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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. Summer squash: What it is, how to cook it, 10 recipe ideas

    Cooking

    There's no escaping summer squash.

    This time of year, certain varieties of the gourd family are everywhere, and worth embracing. Mild in flavor and softer than winter types like butternut, summer squash is inexpensive and can be eaten raw or cooked, shaved or cubed, hot or cold. During warmer months, these types of squash are especially abundant: green and yellow zucchini, yellow crookneck (the common yellow squash seen in grocery stores) and the less ubiquitous round squash and pattypan. There's also chayote, a pale green squash that grows in warmer climates including Florida, and squash blossoms, the gorgeous, dainty orange flowers of the squash plant. These blossoms, which are more prevalent in the spring when the squash plants are blooming, taste faintly like squash and are typically stuffed with far less nutritious things, like bread and cheese, then fried. ...

    Pattypan: With a squat, saucerlike shape, pattypans are one of the most visually distinctive kinds of squash. They are usually yellow but come in light or dark green, too. They have a rather buttery, sweet flavor and are good in soups or just sauteed.
  2. #CookClub: Join us Mondays for our new Lunchtime Chats

    Cooking

    We're shaking things up again with our online food chats. Instead of nightly Twitter talks on Thursdays, we're moving to a lunchtime chat experience that will be held directly on the Tampa Bay Times' website, tampabay.com.

    And we're moving the chats to Mondays (when our weekly recipe publishes online) to better help with meal planning and recipe ideas for the week ahead.

    So every Monday from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. starting Aug. 10, head to tampabay.com (or find it on our #CookClub site, tampabay.com/cookclub) and look for the live Lunchtime Chats. Feel free to join at the beginning or at any point throughout the hour; there's no penalty for being late. Conversations will range from cooking tricks and favorite recipes to restaurants and what we're making this week, and we welcome and seek your comments and questions....

  3. Send us your treasured holiday dessert recipes

    Cooking

    It's that most wonderful time of the year again — time for us to ask you to send in your most treasured holiday recipes.

    And beginning this year, we're doing things a little differently. We are spreading the holiday cheer and opening up our annual reader-driven Christmas cookie issue to more than cookies.

    We want to hear about and celebrate your special holiday dessert traditions. ...

    Babka
  4. #CookClub recipe: Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins (with how-to video)

    Cooking

    Because these aren't too sweet, they're the perfect vessel for a fruit jam. These muffins also freeze really well.

     

    easy

    Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins

    Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins

    Ingredients

    • 3 cups grated zucchini (about 2 whole zucchini)
    • 2 beaten eggs
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 1 cup olive oil (light or mild tasting)
    • ⅓ to ⅔ cup real maple syrup
    • ⅓ cup honey, softened
    • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
    • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking soda
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

    Instructions

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, eggs, vanilla, olive oil, maple syrup and honey. Use the full ⅔ cup syrup if you want sweeter muffins; I often use just ⅓ cup. You can also sub in brown sugar for the syrup or the honey if you want. Stir gently until mixed; set aside.
    2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir to combine and make a well in the middle. Pour the wet mixture from step one into the well and stir just a few times until barely combined. Overmixing makes the muffins tough and hard, so I try to limit myself to 15 big around-the-bowl stirs.
    3. Pour the batter in a muffin tin greased with nonstick cooking spray or lined with paper cups. You should be able to get 6 to 8 jumbo muffins or 15 or 16 regular sized muffins. Bake for 20 minutes or until the muffins are golden brown and the tops spring back when pressed.
    4. Makes 15 or 16 muffins.
    Source: Adapted from apinchofyum.com

     ...

  5. Cook Hack: Freeze leftover herbs into flavorful cubes

    Cooking

    Freeze leftover herbs into cubes: Sometimes I wish supermarkets would sell herbs by the sprig. That way I could pluck off the handful of basil I need for that night's dinner instead of buying a large package that inevitably goes bad in my fridge. Some herbs freeze rather well, though, so they need not go to waste. But instead of throwing the whole package in the freezer (as I often do), there's a better way to keep them for another use: ice cube trays. Chop up any leftover herbs (feel free to mix and match), pile them generously into ice cube trays, then add a little water or chicken broth. Cover the tray loosely with plastic wrap then pop it in the freezer for at least one night. Once they're frozen, use the cubes to add instant flavor to soups, broths and more. It's best to do this with basil, chives, parsley and dill. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage benefit more from drying than freezing. ...

