Wednesday, April 16, 2008


OK, I can hear a few of my friends from here: Jimmy is losing his out of a can.......from a snooty made-from-scratch-is-the-only-way kind of home cook?

Be brave and believe it. Rotel is a god-send in the kitchen. Stock up and keep it on hand.

I came to be a fan of Rotel by a circuitous route.

While in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a funeral of Jim Kinkead, the father of an old friend and friend in his own right, I encountered a platoon of Methodist church ladies who had descended on the Kinkead family home after the funeral to help Flo, Jim's wife, in a time of sorrow and need.

Funeral food in the South is a culinary culture all to itself. Food comes out of nowhere in abundance and of the highest quality, taste, and, calories. Nurturance is the order of the hour and teams of ladies take over to take the burden of hosting friends visiting to comfort the bereaved and themselves. I saw the best of the South that day.

The church ladies swiftly invaded en masse and set up camp in the home kitchen with distinct perimeter boundaries immediately established and defended. One lady (who I am sure was born with a battle axe in her hands) was posted by the doorway of the kitchen to repel any intruders who could not produce proper credentials for entry. Checkpoint Charlie would have been easier to pass through.

I made the mistake of buying a six-pack of beer and putting it in the fridg, but that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say, I knew I was deep in the Bible Belt.

The food was heavenly and one friend of Flo's, Carol, stood out from the rest as a supreme local cook. Her views about the fine points of Southern cooking were well thought-out and practiced. She knew exactly what she was talking about when discussing various recipes and had firm and well-practiced opinions on how to concoct many of the dishes that appeared.

As the day ended, she was kind to offer to give me a copy of the cookbook that her Methodist church had put together. The next day, when she presented me with the cook book (with correcting annotations), I felt like I had been handed my own personal copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those recipes have been protected ever since.

Besides providing the formulas for concocting the crown jewels of Tuscaloosa cuisine, I noticed a small sampling of recipes with an ingredient only shown as "one can of Rotel." At first, I dismissed it and had no earthly idea what it was. I realized that these cooks do not serve anything that does not sing on the plate and I decided to investigate Rotel.

When we returned to Florida, I went to my Publix and found a few cans of different varieties of Rotel products, some hotter than others. Lo and behold, the can contents were a tasty, vibrant salsa-like concoctions that rivaled fresh ones that I had revered from St. Augustine. I found that after adulterating the contents a bit, I ended up with salsa that rivaled many made from freshly chopped ingredients.

Since then, I continue to expand my explorations on ways to use Rotel. One simple use is to dump a can into rice as it is cooking, stir and simmer. Nothing fancy, but it sure tastes good.

I suggest you give this recipe for my Rotel dip a try. The first time I made it, a friend's teen age son took a few tastes of the dip, grabbed the bowl and retired to another room to eat the whole thing. He cleaned the plate. That just may be the ultimate compliment for a home cook.

For information on Rotel and more recipes try this site:



1 can of Rotel, Original or one of the hotter varieties depending on your tastes, drained
Diced tomatoes, ½ large can, drained
Crystal Hot Sauce, two full squirts
2 tablespoons, garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
Jalapeno pepper, 3 slices. Remove seeds to soften heat if you are sensitive
½ cup cilantro (preferred) or Italian parsley. Add basil or chives; chopped. Experiment to determine which herbs or combinations suit your tastes.
Juice of ½ lemon or 1/3 tangerine
2 squirts soy sauce


· Combine all ingredients
· Place in food processors and pulse several times without turning into a slush. Keep it chunky.
· Chill for a few hours and serve.


Large bowl
Food processor

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