After two and a half weeks in Michigan my daughter, Cecilia, arrived home on Monday evening and announced a craving for "real food" so we repaired to Cochon Butcher for
lunch on Tuesday. We shared a little smoked duck and gruyere pizzetta and Cecilia tore into a hot Cubanosandwich that was fantastically gooey and crisp all at once. I am a junkie for house-made potato chips as well as all manner of condiments so the act of munching a basket of chips drizzled with Butcher's Sweet Potato Habañero Sauce nearly threw me into orbit. I have a cast-iron stomach and a high tolerance for blazing hot flavors and nearby tourists stared with what may have been awe while Cecilia just seemed embarrassed or grossed out. Her being a week shy of 15, I can count on her to have one of these two reactions to pretty much everything I do so I am used to it.
A culture's condiments offer easily accessible, concentrated explorations into whatever flavors are predominant in that culture's cuisine (food culture). The Indian people accent their foods with chutney; the Vietnamese with, among other things, nuoc cham, chili garlic, and Sriracha. The French seem to dress everything in either garlic-y aioli or Dijon mustard, while Midwesterners drown their sandwiches and mix their tuna fish with viscous, stinky (sorry) Aunt Nellie's Old Style Sauce.
My personal tastes tend to run to all of the above (except Old Style Sauce, which I hate) plus everything else I can get my hands on with a particular emphasis on condiments created in Louisiana. The shelves of my refrigerator and pantry groan with assorted pickled fruits and vegetables, dressings, jams, jellies, and sauces, all of which I lump into my loose definition of "condiment. A superfast survey of just one side shelf in my refrigerator revealed bottles of Southern Cajun Basting Sprays in both Original and Garlic flavors, half a jar of Old South Tomolives (petite picked green tomatoes), a jar of McIlhenny's Spicy Mayonnaise (brilliant!), and the last few remaining threads of a jar of Cafe NOMA's Marinated Artichokes and Pickled Onions that my friend Simone Rathle gave me. A nearby shelf is crammed with a collection of Cousins Products, some of them new to me, all of them recently shared with me by Meri Monsour, a fellow condiment enthusiast.
Meri's gift included Cousins' peerless Bleu Cheese, and Creole Tomato salad dressings, both of which I had already experienced and love, as well as Cousin's Spinach Vinaigrette, and Fresh Salsa Picante , neither of which I had ever had before but now I am crazy about them, too. All of this love prompted me to further investigate the little company in Covington. In addition to having a strange obsession with condiments I am a sucker for resourceful people and a good story so Cousins' Products just shot way up on my Favored Products Register.
In 2002, Allison Cousins first began selling her Bleu Cheese salad dressing along with fresh vegetables from her father's farm at the farmers market in Mandeville. She was simply young, broke, and trying to supplement her family's income. Then her husband, Jack, unexpectedly lost his job. Now Allison was really, really broke and, with ultra tight finances, the Bleu Cheese dressing became too expensive to produce so Allison whipped together the fresh Creole tomatoes and peppers that grew abundantly in the garden, and, along with a bit of kitchen wizzardry, the Creole Tomato dressing that Cousin's is becoming justifiably famous for came to be. Later, Allison created the Spinach Vinaigrette based on a dressing Jack had made when they were first married. The Salsa Picante grew from a logical place to use an abundance of tomatoes.
Ten years after Allison started peddling off Blue Cheese Dressing and vegetables at the farmers' market, Cousins Products are available throughout Louisiana, where they have near total market saturation; Mississippi, where they are available in most supermarkets; and Texas where they are just entering the market but have been met with enthusiasm. Necessity is, indeed, the mother of all invention.
Each of these condiments are excellent just out of the jar but they also lend themselves quite well as foundations for tailgating foods (and that's what everyone is thinking about right now, right? Diet Season be damned). For the quasi-healthy crowd just plunk out any of these inventive Louisiana dressings with fresh crudités. That would never pass muster at one of my gatherings so I am going to work up a retinue of dishes Cousins created in their test kitchens:
- Green Tomatoes with Crabmeat
- Fried Mushrooms with Creole Tomato Dipping Sauce
- Blusey Chicken Flatbread
- Asparagus with Prosciutto
- Spicy Chicken Nacho
- Cousins-style Greek Muffuletta
- Louisiana-style Hot Wings
- Stuffed Potato Skins.
Among others, I have some Midwesterners visiting this weekend (actually they are still hanging around from last weekend) for the BCS game. Perhaps I can use Cousins Products to wean them off of that nasty Old Style Sauce and create a demand for the good stuff in their part of the country.