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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

Email: mstark@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MStark17

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  1. Wedding Week: To save money on your wedding, don't be afraid to haggle

    Blog

    Weddings are expensive. Like, really expensive. It gets to a point, as I mentioned in my post about wedding dresses, where money doesn't even seem real anymore. Let me give you a real world example. The other day I priced wedding cakes at Publix, and they told me that a three-tiered cake for the amount of people at my wedding would cost around $400. I said, "Wow, that's cheap." Because in wedding world, it is....

    When negotiating for your wedding, make sure the price is right (SEE WHAT WE DID THERE?).
  2. My Outfit Monday: An engagement party ensemble to kick off Wedding Week

    Blog

    Today marks the start of our second annual Wedding Week, a time-honored Deal Divas tradition in which we answer very important questions like Am I terrible person if I wear a black dress as a wedding guest? and What the heck does "black tie optional" mean?. Last time we did Wedding Week, Deal Diva Katie was getting married. This time, I am. So to kick it off, here is a very special My Outfit Monday from the engagement party some friends held for my fiance and I this weekend.

    The party was a low-key affair held at 3 Daughters, a brewery in St. Petersburg, because it's hard to do much in St. Petersburg that doesn't involve a brewery right now. They have a great warehouse space out back, and the vibe was decidedly chill. I wanted to dress up, obvs, but given the setting I didn't want to get too overdressed. I briefly considered a fitted long-sleeve leopard-print dress but found it hard to picture myself sipping an Oatmeal Stout in such an ensemble.

    The other thing to consider as I waded through my closet Saturday afternoon: weather.

    Not sure if you've heard, people schlepping through snow storms up north, but Florida has been having a cold January. Some days, it does not even get out of the 50s. How we go on, I do not know. But for this particular outfit, that meant no bare legs, no sleeveless, no open-toe shoes. (Guys, I am a native Floridian. Brr.) Oh, and did I mention it was raining?

    I did want to work some bling and some white into my outfit, because, bride, so I chose this J. Crew Factory flare skirt, purchased during one of their extra-percentage-off-clearance sales last year for around $20. It's white with navy, light blue, silver and gold embellishments, plus it has an exposed zipper to cut the fanciness a bit. I paired that with black tights and black boots (see above weather complaint) and a chambray shirt. Now, I tried on many shirts before the chambray saved me from being swallowed whole by my closet. I tried on sweaters, which paired with the tights and boots looked a little too My So-Called Life. I tried on a sleeveless Peter Pan-collared shirt, then stepped outside and promptly turned into an icicle. Finally, I Goldilocks-ed my way into this shirt, which I bought on Macy's clearance years ago for no more than $15. It's super light-weight, and normally buttons all the way down, but I left two or three buttons undone and tied it to give the outfit some shape, and for some added edge. I decided to get really dangerous and top the whole thing off with my black "leather" jacket (inspiration: this) and some very sparkly earrings that I wished I had remembered to take a separate photo of....

    More outfit, "leather" jacket and all.
  3. 11 Valentine's Day stories of food and love

    Cooking

    The first time I laid eyes on the man who would become my fiance, I was frothing milk.

    Clad in a uniform of khaki pants and bright yellow shirt, I was working in the University of South Florida bookstore cafe, serving up Caramel Macchiatos and Vanilla Bean Frappuccinos to book-toting college kids.

    Phil was one of those kids.

    He ordered a grande Java Chip Frappuccino from me that day, forever insisting I didn't blend the drink well enough. He also insists I flashed him a smile, like I knew this was the start of something big....

    [MARILENA PERILLI   |   Special to the Times]
  4. From the editor: Three ways to celebrate Valentine's Day in your kitchen

    Cooking

    Sometimes you don't want to stress over a reservation, or strap on black heels, or get dolled up for a big night out.

    Sometimes, on Valentine's Day, the most romantic (and relaxing) way to celebrate the holiday is in the comfort of your own home.