  6. For National Lasagna Day, here are some lasagna recipes

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    Today is a day for celebration, for bubbling cheese and tangy tomatoes, for thick noodles and meat sauce. Today is National Lasagna Day.

    When we think of lasagna, we think of cooler temperatures, sweaters and comfort food. But, hey, we don't make the rules, and the rules say July 29 is the nation's chance to shine a light on this Italian casserole.

    Dinner is a no-brainer tonight: Whip up a lasagna and serve it with a spinach salad on the side. You could keep it simple and go with the classic lasagna recipe we've included below, made with homemade meat sauce, ricotta and mozarella cheeses and plenty of Italian seasonings. But lasagna is nothing if not a canvas for experimentation, so we've also included some out-of-the-box options, like Brussels Sprouts Lasagna and White Seafood Lasagna. Scroll down to see them all. ...

    Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Lasagna  is a vegetarian dish that can also be served as a side with a meat dish.
  7. Best places to grab a salad on the go in Tampa Bay

    Food & Dining

    We've assembled a great interactive to help you build a hearty salad without greens, but if you're on the hunt for a more traditional salad on the go, here are some restaurants worthy of a pop-in. Michelle Stark, Times food editor

    Nature's Food Patch...

    Customers can choose from a variety of ingredients, including coconut cauliflower, grilled broccolini, roasted Brussels sprouts and roasted mushrooms, at Fresh Kitchen in Tampa.
  8. Five ideas for avocado: Popsicles, toast, baked eggs

    Cooking

    Rich and creamy, healthy and hearty — I always have an avocado sitting on my counter to use in any number of dishes. Avocados are full of healthy fats and fiber, making them an essential part of a vegetarian diet plus a good source of vitamin C and folate for everyone. Because of its unique texture, avocados can be used not just in savory dishes but in baked goods and sweet treats like popsicles. Here are five ideas for my favorite ways to cook with avocado. ...

    Avocado Toast with salt and feta
  9. Cook Hack: How to keep avocados green

    Cooking

    How to keep avocados green: There's nothing wrong with a bit of brown on the fleshy part of a halved avocado (just scoop that browned part off!), but we have a trick for keeping them on the green side as long as possible. Right after you cut whichever half (or third or fourth) of the avocado you're not going to use, place it flesh side down in a bowl of water. Add a bit of lemon juice to the bowl, then refrigerate it. The avocado should stay relatively green for at least a few days. ...

  10. Drink of the week: Red wines to sip this summer

    Bars & Spirits

    We all know about rose and prosecco — those light, refreshing varietals perfect for these summer months. But what about the red wine lovers? What's their best bet for kicking back with a seasonally appropriate glass? Wine expert Kirk Benton at Total Wine in St. Petersburg suggests wine made from a little-used grape grown in the Sierra Nevada Foothills region of California called barbera. The lighter-style red grape is ideal for warmer months because it produces a fresh, fruity wine. It contains notes of cherry — "almost like a cherry cola," Benton says — and slight spice flavors. "It has a lot of flavor but is not very heavy on the palate." Try Total Wine's Sobon Estate Barbera Amador ($14.99). For another summer red option, you can't go wrong with something from the Cotes du Rhone valley of France, typically a blend of three grapes: grenache, shiraz and mourvedre. These are lighter-colored reds similar to pinot noir but with more flavor. ...

  11. Build a heartier summer salad with bases other than lettuce

    Cooking

    Summer is the season for salads. But a hearty, filling bowl can be hard to find when the primary bed is romaine or iceberg lettuce. In-vogue greens like kale and arugula are better at satiating, but we often find ourselves getting more excited about what's on top of the salad than what's underneath. So let's forget the greens. We came up with nine salads that rely on different bases — grains, spiralized vegetables and hearty root vegetables like potatoes and beets — and pile on nutrition-packed toppings that will keep you full longer. ...

