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Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor

Michelle Stark

Michelle Stark is the Food Editor for the Tampa Bay Times, overseeing the food content online and in print, including cooking and restaurants. She also manages social media accounts for the Entertainment department, including food. Previously, she was part of the Things to Do crew and co-host of Play Tampa Bay. She has designed and edited the Times' daily entertainment page, and wrote weekly about television at The Feed blog. Stark joined the Times after graduating from the University of South Florida in 2010 with degrees in mass communications and international relations.

Phone: (727) 893-8829


Twitter: @MStark17

  1. Cook Hack: An easier way to chop walnuts, pecans and other nuts


    An easier way to chop nuts: Things get kind of nutty this time of year. By that, I mean lots of fall and holiday recipes call for sliced, diced and slivered nuts. Almond, hazelnuts, pecans — all of them delicious in various baked goods, all of them a pain to chop on a flat cutting board. Here is a trick. To keep chopped nuts from flying all over the counter, don't use a knife to chop them, and don't place them on a flat surface. Place nuts in a bowl, then use a handheld pastry cutter/blender to softly press down, reducing the nuts to smaller pieces. This works best with softer nuts like walnuts and pecans. If you don't have a pastry cutter, you can also use small glass (be gentle!) or the back of a metal measuring cup. And here's another tip for getting those nuts cracked, if that ornate nutcracker on the counter isn't doing the trick: Use pliers, specifically one with a curved jaw that can accommodate any nut size....

  2. From the editor: Central Avenue walk and a #CookClub recipe for Pear and Hazelnut Grilled Cheese


    This is one of those weeks where I feel really thankful for this job, one that forces me to remain up to date on Tampa Bay's constantly changing food and drink scene.

    After reading Laura Reiley's cover story on the burgeoning Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, I also feel thankful to work and live near this downtown, where food is at the forefront of a cool cultural shift.

    Laura takes us on a walk from the 600 block to the 900 block of Central Avenue, exploring the new or upcoming cafes, coffee shops and other craft food joints along the way. The stroll sounds like the makings of a perfect fall afternoon, and one I'm marking on my calendar right now. ...

  3. Tips and top food picks for Epcot International Food and Wine Festival's 20th year


    Even just a few years ago, Epcot used to be the Walt Disney World park you'd go to when you needed to escape the hubbub of the other three parks. The least kid-friendly of Disney's Orlando theme parks, Epcot was often quiet, laid-back, easy to navigate. Even during its annual International Food and Wine Festival, which this year started last month and runs until Nov. 16, there was usually a noticeable chill in the air. (No, not the weather kind.)...

    You’ll want to include Loaded Mac ’n’ Cheese from the Farm Fresh booth on your things-to-eat list when you’re at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
  4. Five secrets to making fresh bagels at home


    It's time to ditch the prepackaged bagel.

    When Daniel Thompson, inventor of the bagel machine, died about a month ago, we were reminded of the ease and convenience with which his contraption brought bagels by the bagful into American homes.

    In fact, it has become too easy. Too easy to forget what a real, hand-crafted bagel tastes like, those glossy, toothsome rolls with a hard crust and a chewy inside — classic New York-style bagels, with roots in Europe but largely borne of this country's Jewish cuisine. Those soft, pale, bagged rolls laden with preservatives hardly resemble the real thing....

    Homemade bagels topped with plain cream cheese and strawberry jam? Yum.
  5. #CookClub recipe: How to make Spice-Crusted Salmon With Beets



    Spice-Crusted Salmon With Beets

    Spice-Crusted Salmon With Beets


    • 1 ½ pound beets (about 4 medium), peeled and cut into wedges
    • 1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
    • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the parchment paper
    • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
    • ½ teaspoon pink peppercorns
    • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
    • ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
    • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
    • About 3 pounds boneless salmon, skin on
    • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh chives
    • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves


    1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place beets on a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold them in a single layer. Sprinkle with ginger, fine sea salt and 1 tablespoon of the oil; toss to coat. Roast in the middle of the oven, stirring once or twice during cooking, until tender and lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, place black peppercorns in a spice grinder and pulse once or twice until cracked, or place them on a cutting board and crack with a rolling pin. Add pink peppercorns, coriander seeds, rosemary and coarse sea salt; continue to pulse or crush until the mixture is very coarsely ground. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, oil the paper and place salmon on top; fold the thin tail section under if the fillet is too large for the baking sheet. Brush salmon with remaining 2 teaspoons oil and sprinkle with peppercorn mixture. After beets have roasted for about 15 minutes, place salmon on the top rack of the oven and roast until just lightly pink in the center, about 15 minutes.
    3. Loosen salmon from the parchment with a spatula, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer salmon to a platter. Spoon beets around salmon and sprinkle them with chives and parsley. Serves 4.
    Source: Whole Foods Market

     Spice Crusted Salmon with Beets [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  6. From the food editor: Don't be intimidated by cooking from scratch


    Look, I'll be the first to admit it: I'm kind of a snob when it comes to processed foods.

    A couple of years ago, I decided for health reasons that I wanted to try to eat as few as possible. That goal is the driving force behind my daily food choices, and the real reason I can be found in my kitchen whipping up things like bagels on the regular. I like to know exactly what is in the food I am eating, which is why I don't mind spending a little time letting yeast dough rise....

    Spice-Crusted Salmon With Beets is a healthful meal.
  7. Cook hack: How to remove water spots from a pot


    How to clean a pot: I live in a house with particularly hard tap water, which means most of my stainless steel pots and pans develop white spots that are not easily washed away. This can also happen with pots that are used often to boil water. The cloudy residue is stubborn, but here is a trick. Clean the pot with a little bit of vinegar and warm water, instead of just water, and those spots should wash away fairly easily. ...

  8. Get a free doughnut at Datz's Dough on Friday


    In the spirit of continuing this week's theme of Where to Get Free Food and Beverage in Tampa Bay, we bring you this heartwarming news from Tampa restaurant Datz and its sister bakery next door, Dough:

  9. Downtown Disney becomes Disney Springs and welcomes new Morimoto Asia restaurant


    LAKE BUENA VISTA — Avid travelers of the roads leading to Walt Disney World knew a change was imminent, as those iconic purple signs that signal you are on Disney property suddenly contained a new name. On Tuesday, it became official: Downtown Disney is now Disney Springs.

    The shopping and dining destination, created in the mid-'70s as a marketplace for those on Disney property, is more than halfway through its largest expansion ever, set to be completed in 2016. And Tuesday night, in the new Landing neighborhood of the sprawling entertainment complex, Disney employees and media gathered to seal the deal....

    Downtown Disney reopened Tuesday as Disney Springs. The project doubles the shopping and dining spot in size. New features include The Boathouse, from the creator of the T-Rex and Rainforest Cafe, a waterfront restaurant with nautical theme that has an Amiphicar, a special car that drives into the water and around the lake in what looks like a vintage convertible.
  10. #CookClub recipe: How to make Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes



    Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes


    • 4 medium sweet potatoes
    • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
    • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon each cumin, coriander, cinnamon, smoked (or regular) paprika
    • Pinch of sea salt or lemon juice
    • 1/4 cup hummus
    • juice of 1/2 lemon
    • 3/4-1 teaspoon dried dill
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • Water, to thin
    • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
    • 1/4 cup chopped parsley, minced
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice


    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.
    2. Rinse and scrub potatoes and cut in half lengthwise. (This will speed up the cooking time.) Rub the sweet potatoes with a bit of olive oil and place face down on the baking sheet.
    3. Toss rinsed and drained chickpeas with olive oil and spices and place on the same baking sheet, or another one depending on space.
    4. Place the baking sheet(s) in the oven in the middle rack and cook for about 25 minutes.
    5. While the sweet potatoes and chickpeas are roasting, prepare your sauce by adding all sauce ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisking to combine, adding enough water to thin the mixture so it is pourable. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add more garlic for more zing, salt for savoriness, lemon juice for freshness and dill for a more intense herb flavor. I found mine didn't need anything else.
    6. Prepare the parsley-tomato topping by tossing tomato and parsley with lemon juice and setting aside to marinate.
    7. Once sweet potatoes are fork tender and the chickpeas are golden brown, remove them from the oven.
    8. To serve, flip potatoes flesh-side up and smash down the insides a little bit. Top with chickpeas, sauce and parsley-tomato garnish. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

    Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes. Photo by MONICA HERNDON   |   Times

  11. Food chat: Today we're talking about canning with Urban Canning Company owner Illene Sofranko


    Every Monday from 12:30-1:30 p.m., Times food editor Michelle Stark hosts chats about food and cooking on Today, her guest is Illene Sofranko, the one-woman band behind the Urban Canning Company, a small business based out of St. Petersburg known for its hand-crafted jams, pickles and mustards.

    We wrote about Sofranko's business and her journey since she started the company in 2014. And in today's chat we'll talk to her about her canning process, how she is gearing up for farmers market season and canning tips for the home cook. Follow along with the chat here: — and we encourage you to ask some questions of your own. See you there....

    Illene Sofranko pours jam into jars Aug. 14, 2015. Sofranko, who comes from a family of canners and has started the Urban Canning Co. in St. Petersburg. She makes everything herself - mustards, jams, pickles. She does it year-round, and sells at various markets and stores around the bay area. LARA CERRI  |   Times
  12. Cook Hack: How to keep rolls fresh from the oven warm on the table


    How to keep rolls fresh from the oven warm on the table: This one should come in handy this fall, during the holiday entertaining season. When lots of dishes are being loaded onto the table for a feast, it can be nearly impossible to keep them all warm before diners dig in. So here is an easy way to keep freshly baked rolls or other bread products hot from the oven warm on the table. Put some uncooked rice, a few cups or so, into a cloth sack — you can use a kitchen towel, a pillow case, even a clean sock — and microwave until it's warm to the touch, about 2-3 minutes. Do this right before serving the food, then place the sack under some cloth napkins in a serving basket or bowl and place the rolls on top. The rice should stay warm for at least 20 minutes. ...

  13. For our beer issue, a look into the world of home brewing and more


    I learned a lot while working on our Beer Issue. Like how I don't know as much as I thought I did about beer.

    Actually, the past few years have been an education for me, as the craft beer world grew dramatically around us here in Tampa Bay and my thoughts on beer went from "Eh, I'll have wine" to "Another oatmeal stout, please!"

    The amount of craft breweries that have opened in the Tampa Bay area in the past five years is enough to turn anyone into a beer expert if they're interested. But what really turned me into a true appreciator of IPAs and saisons, porters and stouts was the passion that the people who operate and frequent these places have. The willingness to explain what is going on in the back, to let you taste something until you find one you like, to explain that dark beers don't always contain more alcohol by volume than light beers....

    Home brewer's Dave Himmelfarb's various carboys and bottles hold a variety of fermenting brews in his fermentation chamber at home. [LARA CERRI  |   Times]
  14. St. Petersburg home brewer pushes the limits with wild bacteria beers

    Bars & Spirits


    Five minutes talking to Dave Himmelfarb and the conversation has already turned to the enzymatic process of converting long-chain molecules.

    We're not in one of the classes the adjunct professor teaches at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg or Eckerd College. We're in his home on a muggy summer day as he bottles his latest batch of beer, a dry-hop saison brewed right in his Kenwood kitchen....

    Dave Himmelfarb, 33, gets ready to bottle beer in his kitchen. His specialty is sour and wild beers.
  15. Five ideas for cooking with beer: chocolate cake, sweet potato soup, biscuits and more


    When it comes to cooking with beer, darker varieties like porters and stouts work best. And those brews are more versatile than you'd think, adding flavor and a little something special to dishes beyond beer cheese soup (beer and cheese are best buds) and beer can chicken. We found five recipes that use beer in surprising ways, so pick up an extra six-pack and get to work on these dishes....

    Let’s toast some recipes that incorporate beer, including decadent Chocolate Guinness Cake.