We don't have it very often, but Jeff really likes dishes that include shrimp - I tend to save recipes that involve them and give 'em a go on special occasions. So for dinner tonight, I went with a recipe for Creamy Gruyère and Shrimp Pasta. It's pretty hard to go wrong with good cheese, pasta and shrimp! As the little ears of pasta (orecchiette) cooked, we made a creamy cheese sauce from flour, milk and a mildly sweet Gruyère cheese. When that was ready, we sautéed shrimp and fresh garlic in a pat of butter with a shot of white wine and cayenne pepper mixed in just before the shrimp are done. The pasta, sauce and shrimp are tossed together with green peas and placed in a baking dish. A smattering of Gruyère is placed on top and the mixture goes into the oven to bake until the cheese has a chance to melt and begin to turn golden. This was a very creamy and hearty dish - I would definitely be sure to taste it and check for seasonings before it goes it the oven as I thought it needed a bit more salt and cayenne when I tasted. It was also fun to use a new shape of pasta - I loved how some of the little ears were filled with puddles of the cheesy sauce! We ended up having to search 3 stores to find one that actually carried it this type - the only brand we ended up seeing was De Cecco.
To keep the theme of special treats going, I made a Chocolate Crème Caramel for dessert - something I have never made or eaten before! This rich chocolate custard sits on a dark caramel syrup and is baked in a water bath to achieve its firm, yet silky texture. Making the caramel was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be - you just have to be on your toes when it begins to change colors. I'm not sure if it turned out correctly as we have never eaten one to compare it to, but this had an intense chocolate flavor that was like magic against the sweet sauce. When I flipped the ramekin over, it didn't come right out - but with just a little coaxing to let the suction give way, it went right on the plate followed by it's own little amber pool.
I did have a little extra caramel leftover, so I decided to play around to make a couple decorations to add on top! A handful of ingredients that are commonly in your kitchen and a few minutes of your time can easily turn out this delectable dessert that would work well for an special occasion, or "just because".