Dessert with a side of fun


One of my favorite things to do is to get into the kitchen and cook with some amazing kids.

It’s exciting and often surprising to see what they discover about food and what you can learn about them from a short interlude in the kitchen.

When I’m one-on-one with four-year-old Carly, she often grabs a stool and pulls it right up to the counter or sink.  Moving from one task to the next, she lets me know as soon as she’s done and requests another job.

Since knife handling isn’t appropriate for her age, I often give her tomatoes and vegetables to wash. What I noticed about Carly is that her organization skills and ability to determine how to be more efficient kick in quick. She’s also a great communicator. For example, I asked her to wash all different kinds of tomatoes. She washed all the large heirloom tomatoes, dried them and lined them by color and size on a sheet tray.

When she got to the cherry tomatoes, she began by washing each tomato and placing the washed ones in a bowl. After rinsing just two, she realized she was wasting time and without hesitation grabbed a nearby strainer, placed the pint of tomatoes in the strainer and washed them all at once. Clever, efficient and organized.

Working with families over the years, you realize kids either like being in the kitchen and cooking or really have no interest at all.  

When they do pitch in for mealtime, chances are they feel more committed to eating what they helped prepare and have a sense of pride in their contribution.

Last weekend, I got to cook with kids in one of my very favorite families, the Moriles. Five awesome kids from Israel come to visit their American family every summer. Each year, we make a special treat together. In past seasons, cooking with all of them at once could sometimes be chaotic. Everyone wanted a job and was eager to get going, but it felt impossible to give each child my undivided attention. Somehow it didn’t feel as meaningful and fun as I’d hoped. 

This year, I broke the recipe down into simple tasks and gave each one the chance to come into the kitchen and get my full attention. Maya crushed the Oreos. Shir made the whipped cream. Ella made the puddings and Omri assembled with Ella’s help. The oldest was busy Skyping her friends, but partook of the best part — eating!  

This recipe, given to me by my cousin Amy, is a family favorite and true antidote for an edgy sweet tooth. I’ve adjusted it slightly, but you can certainly make it even more delicious by adding squares of prepared devil’s food chocolate cake and even more crushed Oreos. Enjoy, from my kitchen to yours!

The Mess 
Serves 8-10

2 packages of Jello instant chocolate pudding

2 packages of Jello instant vanilla pudding

Cold whole milk, for pudding

1 package Oreo cookies

1 pint heavy cream

¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

Prepare the chocolate puddings and vanilla puddings according to package directions and place them in the refrigerator to set.

Meanwhile, using an electric or handheld mixer, whip the cream over medium high heat, gradually adding the sugar until stiff peaks form.  Do not overbeat.

Place the Oreos in a Ziploc bag and crush them into coarse pieces with your hands.

In a medium bowl, place a layer of cookie crumbles on the bottom. Add a few dollops each of chocolate and vanilla pudding. Sprinkle with Oreo and top with whipped cream. Repeat in layers and finish with whipped cream. Set in the refrigerator at least three hours, or overnight.