Plum's Upper Room in Zionsville Makes Me Happy

Good day all! My week went according to menu plan up until last night - the night I was slotted to make chicken and noodles with my homemade stock and some homemade noodles that I promised to post.  :)  However, with an unexpected baby-sitter and a need to talk about many many things, Brian and I got a night-out at a wonderful restaurant last night.  We went to Plum's Upper Room in Zionsville. Plum's sits on Main St. on the second floor so that it overlooks the perfect street that had just a dusting of snow and quaintly lit Christmas lights and a tree.  It has exposed wooden beams and brick walls, an atmosphere of elegance without being fussy or unapproachable.

The food is of French-inspiration and is all fresh, made from scratch, and mostly locally sourced.  Tuesday is 1/2 price bottle of wine night, to boot, which made this thrifty momma really happy! The staff was a breath of fresh air - friendly, helpful, and not meddlesome.  The wine was tasty, of course, and the food - oh my the food.  You can taste love and care in food, and this food had it.  The French Tomato Soup was absolutely to die for (and I promised Brian I'd try a copy-cat recipe for weeknight dinner's of much yumminess). The HOMEMADE French bread was perfect and they serve it with a really good olive oil flavored lightly with cinnamon and drizzled with a balsamic glaze.  It was amazing and a trick I am going to unflinchingly steal.  :)  

The entrees change depending on the mood and what's good, but Brian had a cannelloni -homemade- filled with roasted butternut squash and a hint of cumin (another recipe I plan to copy-cat).  The cumin made it warm you all the way down to the belly and combined with the sweetness of the squash and tomato sauce it didn't taste "hot," it just tasted wonderfully warm on a winter's night.  I had a crepe filled with crab, shrimp, and gruyere cheese covered in a creamy bechamel sauce that was in no way heavy, which is an important feat as far as bechamel sauces are concerned. For dessert, we split the pot de creme (a rich chocolate cup of wonderfulness that tastes like a chocolate mousse without the air) that was served with a homemade shortbread cookie which worked beautifully when dipped with the chocolate.

All in all, this was one of the most memorable dining experiences we've had in the past few years, and one I finally wasn't constantly saying in my head, "It's good, but I wish they'd done....." and correcting the recipes or thinking how I would have done it to make it better.   It was just perfect and a wonderful place to spend a special evening, an anniversary, or even (if you've got the money) a weeknight.  It wasn't terribly expensive.  I've certainly paid a lot more for food that didn't taste nearly as good or atmosphere that wasn't nearly as inviting.  But, as most of you know if you read this blog, Brian and I have pretty much no money, so this was a huge splurge for us.  Luckily, we did have a $25 gift card I had purchased for 80% off at restaurant.com recently.  (And this entire ode to Plum's is in no way a paid advertisement.  I doubt they even ever read this, though I am including it on Plum's Upper Room on Urbanspoon).  :)

This morning I'm up and going because my Mom is taking me and the kids to the Children's Museum! Chloe's fascination with dinosaurs has in no way diminished, and in fact has increased since we watch Dino Dan (on Nick Jr.) EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  I now am proud to report I know quite a bit about dinosaurs, and Chloe has started saying official names like T-Rex or "Comps...." (she flakes on the last bit of Compsagnathus, but who can blame her.  She's 2).  :)  So, today we're going to see the dinosaurs and it will be a wonderful treat.  Depending on how that goes, though, will depend on whether I make the chicken and noodles tonight or if I go the easy route and do the tacos I had planned for tonight.  I suppose we'll see and I'll let you know!

In the meantime, I need to do some recipe catch-up! So, Monday I made an incredibly simple, cheap, and tasty soup out of the leftover liquid I had frozen from my Midwestern Boil.  I thawed the liquid, added some beans, an onion, and ham and that was it.  No extra seasoning was required and it was so very tasty when served with the oatmeal bread I'd previously made on the side.  Yum!

Rollover Ham and Bean Soup
Yield: about 2 quarts

Leftover Midwestern Boil pot liquor (about 6 C)
16 ounces dried great northern beans
1 sweet onion, chopped
diced ham

Place beans in stockpot, add water until beans are just covered, cover with lid and bring to a boil.  Turn off heat once it reaches a boil and let sit 1 hour.  Drain and rinse beans then return to pot.  Add leftover liquid, onion, and diced ham.  Simmer on low for 3 to 6 hours.  Serve.  

I also made another quick little meal on Monday that I felt would go over better with Chloe and that would serve for some tasty lunches.  I had just a smidgen of chili leftover that wouldn't fit in my container for the freezer, so I thought why not make the chili a flavoring ingredient to mac n cheese?  The result is a somewhat chili-flavored mac n cheese that was pretty darn good! It at least used up that last bit so it wouldn't get wasted, and since I serve chili over pasta, I already had a bunch of elbow macaroni cooked-up and in the fridge to use, too.  Yay on both fronts!

