For lunch, you have two options – sit by the river or listen to live music. Located on Neyland Drive on Knoxville’s historic waterfront, Calhoun’s On The River has been serving some of the best BBQ in town since 1988. Get a beer and sit at the outside deck where you can get a panoramic view of the Tennessee River. After lunch, stroll along the river to Volunteer Landing. This is also a good spot to go to after a game, hike or fun day of enjoying outdoors.

Only at the Knoxville Visitor Center on S. Gay Street, you can enjoy free live musical performance, broadcast live on historic WDVX radio 6 days a week. The Blue Plate Special features local, regional and national music acts from 12-1pm. You can grab a sandwich at the Coop Cafe (located inside the visitor center) known for the chicken salad sandwiches and watch the show while eating lunch.

For dinner, head over to Market Square, the hub of shopping, dining and entertainment in downtown Knoxville. Make reservations at Cafe 4, a casual restaurant featuring traditional southern comfort food with a twist. They serve hearty portions of flat-breads, crab cake sliders, fried fish, shrimp n grits, etc.

For an after dinner treat, walk around the corner to Coffee & Chocolate where you can enjoy scrumptious desserts, tea, coffee and yes of course, handmade chocolates! Chocolate covered Oreo, pretzels,  cashews, peanut butter cups, pecan turtles – the chocolates are bought from The Chocolate Factory located nearby.  You will want to take a box home.

Knoxville City Guide

Crista Cuccaro, a law student at the University of Tennessee put together this very handy and comprehensive guide for visitors to Knoxville, TN. She shared it with me after learning about my visit to the area. I hope it helps you in planning your trip as well. If you enjoy it, please Tweet to Crista @cmc_bumblebee and show your appreciation!

DINING

The Tomato Head. 12 Market Square

This is one of my favorite restaurants in town. They have creative sandwiches, pizzas, and burritos, all made with fresh and often locally sourced ingredients. This place gets very busy during weekday lunch and weekend evenings, but the food is worth the wait!

just ripe. 513 Union Ave.

This worker-owned co-op just recently opened and is close to Market Square. This shop offers delicious food to order and groceries. just ripe is flanked by Union Ave. Books, one of the few independently owned bookstores in Knoxville, and by Reruns, a swanky clothing consignment shop.

Old City Java. 109 S. Central Ave.

Also located in the Old City, this coffee shop serves Counter Culture coffee, which I absolutely LOVE, but I can’t justify buying whole bags of it on a student’s budget. They have free wi-fi and there’s always interesting art on the walls.

Bars

Knox Public House. 212 W. Magnolia Ave.

This is a new, hip bar located on the outskirts of downtown. I really love this bar because it’s non-smoking, it does not have a television, and it does not have live music. Although that might sound boring, it makes for a cozy atmosphere where you can have a conversation instead of shouting over music. They also have excellent housemade infused vodkas, such as ginger-cardamom and lavender.

The Bistro. 807 South Gay St.

Also a smoke-free bar, I love the low ceilings and dim light of this restaurant. They frequently have live jazz music in the evening. This old establishment is right next to the Bijou, one of Knoxville’s downtown historic theaters. We have seen lots of great acts at The Bijou, including The Avett Brothers, Abigail Washburn, and Sufjan Stevens.

Sassy Ann’s. 820 N. Fourth Ave.

This bar is in an old Victorian house in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood, about a mile north of downtown. To summarize the atmosphere, it feels like being in a ship. The bar is funky and the location of many dance parties.

Preservation Pub Rooftop. 28 Market Square

I don’t care much for the Preservation Pub bar downstairs—it’s smoky and loud, but the two upper floors are more enjoyable. They recently opened their rooftop bar, which is one of Knoxville’s only rooftop bars.

Groceries

Three Rivers Market. Currently at 937 N. Broadway, soon to open at 1100 N Central Street.

This is Tennessee’s only food cooperative. We buy most of groceries here. You don’t have to be a member to shop at it. They focus on supplying natural and organic foods from local farms. It’s like a Whole Foods or Earthfare, but independent and community-owned. They have one of the best herbs and spices sections I have ever seen.

Market Square Farmers’ Market.

Every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon, from May to November, a growing and vibrant farmers’ market opens on Market Square. There are lots of vendors, selling produce, prepared foods, crafts, and plants. I really enjoy Cruze Farm, a vendor who owns a dairy farm in Knoxville—they sell fluffy buttermilk biscuits and homemade ice cream.