    Here are three suggestions for ways to spend the holiday in your kitchen.

    Get more Valentine's Day inspiration from the sweet (well, most of them) stories that make up this week's cover package (Pages 4E-5E), in which we asked Times staffers to recall memories when food and romance came together. ...

  5. Cook Hack: How to make a 'magic shell' topping for ice cream

    Cooking

    Make a "magic shell" topping for ice cream: When we think of Valentine's Day, we think of dessert. But if you don't have the time or energy to whip up a cake, dole out bowls of ice cream and top them with this fun and easy-to-make topping you can prepare days in advance. This recipe is inspired by Smucker's Magic Shell, that candylike product that hardens instantly after you drizzle it onto your ice cream. To make your own, combine 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, ⅛ teaspoon instant espresso powder and a pinch of salt in a small bowl and stir until espresso dissolves. In a separate bowl, add 4 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate and 1/3 cup coconut oil and microwave at 50 percent power until melted. This should take about 3 minutes. Whisk in vanilla mixture and 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder and stir well, then let it cool before using. This makes about 3/4 cup; store it in the fridge for up to 2 months. Just before you want to use it, microwave for a minute or so until melted and smooth. Another use for this magical shell? Chocolate-covered strawberries....

  6. Here is where you should make reservations for Valentine's Day in Tampa Bay

    Food & Dining

    Now is the time to shore up your Valentine's Day plans.

    With the holiday on a Sunday this year, restaurants are likely be packed all weekend. This could be a good thing, though. If you don't mind clinking glasses with your sweetie on Feb. 12 or 13, you have three chances to try to get a reservation.

    If that's the kind of date night you're after, check out our food critic's annual list of the top 50 restaurants in Tampa Bay. We'd recommend staying in Top 10 territory for a more romantic Tampa Bay food experience: Edison: Food+Drink Lab and Rooster and the Till are adventurous date-night options because they encourage small plates and that means lots of sharing, while Mise en Place, Cafe Ponte and the Black Pearl are top-notch upscale spots. The list is full of more fancy and casual gems that won't disappoint your date. Bonus: You can narrow the 50 restaurants down by cuisine. ...

    A dessert at Piquant  in Tampa. [Photo by CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  7. Five ways to cook chicken wings — and sauces to dip them in — for the Super Bowl

    Cooking

    You don't need to outsource your chicken wing supply for this year's Super Bowl feast, set for Sunday when the Panthers and the Broncos face off in California. Making them at home is easy. What isn't as easy is choosing how to make them, as there are a handful of cooking methods for turning the poultry into an irresistible snack. Here are five ideas for ways to cook chicken wings, and a bonus list of five sauces that go with just about any of them. ...

    Luckily for us Floridians, it’s never the wrong season to grill wings.
  8. From the food editor: Quick ideas for your Super Bowl spread

    Cooking

    There are certain national events and holidays we celebrate where food easily upstages what's really going on. Your love of football may be greater than mine, but I think we can all agree that without a mighty spread full of hearty finger foods, Super Bowl Sunday wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

    This week's 5 Ideas feature is dedicated to different ways to cook and sauce a Super Bowl staple: chicken wings. But if you need more ideas for noshables to make this weekend, here are a couple of easy-to-prepare options. (And one that's a bit more involved for this week's recipe suggestion.)...

  9. Cook Hack: Use a cast-iron skillet to keep food warm

    Cooking

    Use cast-iron skillet to keep your food warm: Cooking something this Super Bowl weekend that you want to keep warm while it's resting on the table until kick-off? A cast-iron skillet can help get the job done. Start by heating a large skillet over a burner until it's warm — warm enough that you can't touch the handle without oven mitts but not so hot that it starts to smoke. Remove the skillet from the heat and place on a dish towel or trivet. Then, if you're trying to keep something warm that was previously cooked in a pot or saucepan, like sauce or mashed potatoes, place the pot directly into the cast-iron skillet. It will heat the bottom of the pot without burning it. If you're trying to keep loose objects like chicken wings or pigs in a blanket or quesadillas warm, simply wrap them loosely in aluminum foil and place in the cast-iron skillet. When you're ready to serve, remove everything from the skillet and place on plates, or leave in the skillet and warn your guests to be careful when touching it. ...

