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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. Florida bought more Pasta Passes from Olive Garden than almost any other state

    Food & Dining

    Floridians would like their bowls of pasta to never, ever end.

    That is the lesson to take from this news that Olive Garden excitedly shared Thursday morning: Florida was the No. 2 state with the largest number of Pasta Pass purchases.

    What is a Pasta Pass? Buy one for $100, and you get 8 weeks of unlimited pasta with all of the trimmings, plus soup or salad and breadsticks. The restaurant's promotion starts Sept. 25 and runs through Nov. 19, meaning the lucky passholders can come in and eat neverending pasta on those dates. ...

    Florida was the No. 2 state with the largest number of Olive Garden Pasta Pass purchases, an unlimited pasta pass for $100. Photo courtesy Olive Garden.
  2. What the 10 terms Merriam-Webster just added to the dictionary say about our foodie culture

    Cooking

    Joining "troll" (as in, a rude person on the Internet, not a bridge-dwelling creature), "alt-right" and "dog whistle," 10 food-related words were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary this week. That's out of 250 new terms, a pretty good ratio that signals the ongoing shift toward a more food-obsessed culture, one that uses terms describing specific beers and sushi rolls enough that they deserve a place in the dictionary....

    IPA is one of the words recently added to the dictionary.
  3. St. Petersburg's Il Ritorno, Cassis American Brasserie close for renovations

    Food & Dining

    Two downtown St. Petersburg restaurants are closing their doors for a bit and undergoing significant renovations.

    IL RITORNO

    Hurricane Irma nudged Il Ritorno to close a week earlier than intended for construction. They anticipate being closed until late October.

    Chef and owner David Benstock and his wife, Erica, obtained the space behind their current location at 449 Central Ave. earlier this year and plan to expand into that space during the closure. In doing so, the modern Italian restaurant will double its 1,800-square-foot size....

    Chef and owner David Benstock of Il Ritorno is adding space behind the current location.
  4. Aldi's award-winning $8 rose will now be sold in American stores

    Retail

    Are you on the Aldi train yet?

    The discount grocer is beloved in my household for its low prices on staples like eggs, cheese and yogurt, plus an affordable line of organic products. And now there is another reason to start shopping at the German supermarket chain: Starting Sept. 20, you can buy one of the best wines in the world there for less than $10.

    Aldi's Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016, which retails for about $8, has won awards from the International Wine Challenge two years in a row. This summer, the pink-hued wine took a silver medal in the main contest, and the top prize in the Great Value Awards....

    Aldi's Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rose 2016
  5. Irma leaves us powerless to say no to junk food

    News

    Halfway through my third bagel, I began to wonder if it was really necessary.

    It was Friday, a full 60 hours before Hurricane Irma was forecast to touch the state of Florida. Everyone still had power. It wasn't even raining.

    And yet, all I could manage to eat were white carbs, slathered in cream cheese, chewy and warm and full of magical calming powers.

    As a native Floridian, I grew up with hurricane anxiety and have lived through a handful, through days without power and trees in the streets. But the statewide panic leading up to Hurricane Irma felt new. We weren't just stocking up on nonperishables. We were soothing our souls with crunchy chips, cold ice cream, chocolate cookies, soda (lots of soda, so much soda, why so much soda?) and other things we don't normally allow ourselves to eat....

    tbt* file
  6. How junk food helped us get through Hurricane Irma

    Cooking

    Halfway through my third bagel, I began to wonder if it was really necessary.

    It was Friday, a full 60 hours before Hurricane Irma was forecast to touch the state of Florida. Everyone still had power. It wasn't even raining.

    And yet, all I could manage to eat were white carbs, slathered in cream cheese, chewy and warm and full of magical calming powers.

    As a native Floridian, I grew up with hurricane anxiety and have lived through a handful, through days without power and trees in the streets. But the statewide panic leading up to Hurricane Irma felt new. We weren't just stocking up on non-perishables. We were soothing our souls with crunchy chips, cold ice cream, chocolate cookies, soda (lots of soda, so much soda, why so much soda?) and other things we don't normally allow ourselves to eat....

    Snacks
  7. From the food editor: Crafty ways to send your dinner party over the top

    Cooking

    September typically signals a change in how we think about eating. Throughout the summer months, we tend to stick to lighter meals, less oven time, more low-maintenance cooking. Once the holiday buzz begins to build, that shifts to more cozy comfort foods, more roasting, more group meals.

    Whether it's strictly at the major holidays, or festive one-offs the next couple of months, throwing a dinner party — that is, any dinner in which you invite guests to your home and cook for them — need not be a stressful, unapproachable affair....

    Coconut Cake
  8. Menu for a weeknight dinner party

    Cooking

    The goal

    Adulting can be hard, and so can getting everyone together on the same night of the week for a dinner party. If your weekends are getting too packed, consider gathering everyone around the dinner table on a weeknight. You can pull off an after-work soiree with this menu, no problem.

