Black and white illustration of an Indestructible Food: Rotel Tomatoes and Green Chilies.

“A most efficient canned good.”

The definition of a shortcut is “a method, procedure, policy, etc., that reduces the time or energy needed to accomplish something.” (Thanks,!) Calling something a shortcut used to be pretty derogatory, implying that the person taking the shortcut was doing a worse job, or being lazy, or just didn’t care all that much. 

But today? I don’t know any adult humans who don’t take shortcuts! Instead of admitting it, we say we’re “finding efficiencies” or “streamlining our workflow.” Shortcuts have gotten a makeover, and that’s a good thing, because they’re more necessary than ever. 

I’ve strayed a bit, because I’m supposed to be talking about Rotel, which is a can of tomatoes and green chillies, and is also, most assuredly, a shortcut. It was invented in 1943 by Carl Roettele, because he was wise and realized that dicing tomatoes, and roasting/peeling/chopping chilies was a process that could certainly use some streamlining. 

His customers agreed. Not only did they use Rotel in queso (still the most popular use, according to my research) they used it in chicken spaghetti, baked beans, cornbread, fajitas, guacamole, tater tot casserole, tortilla soup, and every kind of chili. It saved time, added flavor, and let regular people pull together a meal or a side that was a little more special than they otherwise could have managed.

I’m headed to a family reunion this weekend. I can already see the line of crockpots. The paper plates. The plastic forks. The tray heaped with cookout meats. The potato salad, pasta salad, green salad, and Jell-O salad. I can imagine how good everything will taste. I can even feel the comfort of my butt in a BYO lawn chair. We’ll sit, and eat, and be grateful for the shortcuts that let us spend a little less time in the kitchen, and a little more time with family.