When a Budding Cook Takes Over the Kitchen

Meet 14-year-old Iris, who steers us toward three terrific dishes for dinner

For today’s edition of Gaah! What’s For Dinner? we decided to bring in a ringer: Daniel’s 14-year-old cousin-in-law, Iris, is a wonderful cook, so we tasked her with picking out three delicious, fast and easy recipes that would be perfect for a weeknight summer dinner, cook them, photograph them, and jot down her thoughts. Not only does she appear to have some serious talent for this, but, given that she recommends adding extra salt to literally every one of my dishes, I think I’ve found a kindred spirit. Two things I’m particularly impressed with: 1) De-boning chicken thighs because you can’t find boneless at the store? Bravo. 2) The refreshing honesty of young people. If they think something is bland, they say it’s bland. That’s more than I can say for most grownups. Okay Iris, the floor is yours. —Mark

First up: Pasta with Corn, Zucchini, and Tomatoes. This recipe was very simple to make, as it didn’t take much time and didn’t involve many ingredients. Make sure to add plenty of salt to the vegetables, or else the end product will turn out bland. I also forgot to salt the pasta water, which was a huge mistake! I also think using a smaller pasta variety — I used rigatoni — would have improved the dish. We would have been able to get more vegetables for each bite of pasta, which would have made the whole thing more flavorful. Overall it was a fresh-tasting meal! With a little more salt, it would have been perfect.

The Jerk Chicken and Onions got off to a rocky start because I could not find boneless, skinless chicken thighs at the grocery store. I decided not to let that get in the way though. We bought bone-in, skin-on thighs, and my dad helped me remove the bones and skin, which took a while. (Most importantly, no one sliced up their hand doing it.) The other modification is that we ended up using fresh thyme from my aunt’s garden, instead of the dried thyme called for in the recipe. The chicken thighs turned out well, very tender, though I think the spice rub could have used more salt. The onions came out perfectly crisp too. I decided to pair this dish with rice and black beans made with coconut milk, which also could have used more salt. (Seems to be a theme.) It was a nice pairing.

The last dish —Tofu Sandwich with Cucumber and Hoisin Mayo— was a very creative and fun recipe to make. If I could go back and cook it again, I would add more salt (once again!) and also cook it with higher heat, so that the tofu could have come out crisper. You can see in the photo that the tofu browned a little, but probably not quite enough. The cucumber was definitely a plus, it added a nice fresh taste and a little crunch. One thing to keep in mind while making this is that the buns cook within a minute. I burnt the first batch, but thankfully I had extras. I definitely made enough of the hoisin mayo, but I didn’t use it all. I would suggest using all of it to give the sandwiches all that flavor. — Iris

Pasta With Corn, Zucchini, and Tomatoes

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

The best of summer in a bowl. Don’t bother to make this other times of the year, but do be flexible about the type of tomato. Use whatever’s ripest. And if you want to add cheese, try crumbling some feta or fresh goat cheese on top just before serving.


  • Salt and pepper

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, or 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons butter

  • 1 cup corn kernels (from 2 or 3 ears of corn)

  • 1 zucchini or summer squash, chopped

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

  • 8 ounces plum tomatoes, chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)

  • 1 pound cut pasta, like penne, rigatoni, or fusilli


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the corn and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is dry and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer it to a plate and return the pan to medium-high heat.

2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil or the butter to the skillet along with the zucchini; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 3 minutes. Add the tarragon and cook for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes and continue cooking the sauce over medium heat, stirring occasionally, while you cook the pasta.

3. Cook the pasta until it’s tender but not mushy; start tasting after 5 minutes. When it’s done, drain it, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Return the corn to the skillet. Toss the pasta with the sauce and corn, adding enough pasta cooking water to coat the noodles. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve.

-Recipe from How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised 20th Anniversary Edition


Jerk Chicken and Onions

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

In addition to being easy and insanely flavorful, this jerk dish will remind you of all the worthy and underused spices in your pantry. Once the marinade comes together, all you have to do is toss it with a mess of chicken and sliced onions and broil away, which gives you an uninterrupted stretch to whip up a side.


  • 1 garlic clove

  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 2 teaspoons allspice

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 large onions

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1. Turn the broiler to high; put the rack 6 inches from the heat. Peel 1 garlic clove and 1/2 inch ginger; mince them together and put them in a small bowl.

2. Add to the bowl 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 2 teaspoons allspice, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir into a paste. Trim, peel, halve, and slice the onions.

3. Put the onions and chicken on a rimmed baking sheet. Rub the spice paste onto everything (getting your hands messy is the best way). Spread everything in a single layer.

4. Broil, turning the chicken once and tossing the onions occasionally, until the chicken is browned and cooked through and the onions are browned and tender, 12 to 16 minutes total. Serve hot or warm.

-Recipe from How to Cook Everything Fast


Tofu Sandwich With Cucumber and Hoisin Mayo

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes

I’m crazy about cucumber sandwiches: not the dainty English teatime fare, although those are good too, but big-flavored ones, like those with goat cheese, hummus, and, yes, tofu.


  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for brushing the bread

  • 1 brick firm tofu (12 to 14 ounces)

  • 4 hamburger buns

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon hoisin

  • 1 medium cucumber


1. Turn the broiler to high; put the rack 6 inches from the heat. Put 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Cut the tofu into 8 slices and pat them dry with a paper towel.

2. Add the tofu to the skillet and cook, turning once, until it’s golden and crisp on both sides, 3 or 4 minutes per side.

3. Split the buns in half, brush the insides with a little oil, and broil until lightly toasted, 2 to 5 minutes.

4. Put 1/3 cup mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon hoisin in a small bowl; stir to combine. Peel the cucumber if necessary and cut into thin slices.

5. When the tofu and buns are done, remove both from the heat. Spread the hoisin mayonnaise on the buns and top with the cucumber slices. Lay 2 slices tofu on top of each, close the sandwiches, and serve.

-Recipe from How to Cook Everything Fast