Caitlin Taggart of Overland Park takes her love of cooking to work

07/15/2014 7:00 AM

07/15/2014 6:53 PM

Caitlin Taggart doesn’t always cook by the book. Working at a public library, Taggart is surrounded by shelves of cookbooks that provide inspiration for her creative cookery.

Fiance Bryan Perkins of Overland Park is a less adventurous eater than Taggart. So, sometimes Taggart brings her culinary creations into work so library peers can check out what she’s been cooking. Taggart has also started a monthly series called “An Edible Discussion” in which home cooks can borrow suggested cookbooks on a tasty topic, learn from experts and bring a dish to share for a community potluck.

Residence: Overland Park

Occupation: Johnson County Library information specialist

Special cooking interest: Soups

It’s interesting that you like to create dishes that are an amalgamation of many ingredients. What do you say to people who think soup is just a cold-weather food? I like making soups year-round. People eat hot food off the grill, and a warm bowl of soup is always comforting. There are also cold soups, such as gazpacho, which are especially delicious when the vegetables are in season. But to me, soups aren’t just a cold-weather food, especially when you can use fresh vegetables. I like to make a big pot of soup and will freeze some in individual containers so I have plenty for lunch or to share with others.

How would you describe your cooking style? Normally, I just cook by the seat of my pants, based on whatever I have on hand. I love to combine flavors and see how it comes out. My favorite herbs and spices to use are cumin, basil, garlic, thyme and cilantro. I’m also growing peppers, tomatoes and basil in my first-time garden. I almost always add extra vegetables to whatever I’m making and substitute out high-fat ingredients, like cream, with Greek yogurt. I will use wine in place of oil when I’m sautéing something and will use applesauce in place of butter when I’m baking. This recipe comes from “New England Soup Factory Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes from the Nation’s Best Purveyor of Fine Soup” by Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein, though I’ve made a few alterations in my version. I let people garnish with croutons and mozzarella on their own, instead of mixing them into the soup.

So is your cooking history an open book? I grew up in Westport and started by baking treats when I was 8 or 9 years old. I really enjoy cooking because it is instant gratification to eat something you’ve made, and all of your senses are engaged during the entire process. I also love to share food with others. Every weekend, my mother, Katrina Taggart, and I prepare a meal for about 50 people for the Meals on Wheels program. What I’ve learned through doing this voluntarism is that while the food is important, the relationships that are built through the sharing of the food are even more significant. Often, food is the vehicle that brings people together.

Is that why you spearheaded “An Edible Discussion” program at Corinth Library? Libraries aren’t just about books; they have become a community space in which people can exchange information. There’s nothing more natural than being able to talk about food — we’ve all had experience with it — whether we cook or just eat it. Every month, we have a food theme — this month, it was frozen treats — and we had a guest speaker from Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard. And then, there’s always a potluck, where people bring in their creations to share, so there’s a sweet ending, too.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at pepi@kc.rr.com to nominate a cook.

Eat it up

Join in the program “An Edible Discussion” at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of every month for a potluck and discussion on cookbooks, food and cooking at Johnson County Library’s Corinth branch, 8100 Mission Road, Prairie Village. Each month focuses on a specific food genre and features a special guest speaker. Upcoming programs: Picnic Foods with Farm to Market Bread Co. on Aug. 11 and Mexican Fare with Salty Iguana on Sept. 8. For more information, call 913-826-4600.

Eggplant Parmesan Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 (1-pound) eggplants

1 large onion, diced

2 ribs celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 (15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes

2 cups tomato juice

4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 cup white wine

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 cups garlic croutons

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash eggplants and pat dry. With a fork, prick each one in several places. Place on baking sheet and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until soft.

Remove from the oven and allow eggplants to cool slightly. Working over a large bowl, peel back the skin of eggplants and use a spoon to remove all of the pulp into the bowl. Place the pulp, a small amount at a time, onto a board and cut into small pieces. Return to the mixing bowl and set aside.

Into a large stockpot, sauté onion, celery and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add eggplant pulp, tomatoes, tomato juice, stock, wine, oregano and basil. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 35 minutes.

To finish the soup, stir in Parmesan cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer an additional 5 minutes before serving. To serve, ladle into individual bowls and garnish top with croutons and a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese.

Per serving, based on 6: 321 calories (38 percent from fat), 12 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 27 milligrams cholesterol, 31 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 1,143 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.

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