Downtown Wine and Spirits. 407 South Gay Street

 

If you’re looking for unusual and well-curated spirits, this is the place. This shop sells standard fare, such as vodka and wine, but they also sell harder to find whiskeys and liquors. Another note about liquor in TN—you cannot buy wine in the grocery store, which surprised me when I moved here from NC. In fact, you can’t buy anything at the liquor store besides liquor. They are not even allowed to sell corkscrews!

Museums and Art

First Friday Art Walk.

The name speaks for itself. On the first Friday of every month, the art galleries downtown and in the surrounding area open up to the public. You can usually catch some live music and free snacks along the way. Most of my favorite art galleries are on the 100 Block of Gay Street, which is the side furthest from the Tennessee River.

Knoxville Museum of Art. 1050 World’s Fair Park

The museum is modest in size, but they have acquired grants so that admission is usually free. Recently, the Museum has acquired some phenomenal art exhibits, including Ai Weiwei, an activist who had been imprisoned by the Chinese government until recently.  Check their website for current exhibits.

Yee-Haw Industries. 413 S. Gay Street

 

The UT Art Department has a well-known printmaking program and Yee-Haw is a group of our local printmakers. They sell some great art at their store. If you catch the owner Kevin Bradley on a good day, you might even get a personal tour.  When you go, look up at the ceiling, or else you will miss some neat prints.

East Tennessee History Museum. 601 South Gay Street

This Museum opened a few years ago and chronicles the history of East Tennessee. It’s a large space and particularly interesting if you like Southern history. Plus, it’s free on Sundays!

Sunsphere. It’s that big shiny globe.

Have you gone up into this thing? There is an observation deck, from which you can see the entire city and get a great view of the mountains. There used to be bar up in the ‘Sphere, but it closed. Rumor has it that there is another bar opening soon.

Entertainment

WDVX Blue Plate Special. 301 South Gay Street

This is a free, live music concert that is hosted EVERY weekday at the Knoxville Visitors’ Center on the corner of Gay St. and Summit Hill Ave. The bands are usually bluegrass, so you can get a good dose of Appalachia.

Central St. Books. 842 N. Central Street

Another one of Knoxville’s independently owned bookstores, this shop has more used books than Union Ave. Books. The owner has a great collection of books and the store is in an up and coming area of Knoxville, next to a bakery and a yoga studio.

Magpies. 846 N. Central Street

Do you like cupcakes? Everyone loves cupcakes and I especially love these cupcakes. Magpies is located right next to Central St. Books. Their motto is “all butter, all the time.” Mmm.

Smokies Baseball. 3540 Line Drive in Kodak

 

This is the AA farm team of the Chicago Cubs. The trek to Kodak is about 25 minutes from downtown Knoxville. The stadium is small, but they serve ice cream in miniature baseball helmets. What’s better than that!? If you go, I speak from personal experience when I say that the iPhone’s GPS maps the route incorrectly.

Knoxville Ice Bears. 500 Howard Baker Jr Ave.

 

The first game of the season is in October. The Bears’ ice hockey games are at the Civic Coliseum, which is just on the other side of downtown.

Downtown West Regal 8 Cinema. 1640 Down Town West Blvd.

 

This theatre is located in West Knoxville and shows the art and independent films that come through Knoxville. They also serve beer!

Morelock Music. 411 S. Gay Street

Matt Morelock used to work for WDVX and left to open up this music store in downtown Knoxville. At his shop, Morelock sells instruments such as banjos and  guitars—I even saw a cajón for sale recently. The shop offers instructional lessons and often has live music on weekend nights.

Nostalgia. 5214 Homberg Drive

 

Although my fiancée may disagree that antique shopping is a form of entertainment, this store has been continuously voted as Knoxville’s best antique store and I agree! It’s a big space with lots of booths. I usually find something I can’t live without. Also nearby: Loopville (Knoxville’s best yarn/knitting shop), Jerry’s Art-a-Rama (art supplies), Goodwill (my favorite thrift shop in town), and Nama (pricey, but tasty sushi)

Outdoor Fun

UT Gardens. This is a small garden on Neyland Drive, but they have a lot packed into it. You might want to visit on a cloudy day, since there’s not a lot of shade. If you enjoy trees and the like, you may also want to check out the Knoxville Botanical Gardens, located in East Knoxville.

