The Spicy Stuff: Ro-Tel Five Ways

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Anyone born south of the Mason-Dixon line can tell you how to crowd-pleasing queso with only two ingredients. I'm no big fan of Velveeta, but its partner Ro-Tel has become a staple in my kitchen over the past few months.

Until I began writing this story, I had no idea Ro-Tel was native to Texas. The canned tomato and chile mixture was born in not-to-distant (at least by this state's standards) Harlingen in the 1940s, according to wikipedia.com, and it can be acquired for just under a dollar at most local groceries. So stock up and try tossing a can of the zesty veggie blend into your next pot of anything.

One of my go-to pasta recipes is this surprisingly easy white bean and rosemary dish. You can skip the herb all together with the help of a can of Ro-Tel. After browning the carrot, onion and celery, add the crushed tomatoes directly into the pot. Instead of opening two cans, I tend to forgo the tomato paste called for in the original recipe. Then toss in a can of beans and puree (I use an immersion blender). The result is a hearty spiced sauce that sticks to your ribs yet uses hardly a drop of oil.

On the brand's site, there is a zesty macaroni and cheese recipe that looks strikingly similar to Ro-Tel's signature cheese dip. Instead of following their instructions, just add a half-can or more to your personal favorite mac'n'cheese recipe. I think a good roux makes all the difference when it comes to this baked pasta, and tend to follow Ina Garten's recipe adapted to the cheese or cheeses I have on hand on any given evening.

If noodles aren't your thing, mix Ro-Tel into your favorite carnitas recipe for extra kick. I like Chef Roberto Santibanez's recipe, but am usually too lazy to go shopping for sweetened condensed milk when I know I'm only going to use a tablespoon of it, or to scour the shelves for crumbled Mexican oregano. You can add flavor by replacing a cup of water with two 10 oz. cans of Ro-Tel. Be sure not to drain the liquid from the crushed tomatoes.

Chili is another appropriate place for the kick of Ro-Tel. Add a can to your favorite recipe so you don't have to worry about measuring the perfect amount of seasoning. I like to use lean turkey meat and red beans, replacing the called for crushed or diced tomatoes with zestier Ro-Tel.

Have you ever wondered how to give a Bloody Mary extra kick without wasting a whole bottle of Tabasco? Try a can of green chiles and tomatoes in a blender. Mix in a splash of tomato juice for extra liquid and then add vodka and a squeeze of lemon for a unique twist on this classic cocktail.

For breakfast you can spice up simple scrambled eggs with the stuff, for lunch you can heat it with a can of rinsed black beans, for dinner you can stew chicken in it. When it comes to getting creative with Ro-Tel, the sky is the limit.

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