  10. Why was 'Grease Live' so good? Here are three reasons

    Blog

    There is a reason every high school on the planet stages Grease the Musical. The Broadway show created in 1971 that later became the John Travolta-Olivia Newton John movie you know and love contains intensely likeable material, simple yet subversive stuff that when executed properly can send beams of joy out into the audience. Such it was with Sunday night's production of Grease Live, Fox's first foray into the live TV musical field....

    Hough and Tveit as Sandy and Danny.
  11. PSA: Gap stores are closing, there are sales to be had

    Blog

    Gap is closing 70 stores across the country today, including the stores at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg and Citrus Park Town Center in Tampa (and a store in Melbourne, the only other Florida closure). Ace Times biz reporter Justine Griffin has more details:...

    Bye, Felicia.
  12. From the food editor: A soup recipe for cold Florida nights

    Cooking

    This always happens in January.

    We endure (or celebrate, depending on who you are) 80-degree Christmases then watch as temperatures fall. As I write this, we're facing another weekend of high temperatures only in the 50s — balmy for the rest of the country, uncomfortably cold for this native Floridian.

    One thing reliably helps kick-start the thawing process: warm foods. ...

  13. Cook Hack: Freeze single servings of soup in a muffin tin

    Cooking

    Freeze single servings of soup: Soup is a great make-ahead meal. Whip some up on a Sunday for dinner, freeze the leftovers, eat it again later in the week. But sometimes we want to eat a smaller portion of leftovers, like for lunch or another single-serving meal. Here is a trick for freezing the soup in those smaller servings, so you're not stuck trying to defrost a large bowl-shaped block of soup. Once soup is cool from the initial cooking, ladle it into the sections of a muffin tin. Try separating out most of the broth first, then the rest of the soup goodies — veggies, meats, etc. Freeze the entire muffin tin until sections are frozen, then run a bit of hot water along the bottom of the tin and pop out the sections. Store in a large zip-top bag in the freezer and, when you're ready to eat, pop out a broth disc and a veggie-meat disc; this should be enough for one serving of soup. ...

  14. Trying on wedding dresses: Lessons from a first-timer

    Blog

    I'm engaged! Which means I'm getting married! Which means the past month of my life has been consumed with the wild, untamed world of wedding planning! 

    Divas readers, this is no joke. Planning a wedding is cray. Even more so when you deign to have an 11-month engagement, which is my fiancee and I are attempting to pull off. Having been together for 5-plus years, we didn't want to push a wedding into 2017 territory, so that means less than a year to plan. I assumed that was PLENTY of time (and really, it is), but one Pinterest search will tell you that year-and-a-half to two-year engagements are common and even advised. (That explains why half the venues I called last month had zero availability left for 2016.)...

    With these tips, wedding dress shopping can be as effortless as this model looks.
  15. Preview: Laura Reiley's annual list of Tampa Bay's top 50 restaurants debuts Thursday

    Food & Dining

    Every year since 2007, Times food critic Laura Reiley has chosen the best restaurants in Tampa Bay. One year, it was the 25 best place to grab a meal under $25. In past years, the area's top 50 grouped by geographic location. This year, Laura has come up with a list of 50 places (okay, technically it's 52), divided by cuisine type. In our interactive multimedia presentation debuting Jan. 21, you can browse everything from the Best Burgers and Best Pizza to the Best American Upscale and Best Asian Fusion. Ten spots take the list's top honors. Which restaurants made the cut? Venture over to tampabay.com/top50restaurants beginning Thursday to find out....

    Edison Food + Drink Lab in Tampa. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]