My name is Chris Rawstern and I have been on a cooking and baking journey for 42 years. I love to create a harmony of flavors with new blends of spices and herbs, new recipes and new foods. My ethnic background is Slovakian on my mother's side and Yugoslavian (today, the province of Vojvodina in Serbia) on my father's side. All my grandparents came from Europe to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families. My ethnic cooking influences began at the cradle! I grew up eating Grandma's and Mom's recipes for Chicken Paprikas, Machanka (a sweet/sour tomato sauce recipe completely different than “Machanka” described elsewhere in internet sites) and Holupki for dinners. All these recipes were passed down by word of mouth. Bobalky, Kifli and Kolach recipes were the baking done at Christmas time. My Yugoslav Grandma, an excellent cook, made chicken or beef soup recipes, redolent with saffron, giving me a lifelong love for that expensive spice. Her baking, completely from scratch of course, was legendary!
I began my cooking career in Guatemala, in 1970. I moved there as a naive 20-year-old newlywed, and set out to learn everything I could about how to cook in a foreign land, from scratch. This process was complicated by the fact that I could not speak or read the language. In the 1970s, Guatemala had no such things as frozen foods, very little of canned goods, and those few that existed were not very tasty. The way it worked there, the majority of people traveled to the market each day to buy everything fresh, including meats. They didn't use cans or pre-packaged foods, but learned how to cook and bake from scratch at a very early age. Six-year-old girls were already proficient at making tortillas. This experience set a remarkable pattern for the rest of my life, as I learned how to cook healthy simple meals and snacks at home, from scratch, on a tight budget.
While still at home as a teenager, my Mom tried to teach me how to cook. I loved to watch her cook and bake; I just didn't have an interest in learning how to cook at that time. I did a little baking, with supervision. What she could instill in my young and stubborn brain was mostly how to open a can of this or a box of that. Don't get me wrong; Mom cooked delicious meals, and most recipes were from scratch. It was just becoming "the thing" at that time to use ready-made or pre-packaged food products. In Guatemala, where those pre-packaged items were not available, I had to learn how to cook recipes from scratch, for example, to replace cans of soup for casseroles. Complicating things further, I had no oven for many of the 12 years I spent there. An electric fry pan became my "oven." Placing a small rack into the pan, I used it for baking cakes, pies, and even bread! I learned about baking cakes with recipes from my trusty 1966 edition of "Joy of Cooking" and a copy of a "Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook" ("new" back in 1970).
Another twist I dealt with was baking at high altitude. Guatemala City is at about 5,600 feet. I learned to compensate by adding more flour or an egg to recipes. On top of all that, when I did finally get an oven, its dials were in Celcius, and I tried to "guesstimate" what the temperature should be. For a young newlywed, these should have seemed insurmountable odds. Looking back, I wonder why they weren’t. I guess youth is indomitable. Proceeding to learn all I could, especially from mistakes, I feel that all these lessons cemented a firm basis for me in how to cook, what it took to make baking successful and using recipes for the best outcomes. This was my first adventure into ethnic cooking from a different country; learning to create a harmony of flavors with completely new and unknown ingredients.
Once back Stateside, moving on with my life, I discovered an interest in all things Indian. India holds a strong fascination for me, and the foods and recipes with all their exotic spices sounded so wonderful. Having already discovered a love for herbs and spices while in Guatemala, this was a natural progression, discovering new spices, new flavors, and new ways to create a harmony of flavors with wonderful recipes. A Harmony of Flavors, in every sense, as well as yet another venture into ethnic cooking! In this website, I hope to pass along some of the recipes that I have been making for 40 years, as well as many brand-new ones. All of them, hopefully, will be ones I have already tested, and so pass on any tips or notes with things to watch for, things I have changed, and what just plain works better.
I have amassed huge quantities of recipes over the years, and recently have begun giving classes locally. During these classes I encountered a number of people suffering from gluten intolerance. This condition affects millions of people throughout this country and the world. I needed to educate myself on what is "gluten", where it is found, and what is "gluten-free". I have learned so much and have decided to dedicate a portion of my site to educate and help share recipes and tips to deal with this condition. So far, I have tried my hand at baking many recipes for gluten free desserts and a few other items, and my family and my class attendees cannot tell the difference between them and the versions made with regular wheat flours. Gluten-free may not be "ethnic cooking", but it's just as exotic to one who has been baking with wheat flour for so long.
I love food. I love new recipes. I love to cook, and teach people how to cook, from scratch. I love baking. I love to create new recipes and try them. I hope to inspire you to follow me! My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors when they cook, find joy in baking and help pass along my love of and joy in foods, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic cooking and domestic, trying new recipes weekly.
I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of collecting favored recipes of your own.