Make us your home page

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. 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:

  2. 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.
  3. #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

  4. 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's mixed berry jam is just one of her many creations. 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
  5. 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. ...

  6. 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]
  7. 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’s Ghost Orchid Saison, a saison dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Huell Melon hops.
  8. 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.
  9. MISRED Outfitters in St. Pete is launching its new fall line with a party


    Just in time for the teeny, tiny slight fall breeze that wafted through the Tampa Bay area yesterday, one of the Divas' fave downtown St. Petersburg boutiques MISRED Outfitters is launching its fall collection. The store will debut the line next Thursday with much fanfare, in the form of a delightful-sounding party.

    From 6-9 p.m. Sept. 24, MISRED will have light bites, cocktails and giveaways, not to mention loads of new fashions including boots, shooties and other fall wardrobe staples. You can even enter to win prizes and cash, something every Diva should aspire to....

  10. For Illene Sofranko, St. Petersburg-based Urban Canning Company a labor of love



    The label on the jar of Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam reads "hand canned," and for Illene Sofranko the phrase isn't just a gourmet gimmick.

    On a recent cooking day in a small local industrial kitchen, the founder of the Urban Canning Company is whipping up three batches of her signature jams. Sofranko, 32, has spent the morning hand-washing glass jars before getting to work soaking fresh produce in a vinegar bath, measuring spices, peeling, chopping, de-seeding. ...

    Sofranko organizes jars. She sometimes hand-washes what can amount to 1,000 mason jars a week.
  11. Canning 101: How to make preserved jams and vegetables


    Canning is a way of preserving food in airtight containers that don't need to be refrigerated. By filling jars with food then boiling them in a hot water bath, they can be stored at room temperature for a year or more. This is a way to enjoy seasonal foods, especially summer produce, year-round. Homemade jam is a popular item to can, but vegetables can also be preserved in cans when pickled.

    What you need...

    Round up and finely chop 5 pounds of tomatoes for Tomato Jam. You’ll end up with about 3 pints.
  12. #CookClub recipe: How to make Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Bacon


    A few notes about this week's #CookClub recipe. It's a good example of two things. One, the interesting way our tastes change as we get older. And two, the intoxicating power of bacon.

    I thought I hated Brussels sprouts until a few years ago, when I tried a recipe that called for roasting them in a high-heat oven and began to see them all over restaurant menus, usually in a lightly fried variation. ...

    Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  13. Try this: Make your own frozen wine pops


    Yes, pumpkin spice is in the air, but let's not get too excited about "fall" just yet — it's still sweltering outside. That's why the idea of a frozen wine pop seems especially appealing. I have been seeing this idea everywhere the past month: on Pinterest boards, in my Instagram feed, even in multiple news releases from wine companies. A friend also recently pointed out that a company called Mercer's Wine Ice Cream has been making wine ice cream (containing 5 percent alcohol by volume!) since 2006. Making a wine pop is easy enough to do at home, and worth it for the slightly sweet, slightly boozy flavor. It's a fun idea for parties, too. Here's a simple recipe, courtesy of Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi wines: Start with 6 ounces of a sweet wine, like moscato. Blend with 4 strawberries, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 sprig basil and 1 ounce lemon juice. Pour into molds, then freeze until solid, at least 5 hours. ...

    Strawberry Moscato Popsicles, anyone?
  14. Cook Hack: An easy way to keep a recipe accessible during cooking


    An easy way to keep a recipe accessible during cooking: For years I've been looking for a smart, simple way to display a printed recipe so that it's easily accessible while I'm making a mess on the kitchen counter. (And yes, I view recipes on my smartphone all the time now, but that can get annoying too, with the scrolling and the screen going black every few seconds.) I think I've found a solution. The next time you have a recipe from a magazine-newspaper-relatively thin recipe book, clamp a trouser hanger (you know, with the two little grippies) onto the paper. This works in two ways: It holds open the magazine-cookbook, and if you hang it from something above the counter, it gets the recipe out of the way of the ingredients and at eye level. Another tip for making sure your printed recipe stays safe from food splatter during cooking: Insert it into a gallon-size zip-top bag. ...

  15. Fall TV Preview: 'Heroes Reborn,' 'Muppets' aim for revivals

    The Feed

    Nothing is sacred anymore. Not that beloved '90s show you watched as a kid. Not that successful franchise that ran for 10 years to its logical conclusion. Not even the Muppets can escape the clutches of desperate TV executives, who these days will greenlight a retread of any show that has a built-in audience. Bonus points if the show ended in an abrupt or somewhat unsatisfactory way, though as this year's slate of revivals proves, that is by no means a prerequisite....

    Kiki Sukezane as Miko Otomo in Heroes Reborn.