Rollover Chili Mac n Cheese

2 T butter
2 T flour
sea salt and pepper
2 C milk
1 C shredded sharp cheddar
3 to 4 ounces cream cheese
about ½ to 3/4 C leftover chili
elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
optional add-ins:
parmesan cheese

In a saucepan melt butter then add flour and stir for a minute or two.  Season and whisk in milk.  Bring to a bubble and whisk until thickened.  Stir in cheese until melted.  Stir in leftover chili and cooked pasta. If you want (and I did this, though Brian would have preferred I didn't), you can pour the mac n cheese into a casserole, top with bread crumbs and dot with butter, then bake about 30 minutes.  *I* like it this way, but the bread crumbs ruined in for Brian.  :)

Over Thanksgiving, I didn't get to cook much.  Well, I take that back - I made a pre-Thanksgiving meal that Tuesday, but when it came to Thanksgiving Day, all I got to make was 1 pie.  But darn if it wasn't delicious!  Derby Pie is Brian's favorite - in fact he'd never even known you could combine pecan pie and chocolate until I made it for him the first Christmas we were together.  I remember he took it to all the family gatherings and made people try it.  It's rare I get more than a, "It's pretty good," out of my husband, so his enthusiasm spoke volumes.  :)  It's a corn-syrup-less pecan pie, which means you can have 2 slices. ;)  I, of course, used my pie crust recipe with the good old-fashioned mix in a bowl (not food processor) instructions.  The crust just puts it over the edge into amazingly delicious realm, if I do say so I myself. 

Brian’s Favorite Chocolate Pecan Pie
Yield: 1 pie

4 eggs
1 ¾ C brown sugar
1 T plus 1 t blackstrap molasses
2 t vanilla
1 T maker’s mark whiskey
1/2 C melted butter
2 C chopped pecans
about ½ C chocolate chips
1 9 inch pie crust

Melt butter in microwave safe dish.  In mixing bowl, combine brown sugar and butter until caramel-y.  Add vanilla, bourbon, molasses, and eggs.  Whisk well.  Stir in chopped pecans and chocolate chips.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until set.  Cool completely before serving.

And lastly, dinner on Tuesday night was a new recipe I made-up and was really happy with, so I'll go ahead and share it.  I wanted to make a stir-fry that wasn't Asian in any way.  :)

Lemon-Garlic Steak Tips with Herb and Butter Rice
Yield: 6 servings

1 pound sirloin tips (or for a cheaper cut see marinade instructions)
4 carrots, sliced into coins
4 ounces button mushrooms, slices
¼ C olive oil
6 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 lemon zested and juiced
1/8 t lemon oil (optional – you can add about another ½ lemon worth of zest)
¾ C white wine (I used a crispy and lightly bubbly because that’s what I had)
a few good handfuls of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
sea salt and pepper
1 T cornstarch mixed with 3 T water

Steam carrots separately until almost crisp-tender.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add half the olive oil and heat until rippling. Add the steak and cook to desired done-ness (the more you cook it, the tougher it will get – I aimed for medium).   Remove the steak and set aside for now.   Add the remaining olive oil and the mushrooms and cook until lightly browned.  Add the carrots, lemon zest, and garlic and cook about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the white wine and let reduce by half, then thicken with cornstarch mixture – you probably don’t need it all).  Bring it to a bubble and let cook about 3 minutes then add back your steak, stir in the parsley, season to taste and add the juice and lemon oil.  Serve over rice. 

If your steak is, like mine was, a very cheap cut of meat (I used arm sizzler steaks)
½ C olive oil
1 T sugar
2 T white wine vinegar (or white if that’s what you’ve got)
5 cloves of garlic, smashed open
4 sprigs of thyme
1 t lemon oil (or again, more zest if you don’t have the oil)

Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound the meat a bit to tenderize it.  You don’t need to pound it super-flat, but you want to break the meat fibers up.  Then, cut the steak with the grain of the meat into thin strips.  Combine everything in a plastic bag or an 8x8 inch baking pan and set the meat in.  Toss it all together to coat, then cover and set in the fridge as long as possible – up to 2 days.  (I did only 8 hours this time because that’s all the time I had, and it worked-out fine). 

Before cooking, remove from marinade and pat dry.

2 C jasmine rice
4 C water
¼ C butter
½ t sea salt
cracked pepper
1 t dried thyme
1 t dried tarragon

Bring water to a boil, add butter, sea salt, pepper, thyme, and tarragon.  Stir in rice.  Reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover, and cook 20 minutes without opening to lid or stirring.  Don’t even think about touching it! Remove from the heat and let set until ready.  Fluff it with a fork or a flat wooden scraper (my personal favorite kitchen utensil). :)

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