Dinner: Impossible with Robert Irvine at iVillage

If you think it's hard getting dinner ready for your family each night, wait 'til you see Robert Irvine's new show on the Food Network, Dinner: Impossible, premiering Wednesday, January 24, at 10pm. During each half-hour episode, one of the world's most experienced chefs will create a menu, cook a delicious meal, serve it in a limited amount of time and overcome culinary obstacles in a variety of situations, including catering a wedding with 200 guests in 10 hours, making a gourmet lunch for 40 executives in 8 hours, and serving 14 authentic dishes to 500 cowboys on a cattle drive in 7 hours.

This culinary James Bond, as he is known in the industry, has some basic rules the at-home chef can follow for impossible dinners, as well as some recipes that will impress your guests.


Robert's Rules for Impossible Dinners:

Get Organized: "Remember the rules for mise en place: a place for everything and everything in its place before you begin. Any task becomes less daunting when you break it into its component parts and go one step at a time."

Create a Timeline: "The items with the longest cooking times have to be addressed first. If you don't get the turkey in first thing Thanksgiving morning, you may be eating at midnight." Prep whatever possible as far in advance as you can, stay calm and remember: You're the cook, and dinner's ready when you say it is."

Go With What You Know: "Under the gun is not the time to be experimenting with foie gras or trying your first soufflé. If you're a confident roaster, go with a roast. Make what you know and make it as well as you know how, and they'll love you for it."

Keep It Simple and Follow Your Nose: "When cooking for a crowd, especially on short notice, use the freshest ingredients you have on hand or can shop for quickly, and keep it simple, but as good as you can make it. Don't make 50 individual canapés; just split a loaf of great bread, lay on some fresh mozzarella and basil and drizzle with good olive oil and you're in. Cook family style in big bowls and platters, and let everybody serve themselves. It doesn't need to be complicated; it just has to taste great!"

Sign 'Em Up! "If there's another couple of good cooks handy, get them on the team and put them to work. The more the merrier, and the faster things get done!"

Robert's Top Secret Recipes:

  • Maine Lobster Macaroni and Cheese with Truffle Oil
  • Pan-Seared Salmon, Haricot Vert Salad and Herbed Mustard Dressing
  • Creole-Style Red Snapper with Farmhouse Grits and Red Pepper Coulis
  • Maine Lobster Macaroni and Cheese with Truffle Oil

    Print this recipe

    Yield: 6 servings

    Prep time: 20 minutes

    Cook time: 20 minutes

    Ease of preparation: intermediate


    • 1 pound lobster meat
    • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
    • 1 pound dried macaroni pasta
    • 1/2 cup butter or 1 (4-ounce) stick
    • 1 cup chopped white onion
    • 2 cloves chopped garlic
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, or as needed
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 cup fish stock or vegetable stock
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • 2 cups sharp shredded cheddar (8 year-old aged if you can get it)
    • Salt
    • White pepper
    • White truffle oil, to taste (2 or 3 tablespoons)
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives


    Bring a pot of water to boiling for the pasta.

    Saute lobster meat in grapeseed oil until it is no longer translucent, and set aside.

    Cook the pasta until al dente and drain well so you don't have excess cooking water that will dilute the flavor.

    While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, and add the onion and garlic, cooking until translucent, being careful not to burn it. Add the flour a little at a time to make a roux. Do this gradually because some batches of flour absorb more than others, and you may not need as much. Add the bay leaves, and then incorporate the vegetable or fish stock a little at a time to form a smooth sauce. Simmer for at least 10 minutes to allow the flour to "cook out," then remove the bay leaves. Add the heavy cream and cheddar, then season with salt and white pepper.

    Stir the lobster meat into the cheese mixture, then fold in as much pasta as you need to acquire the right consistency for macaroni and cheese. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle sparingly with truffle oil and garnish with chopped chives.

    Pan-Seared Salmon, Haricot Vert Salad and Herbed Mustard Dressing

    Print this recipe

    Yield: 6 servings

    Prep time: 30 minutes

    Cook time: 15 minutes

    Ease of preparation: intermediate


    • 1 pound haricots verts (very thin string beans)
    • 2 limes
    • 1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves
    • 1/8 cup fresh tarragon leaves
    • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
    • 3 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
    • 1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
    • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or your choice of olive or canola oil)
    • 2 ounces bottled water
    • Sea salt and pepper
    • 2 tomatoes (seeds removed and finely diced)
    • 1 medium red onion (finely diced)
    • 6 salmon fillets (8 ounce size for dinner or 5-ounce size for lunch)
    • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
    • Oil
    • Micro-celery for garnish
    • Fresh lime slices for garnish


    First, blanch the haricots verts in salted boiling water until al dente (or cooked to your liking). Once this is done, drain the beans into a strainer or colander, and then they should be shocked, by dunking the strainer of beans into a waiting bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process, which will also help them retain a great color. Drain and set aside in refrigerator until needed.

