January 16 is International Hot & Spicy Food Day, so in celebration of all things peppery, fiery and red-hot, we’ve asked blogger Melissa Bailey to share with us how she incorporates spice and heat into Dominican cooking.
Who’s blogging: My name is Melissa Bailey. I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. I am a full-time Marketing and Communications professional, but my passion for everything culinary drove me to start HungryFoodLove. I have early childhood memories of playing in the kitchen and pretending I had my own cooking show, where pretending to chop was my favorite part. Food was also always around each and every family gathering. Growing up, my dad was a restaurateur and coffee grower so the gastronomic influences in my life come from many avenues. Even though I did not pursue a career in the food industry, I came to the United States to do a master’s in Service Management with the hopes of working in the hospitality industry. Food and entertaining are my passion and that is what I try to convey through HungryFoodLove.
Explain your blog name: Hungry, food, and love were the key terms that came out as I was trying to define my goals for the blog. Because I not only cook, but can chow down with the best of them as well I thought Hungry would be most appropriate. Then comes Food, and well, that is the drive; it is what I cook, what I eat, what I love and what brings all of us foodies together. The term Love joins next to from what I believe is a well-balanced trio. When I am given a plate of food there is love, when I cook my food I do it with love, when I feed the hungry there is love, when God created food to nourish our bodies certainly there was love there too. To put it all together, my tagline on the blog goes: Because I am a lover of love, food, and coincidentally I am always hungry. That is HungryFoodLove.
Blogging since: I first started blogging in April 2010 as I shared, through a Facebook page called Queen B. Catering, my experiences through catering jobs I was doing for friends and family. I then moved to another Facebook page called Recipe B. and there I would share recipes with step-by-step instructions and pictures plus the story behind each recipe in both Spanish and English. I did this to share my culinary explorations with my family but when I noticed that others outside family members were liking the page, that is when I decided to create my own official blog which is today HungryFoodLove.
Blogging from: I blog mostly in the evenings after my little one is asleep, from my home in Rochester, NY.
Most popular post: I am not a baker but I have noticed people really like my sweets or at least are more attracted to the beautiful dessert pictures in the blog. A recent Swedish Pancakes post has received a lot of attention but the Blueberry Vanilla Bean Bread Pudding with Rum Maple syrup has been the most pinned on Pinterest. In the savory category, the Chimichurri (Dominican Burger) has been one of the most popular.
What you’ve learned about food while blogging: That its versatility and interpretation can go beyond one’s imagination. You can do so much with the same ingredient. Many may use the plantain one way, others will use it another way and what is even more fascinating are the whys and what drives people to cook food in certain ways.
Where do you get inspiration for your posts: I get inspiration from my husband and my daughter; I cook what I know will please them. All the food you see in my blog is eaten right away. So far I have not cooked a recipe just to blog about it. It has been the other way around; I have a party, a gathering to attend, a regular dinner for my family etc. And of course what I grew up eating is also part of my inspirations and the sazón of all my cooking. I want to pass traditions and flavors to my daughter and I get an incredible joy of sharing our culture with her and my readers.
How do you incorporate spice and heat in your Caribbean style of cooking? I didn’t grow up eating incredibly hot food, though I do love spicy food. In Latin Caribbean cuisine we do add heat and kick to food through spices and peppers but just in certain dishes. In the Dominican Republic for example, we have a staple sauce called agrio, which literally translates to sour. It is a spicy vinegar sauce that is made with sour oranges, garlic, spices and peppers. Dominican households add a little bit of agrio when cooking beans, meats and fish but is mainly set at the table so that people can add as much or as little as they would like to their soups and stews. I mention the use of agrio in the Asopao de Camarones (Shrimp Asopao) post as it is the perfect example of a dish where agrio is added. The heat and kick added to Dominican cooking comes mainly from hot peppers like the Scotch Bonnet pepper and Ajicito. The spiciest dishes in Dominican cooking are Chivo Picante (Spicy Stewed Goat) and Rabo Encendio (Hot Stewed Oxtail); both recipes are coming soon to HungryFoodLove. Our most popular spices are annatto (bija, achiote), oregano, and aniseed. Other spices popular in desserts are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.
What have you learned from blogging? The power and reach of the internet has always been apparent to me. But since I started blogging I can now attest from experience how important our voices become to people and how incredibly fast and far our recipes and stories can go. People are out there trying to connect, get information and as bloggers we have the duty to provide valuable content and maintain the relationships with those out there seeking and supporting what we do.
Where else can we find you online? I am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I also contribute to Rochester’s local newspaper the Democrat and Chronicle in their section ROCFood. Starting this next issue, which will come out next week, my recipes will be featured on each printed and online issue of Imagen NY Magazine.