    The method

    Like Rachael Ray before us, we can strive to pull off fantastic meals in 30 minutes or less. To make this as easy as possible, do any prep work the morning of or the night before. For this menu, there isn't much, but you could get a head start on grating cheese or making salad dressing. Consider setting your table in advance, too, and do any shopping the weekend before....

    Avocado Goat Cheese Pasta with a side salad. [Photo by EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  9. Menu for a make-ahead dinner party

    Cooking

    The goal

    You have time to cook, just not right before you want to serve dinner. This make-ahead plan identifies a couple of dishes that can be prepared hours or even days before you sit down to eat, then cooked right before you and your guests are ready to dig in.

    The method

    Dishes that will reheat well are your friend, as are casserole-like sides that don't rely on a lot of textures to appeal. Something like mashed potatoes that hold onto their creamy, buttery goodness for a while. And anything with lots of texture, like something crispy or crunchy, should be simple and able to be made just before dinner is served. ...

    Curry Chicken Thighs with coconut rice and roasted carrots with lemon for an upcoming taste section, photographed at Michelle's house on Thursday, September 7, 2017. Story is about throwing different kind of dinner parties.
  10. Menu for a budget-friendly dinner party

    Cooking

    The goal

    The priority here is cost: We're going to get dinner on the table for $7 per person or less. But a couple of key ingredients keep things elegant. This dinner party serves 6, so we're estimating the total cost at around $40, but you can scale the ingredients down or up and plan accordingly.

    The method

    Keep it simple, with main ingredients that can be bolstered by things you probably have already, like oil, fresh herbs and dry seasonings. For this meal, we're considering sugar, olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes pantry items. Here's the approximate cost breakdown for everything else:...

    Curry Chicken Thighs with toasted coconut rice and caramelized carrots. [Photo by EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  11. Menu for an elegant dinner party

    Cooking

    The goal

    This is special occasion territory, ideal for birthday celebrations or other milestones, and fancy holiday gatherings. Consider inviting guests in a more formal way than a text message or word of mouth; websites like Paperless Post allow you to send snazzy email invitations, if you don't want to go the snail mail route. Casually suggesting a dress code wouldn't be entirely out of line. ...

    Roast Beef Tenderloin with Rosemary Butter, plus braised radishes and Brussels sprout hash with crispy shallots. [Photo by EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  12. Menu for a mobile dinner party

    Cooking

    The goal

    There won't be one central table for this dinner party; maybe no one will really be sitting at all. Think more "party" than "dinner," a casual night of game-playing and backyard hanging. You need a spread that can be mostly handheld, food your guests can eat without a knife, fork, or even a plate.

    The method

    Opt for foods that lend themselves to being eaten by hand, and have plenty of aluminum foil around to avoid excessive drippage. Corral guests in one part of the house — the patio, the backyard, the living room — so clean-up is contained to one spot. Have paper or plastic plates, plus disposable forks and plenty of paper towels. Go ahead and set out all of the food at once in a central location, and tell guests to help themselves. ...

    Chicken in pita with feta cheese and tzatziki sauce, served with skewered potatoes. [Photo by EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  13. How to host a dinner party: menus, etiquette tips and more

    Cooking

    The term tends to conjure panic.

    Dinner parties can mean overflowing shopping carts, dwindling bank accounts, the stress of not only cooking but cleaning up before and after.

    But it doesn't have to be this way.

    If you can keep perspective and do advance menu planning, cooking for a large group of people can be a festive and feel-good affair.

    Here are five dinner party menus to help suit a variety of needs: ...

    Roasted Pork with radishes and Brussels sprouts.
  14. From the food editor: A Strawberry Banana Smoothie recipe for breakfast lovers and haters alike

    Cooking

    Let's talk about breakfast.

    I am very passionate about the first meal of the day, often going to bed in anticipation of it, dreaming of hot waffles and eggs and orange juice and a steamy cup of coffee.

    Reality is often far from that, as my love for breakfast does not extend to a general love for the morning hours. I am not someone who can wake before the sun, refreshed and ready to take on the day. I am someone who snoozes an alarm 12 times and then gets frazzled when there's no milk in the fridge for my Flax Flakes. ...

    Strawberry Banana Smoothie. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
  15. From the food editor: A lesson in using what you have, with Garden Pepper and Goat Cheese Quiche

    Cooking

    It was a suggestion, but one of those suggestions that is really not a suggestion and more of a demand, but a nice one, because you love each other.

    I was asking my husband for food ideas to serve some friends who were coming over for the day.

    "Maybe we can come up with something based on what we have in the fridge," he said slowly. "That way we don't have to buy anything else." He met my eyes. "Because we don't have room for anything else."...

    Garden Pepper and Goat Cheese Quiche. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.