    Place one lime in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave it until the essential oils in the skin are released. (This usually takes 30 seconds to 1 minute. Listen while it is microwaving, and you will actually hear the whoosh sound when the oils are released, after which you can remove it and see the oils in the bottom of the bowl.) Then repeat with the second lime. Microwave them one at a time, because the ripeness and size of each lime may be different, requiring a different amount of time for the whoosh to occur for each lime. These limes will be hot coming from the microwave, so you can let them cool, before squeezing them. Make sure you use the oils in the bottom of the small bowl, as well as any juice.

    Turn on the blender and, through the feed tube, add the rosemary, tarragon, cilantro, stone ground mustard, rice wine vinegar and fresh ginger, and blend together until a smooth paste has formed.

    At this point, the limes should be cool enough to squeeze. With the power on, add the lime juice through the blender feed-tube, and then very slowly add the oil and water until the mixture thickens and can coat the back of a spoon.

    Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside in refrigerator until needed. (When chilled, the dressing should resemble something like mayonnaise.)

    Reserve some of the dressing to drizzle on the plate later. Then, mix the beans, tomato and onions with the dressing (adjusting the amount to your preference) and refrigerate for only a couple of hours. (Don't mix too far ahead, because the salad ingredients will bleed, and you will have a very runny dressing).

    Season the salmon fillets with coarse sea salt and pepper. Place a little oil into the saute pan and bring to smoking point (you need a hot pan in order to get a crispy outside).

    Cook the salmon, skin side down for about 5 minutes, or until the skin begins to get crispy, then turn and begin cooking for 4 minutes more. (You may need more time on the salmon depending on the thickness). You can, if you wish, finish the salmon in a preheated 375 degrees F oven. However, do not overcook the salmon. Once you touch the flesh and it springs back up, it's cooked. Remember, the fish will continue to cook for 15 to 20 minutes after it is removed from the oven. This is called carryover cooking.

    Take a little haricot bean salad, place in the center of a plate, top with the crispy salmon and drizzle with some of the herbed mustard dressing. Place the micro-celery and fresh lime slice on top of the salmon.

    Creole-Style Red Snapper with Farmhouse Grits and Red Pepper Coulis

    Print this recipe

    Yield: 6 servings

    Prep time: 30 minutes

    Cook time: 55 minutes

    Inactive prep time: 8 minutes

    Ease of preparation: intermediate

    Ingredients for red pepper coulis:

    • 3 large red bell peppers, washed with stems and seeds removed
    • 1 shallot, diced
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • 1 cup vegetable juice (recommended: V8)
    • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    • Salt and pepper

    Ingredients for grits:

    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
    • 1 1/2 cups stone-ground grits
    • 1 cup sharp white Cheddar, grated
    • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

    Ingredients for Creole-style red snapper:

    • 6 (4-ounce) fillets red snapper (boned and not skinned)
    • 1/4 cup paprika
    • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt
    • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
    • 1/4 cup scallions, chopped (for garnish, chop on an angle)


    Ideally you can make the red pepper coulis the day before or earlier in the day of the dinner.

    Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

    Place the peppers in a roasting pan and roast, checking every 15 minutes, and turning them with tongs until the skin is fully wrinkled and charred black.

    Put the charred peppers into a bowl filled with a couple of inches of ice water. Once cooled, you can use your fingers to quickly slip off and discard the skins of the peppers while they are in the water. Immediately transfer the still-warm peppers to a plate, then peel away any remnants of the charred skins. You will be left with beautifully cooked red peppers with a wonderful color.

    In the blender, combine the peppers with the shallot, garlic, vegetable juice and balsamic vinegar. Blend these until a smooth consistency is achieved, and add salt and pepper to taste.

    (If the coulis looks too wet, you could tighten the mix by returning it to a pan and adding cornstarch until it reaches a thicker, smoother consistency.)

    If needed, strain the sauce so there are absolutely no lumps present and set aside.

    About 1 hour before the dinner, you can make the grits as follows:

    In a large heavy-bottomed pot, bring the milk and stock to a boil, quickly lower the heat to a simmer and whisk in the grits. Keep stirring until the mixture becomes smooth, add the cheeses and allow them to fully blend in with the grits before you taste and season, to account for the saltiness of the cheeses. Cover the pot and set the stove on very low while the grits mixture cooks for 20 minutes. Remove from burner; it will hold its heat for a while and is easy to reheat when you need it.

    To make the Creole-style Red Snapper:

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

    Wash the fish and pat it dry.

    Place all of the dry spices and salt together in a plastic bag, place the fish in the bag, and coat the fish with the spices, pressing firmly to adhere the spices to the fish. Shake the excess spices from the fish.

    In a large, non-stick saute pan, add some grapeseed oil and, when it begins to smoke, place the fish skin side up and cook for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Flip and finish in the oven for a further 2 to 3 minutes and remove it to rest for 5 to 8 minutes. (Please don't overcook the fish. When you touch the flesh and it springs back, it is done! Remember it will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven.)

    To plate this dish, use a large bowl. Begin by placing some of the grits in the middle, then position the fish on top, and drizzle the coulis around the fish. Garnish liberally with the scallions.

    All recipes Copyright, 2006, Robert Irvine, All rights reserved
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