Ijams Nature Center. 2915 Island Home Avenue

Ijams Nature Center is a 275-acre wildlife sanctuary and environmental learning center in South Knoxville. The Center is split into two parts—one side runs along the river and the other follows trails along an old quarry. We usually go running along the greenways here. Ijams has recently started renting canoes and kayaks for use in the quarry.

Greenways.

 

There are over 40 miles of greenways in Knoxville, throughout the city. The trails are well maintained and well trafficked. You can check online for the greenway closest to you.

River Sports Outfitters. 2918 Sutherland Avenue

There are several outdoors stores in Knoxville, but I like this one the best. They have a huge amount of gear and staff that really seem to use the gear. Plus, they have a climbing wall as part of their Sutherland Ave. location.

Festivals

International Biscuit Festival (late May)

Bacon Fest (September 16-17, 2011)

Rossini Festival (Early April)

Boomsday (Labor Day—one of the biggest fireworks shows in the South)

Kuumba Fest (June—celebrating Knoxville’s African American artists)

Hola Festival (Sept. 24, 2011—the festival is part of Hispanic Heritage Month)

Big Ears Festival (2012 date TBA—a diverse music festival in downtown Knoxville, organized by AC Entertainment, which also helped form Bonnaroo)

Photo credits Sucheta Rawal

 

Dogwood Arts Festival

Last weekend, downtown Knoxville transformed into a lively street fair with one of a kind arts and crafts booths, demonstrations, entertainment, and food.  As part of the Dogwood Arts Festival, the entire month of April was being celebrated with parades, bike tours, block parties, art exhibits, live bands, cooking demonstrations and more.

I was lucky enough to catch the Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival during the month of Dogwoods, where well known country, blues, jazz, rock, bluegrass and folk musicians played at different venues across town. The lineup included locally and nationally-renowned musicians such as Amos Lee, Citizen Cope, Darrell Scott, The Black Lilllies, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Boxer Rebellion, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Jake Shimabukuro. One of the most splendid venues was the Tennessee Theater, a historic opera style performing arts theater that stands as a landmark in downtown Knoxville.

While walking through the market square, sidewalks became the canvas for professional and student artists during this street painting festival.  Street painting is thought to have originated in 16th century Italy.  Artists in each age group showcased their work to passers by and the ones with the most votes won awards and scholarships at the end of the festival.  From everyday cartoons to intricate paintings, there were all kinds of colorful vibrant images one could admirably walk through and the street painters seemed very confident and talented in their work.

For more than half a century, the Dogwood Arts Festival has celebrated the natural and cultural beauty of East Tennessee. Dogwood Arts Festival is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, presented by ORNL Federal Credit Union, whose mission is to help support arts education in schools, promote the visual and performing arts, and to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the region.

Outdoor Knoxville

The Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center was launched this weekend and is yet another example of how community service can be combined with fun and recreation. Legacy Parks Foundation, a Knoxville-based non-profit that focuses on expanding parks, open space and recreational opportunities, in partnership with River Sports Outfitters has opened the recreation center in the city owned Gateway Pavilion Building at Volunteer Landing.

Legacy Parks Foundation has been actively working to make East Tennessee a recreational destination of the Southeast. They created a 1,000-acre urban wilderness and recreational corridor stretching along the Tennessee River’s south shore, from the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area to Alcoa Highway. This corridor runs parallel and connects to the greenways along the north side of the river. The main focus is to create opportunities for recreation in beautiful natural settings just minutes from downtown. When people don’t have to drive miles out of town to go hiking, boating or biking, they would be more likely to get outdoors and stay fit. With rentals, branded equipment, education classes and outdoor related events, the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center makes recreation convenient and fun for the entire family.

Another initiative of the center, Outdoor KnoxFest is a three-day event, Aug. 24 -26, that promotes a variety of outdoor recreational venues and opportunities throughout Asheville, Atlanta and Nashville and encourages people of all levels of experience to participate. The events will include all-day adventure race, bike ride, mountain bike, tail run, boat rentals, climbing wall, films and speakers.

During the past five years Legacy Parks Foundation has raised more than $3 million for parks, greenways and recreational venues, added more than 200 acres of parkland to Knox County and helped protect nearly 1,000 acres of farm and forest land in East Tennessee. For a comprehensive interactive portal to all outdoor recreational activities, venues, and events in the area, visit www.OutdoorKnoxville.com