    , mozarella, toasted walnuts, and a bit of arugula and basil. [Photo by Gabrielle Yablonski]
  12. #CookClub recipe: Homemade Pizza With Tomato and Prosciutto

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    medium

    Homemade Pizza With Tomato and Prosciutto

    Homemade Pizza With Tomato and Prosciutto

    Ingredients

    • For the pizza dough:
    • 2 ¾ cups bread flour
    • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
    • 2 teaspoons sea salt
    • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 cup warm water
    • 2 or 3 tablespoons medium or coarse cornmeal
    • For the toppings:
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 clove thinly sliced garlic
    • 1 cup thinly sliced cherry tomatoes
    • 8 to 16 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced, depending on how cheesy you want the pizza
    • 2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
    • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano and Italian seasoning
    • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

    Instructions

    1. Make the dough: Put the flour, yeast and salt in a food processor or stand mixer. With the machine running, add the oil, then add the water in a slow, steady stream. Continue to process for 2 to 3 minutes (the dough should form a rough ball). The finished dough should be soft, slightly sticky and elastic. If too dry, add a bit more water; if too wet, a bit more flour. (You can also do this without a processor. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, then add wet ingredients slowly. Then, with the spoon or your hand, stir or knead the ball of dough for another 2-3 minutes.)
    2. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on a clean work surface. Work the dough into a rectangle on the plastic, about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. Press your fingers into the top of the dough all over, making indentations. Fold the left third of the dough over (as you would a letter) and repeat the indentations. Fold the right third over and make the indentations again. Cover the folded dough with plastic wrap and let rise for 20 minutes. Note: This makes enough for two pizza doughs.
    3. Working with the dough in your hands, gently begin to stretch the dough into a circular shape, pressing your fist into the center of the dough and pulling at the edges with your other hand. With both hands, stretch the dough, being careful not to tear it. Working in a circular motion, pull the thicker edges of the dough outward, letting gravity help you. Continue to stretch the dough until it's relatively even in thickness and you have the size you want. Lay it on a baking sheet.
    4. Assemble the pizza: Brush olive oil over the dough, then scatter garlic slices on top. Add tomatoes and mozzarella, then top the whole thing with prosciutto, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and oregano. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top to finish it off. Note: These are enough toppings for one pizza.
    5. Cook the pizza for 6 to 10 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
    Source: Adapted from the New York Times
    ...

    Homemade Pizza with Mozzarella and Prosciutto [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
  13. From the editor: Making your own pizza crust is not hard and worth it

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    I know what you're thinking. It's the same thing most people think when I tell them I make my own pizza crust. First, the "Oh, you fancy" look, followed by a list of all the reasons why they don't have enough time or interest to craft their own crust, and an "I'll just order Domino's" smirk. And to that I always have the same response: You don't know what you're missing.

    There is nothing like fresh, homemade baked goods, especially breads. When you make your own bread, you quickly realize the ephemeral quality of its freshness. Delicious one day, stale the next. What must those grocery store loaves have in them to make them suitable for eating weeks, months after they were made? I don't want to know....

     Homemade Pizza with Mozzarella and Prosciutto photographed for #CookClub on Tuesday June 23rd, 2015.
  14. What you need to know on National Hot Dog Day

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    These days, there's a national food holiday for practically anything edible. But this is one classically American celebration we can get behind: Today is National Hot Dog Day. (And, also, National Vanilla Ice Cream Day!) Here is some history about how the hot dog got started, plus local specials going on today. And in honor of the special day, some essential hot dog reading:...

    Today is National Hot Dog Day.
  15. To prepare for back-to-school time, a round-up of student-only discounts

    Blog

    We're still about a month away from the start of school, but it's never to early to learn about deals. So here are some of the best deals you can get for being a student (or a parent of a student). And yes, college counts! (H/t Consumer Reports.) Stay tuned for more school-related savings, including a roundup of Tax Free Weekend deals. Florida's week runs Aug. 7 through 16 this year....