PALMETTO -- About 500 people, all but a handful of them women, sat quietly Tuesday in the Bradenton Area Convention Center, staring straight ahead at the stage, getting cooking tips from Michelle Roberts.
She taught them how to make breakfast biscuits, Thai chicken and meatballs using taco shells instead of bread crumbs.
Every once in a while, however, someone in the crowd would jump up and yell: "I love food!"
Roberts travels round the country conducting cooking demonstrations for Taste of Home magazine. In Palmetto, fans concentrated on her every tip.
"You crack eggs by knocking them together," she said. "Only one will break. Do you crack eggs on the side of the bowl? Don't do that."
When you crack eggs on the side of the bowl, she said, shell can fall into what
ever you're making. And if you think about where eggs originate, you'll realize the shells aren't the most sanitary items in the kitchen.
The Taste of Home Cooking School had been at the Bradenton Area Convention Center several years ago.
"It was bigger last time," said Mary Ringland of Bradenton, a Taste of Home Cooking School veteran. "But this is a good turnout."
Master of ceremonies Vin Mannix, a longtime Bradenton Herald columnist, drew Ringland's registration card and called out her name minutes before. She was one of the people who jumped up and yelled "I love food" to claim a door prize. She won a free online Taste of Home cooking lesson and an oven mitt.
Ringland, an avid cook and recipe collector, said she loves Taste of Home magazine and was taking notes from Roberts.
Around the perimeter of the room, representatives from companies such as the Pampered Chef and Mixon Farms sat at tables, handing out information or giving out samples. Ringland said there were fewer reps than in previous years,
Out in the lobby, Jeri Schmid of Bradenton was taking a break. She said she loves to cook and is impressed with Taste of Home's approach.
"I think what they do is they give you real, honest-to-goodness recipes," Schmid said, "as opposed to people like the Barefoot Contessa who graduated from cooking school."
Schmid said she likes cooking shows with complicated gourmet recipes, too, but real-world recipes and techniques taught by Roberts and Taste of Home uses fresh ingredients with occasional mixes and prepared, packaged items. They are more practical for people with busy schedules, she said.
Patti Cavin lives in New Jersey and was visiting friends in the area. She said she didn't know what to expect when they all decided to come to the class but she was impressed. She attended a meet-and-greet before the demonstration and chatted with Roberts.
"She's so awesome," Cavin said. "I'm really excited that I came."
Cavin said she has always cooked from scratch, but Roberts' approach of incorporating mixes was an eye-opener.
"She's taught me a lot already," Cavin said. "It's all those little tips that we all share as cooks. I'm looking forward to getting home and trying them."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.