The first step to a holiday dinner: Relax

My close friend recently moved into a new house. Despite a terrifically full schedule, movers, boxes and two active boys, her priority was to make her house into a Jewish home. Besides a mezuzah, what transforms a house a Jewish home is the first Shabbat or holiday dinner with friends and family.

Whether it’s a new home, a new family member, a new guest or just a new recipe, Rosh Hashanah dinner can revive first-time jitters for even the most experienced of cooks.

I’ve come to realize over the years that it really doesn’t matter what the meal is, whether the table settings match, how clean the house is, or if the food doesn’t always work out. There are no disasters in the kitchen — disasters are floods, famines, wars and genocide. Overdone chicken and under-baked challah aren’t delicious, but far from disastrous. They also make for funny stories later on.

So take a deep breath, relax and revel in your family and friends as you welcome the new year into your home with a relaxed, lovely meal. These recipes are sophisticated and elegant, but still simple to prepare.

Basic Italian Pizza Dough

Makes about 1 lb. dough

1 1/2 Tbs. yeast

1 1/2 Tbs. sugar

1 cup warm water

3/4 cups semolina

2 cups flour

1 Tbs. salt

1 Tbs. olive oil

3 Tbs. flour for kneading

In a large bowl or in an electric mixer, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Add the semolina, flour, salt and olive oil. Combine well. Knead the dough until it is shiny and smooth, adding flour as needed. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until it is doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Smoked Salmon Pizza

Serves 8

1 cup crème frâiche

1 Tbs. lemon juice

1 small shallot, finely chopped

3 Tbs. chopped fresh dill

1 lb. pizza dough

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

2 Tbs. olive oil

6 oz. lox trim, rinsed and chopped

Mix together the crème frâiche, lemon juice, shallot and 2 Tbs. of the dill.

Divide the dough in two, and roll out as thinly as possible into two 12-inch rounds. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle the red onion on top. Bake each round for 10 minutes on a pizza stone, in a preheated 500-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove the pizzas from the oven and spread with the crème frâiche mixture. Top with the lox trim and sprinkle with the remaining dill. Cut each pizza into 8 slices and serve immediately.

Yogurt and Honey Mousse

Serves 8

1 Tbs. gelatin

1/4 cup cold water

1 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup honey

2 Tbs. orange flower water

2 cups whole milk yogurt

6 oz. blueberries, washed and dried

6 oz. raspberries, washed and dried

16 ripe figs, washed and cut into quarters

Dissolve the gelatin in the water. Heat 1/2 cups of the cream with 3 Tbs. of the honey with the orange flower water. Stir in the dissolved gelatin into the heated cream. Stir completely and allow to cool slightly. Mix in the yogurt.

Beat the remaining cream and fold into the cooled yogurt mixture. Pour the mousse into 8 ramekins and chill for 6 hours. Just before serving, heat the remaining honey and drizzle over the berries and figs. Serve the fruit with the chilled mousse.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at She can be reached at [email protected].