Easy dishes to bring to a New Year's Day lunch with great friends

For the second year running, our dear friends Nicola and Habib (she's from England; he's Tunisian by way of Paris) invited us to ring in the new year with a lunch at their townhouse in downtown Dallas, next to the farmers market. It was a real cooks-without-borders crowd. Nicola and Habib served a couple of gorgeous poached Arctic chars they had made the day before, along with a zingy tarragon sauce – with duck-fat potatoes and white and green asparagus. Our friend Georges, a Belgian ex-chef, brought a rustic port pâté he'd made, along with some beautiful cheeses. To round things out, I brought a cucumber-dill salad to go with the fish, a log of goat cheese marinated in olive oil and herbs and some leftover Sevillian marinated carrots, a tapa I'd served on New Year's Eve.

The whole trick was to find a couple things to bring that wouldn't take long to put together, as I was busy cooking for friends the previous night (and we went to bed without having done the dishes!). The cucumber salad was easy – I just whisked together some rice vinegar, Dijon mustard, dill, salt, pepper and a little sugar, dropped in sliced red onions, let them quick-pickle while a sliced hothouse cucumbers using a mandolin, then tossed it all together. 

The goat cheese was even simpler – I just steeped fresh thyme and oregano in warm olive oil a few minutes, added lemon zest, poured it over the goat cheese with cracked pepper and Maldon salt, and it was ready to go. Impossible to get a fresh baguette, as it was New Year's Day, but I brought one along from the night before to cut into toasted rounds to scoop it up.

I was feeling a little guilty, as Habib had asked me to bring a dessert – I didn't have time to manage it. One of their friends brought a make-your-own sundae set-up (fun!). And another, Alicia (a Mexico City-born border-free cook!) brought a remarkable apple cake. 

It didn't look like much, but it was wonderful: Super vibrant with apple flavor, it had a marvelous texture, sort of crisp-tender-chewy on the edges and almost custardy inside, not overly sweet, with a gentle backdrop of rum. It reminded me of something. But what?

I asked Alicia about the recipe, and she recited ingredients: apples, rum, flour . . . .Where'd she get the recipe, I wondered? From a magazine a few years back, she said.

"What kind of apples did you use?" 

"Different kinds."

Suddenly it hit me: It was an apple cake I fell in love with from a cookbook Dorie Greenspan had published in 2010, Around My French Table. I'd written about it on Eats, the food blog The Dallas Morning News had at the time. I called up the old post on my phone and showed it to Alicia.

"Is this the recipe?" I asked.

"It is!" she said.

Mystery solved. Dorie, your recipe has legs!