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Cook's Corner

Diana Parker | Journal Gazette
Kent Castleman of New Haven uses fresh vegetables and herbs from his garden to make Tomato Basil Salad Over Grilled Portobello Mushrooms.

Competitor enjoys creating recipes

Diana Parker | Journal Gazette
Kent Castleman of New Haven uses fresh vegetables and herbs from his garden to make tomato basil salad over grilled portobello mushrooms. Castleman is one of four "home-cook" finalists for Sunday's upcoming "Cooking Blind with Fox MasterChef Christine Ha" contest at IPFW.

Kent Castleman will make recipes from family cookbooks and those found online but what he and his wife really like to do is create new dishes.

“This recipe (Tomato Basil Salad Over Grilled Portobello Mushrooms), I created for the initial round was our recipe as well as the apple ale reduction,” he says.

Castleman, the founder and executive director of Cornerstone Youth Center in Monroeville, is one of four “home cook” finalists participating in “Cooking Blind with MasterChef Christine Ha,” which will take place at noon Sunday at IPFW, Rhinehart Music Center, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E. He will be competing alongside Nancy Ake and Dawn Kelley, both of Fort Wayne, and Michael Walters of Hoagland. Proceeds will benefit the League for the Blind & Disabled’s Youth Services program.

The goal is to keep recipes simple, Castleman says.

“We use a lot of organic (ingredients) and keep recipes simple. We don’t do sauces hardly ever. We use the good oils and fats – real butter and lots of olive oil. And the latest thing we’re using is grape seed oil. It’s not heavy and it doesn’t change the flavor of the food you cook with it,” he says.

Castleman, 35, says he learned about the contest from a flier he received from Nancy Gasparini, a Cornerstone board member who also works at the League.

Castleman, who has his sight, had a detached retina and had surgery in February to correct it.

“Going through that, I thought what it would be like to lose my sight. I finally registered three weeks before the initial competition. I wanted to wait to make sure I didn’t need any additional surgeries,” the New Haven resident says.

Castleman lists cooking as one of his hobbies, as well as gardening. He and his wife, Heather, share cooking duties for the family, which includes their 7-year-old daughter Ellie.

“You know we share that pretty well as a couple. During the week, she’ll cover the cooking because of my nighttime schedule. I cook more on the weekends. She cooks breakfast on Sundays. She makes chocolate chip pancakes,” he says, smiling.

Asked if he was looking forward to meeting Christine Ha, Castleman replies excitedly, “Yes! Very much. She’s just an inspiration for a segment of our population that might have been told they couldn’t do something.”

Q. What’s your favorite vegetable?

A. Probably, um, oh man. The sun sugar orange cherry tomatoes. They’re like candy.

Q. What’s your favorite cooking utensil?

A. (Laughs) Right now it’s the immersion blender. Other than that, it’s tongs. We were making our own spaghetti sauce and I couldn’t get it smooth. Heather said, ‘Why don’t you use the immersion blender.’ And it was perfect.

Q. Who’s your cooking idol?

A. My mom (Marilyn Castleman) is definitely one. And her twin sister, the late Carolyn (Roussey).

Q. What’s something people would not find in your refrigerator?

A. High fructose corn syrup. Three years ago, we got away from high fructose corn syrup and only then did we realize what it was in.

Q. If you were stuck on an island, what’s one food you would have to have?

A. Probably watermelon. Can I say cold watermelon? If I have cold watermelon, my life would be so good. Other than that, beef tenderloin.

Tomato Basil Salad Over Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

1 pint red cherry tomatoes

1 pint orange cherry tomatoes

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons fresh basil

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper, plus more for sprinkling on top of mushrooms

4 large portobello mushrooms

Drizzle 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over and rub onto portobello mushrooms, salt and lightly sprinkle with white pepper. Grill mushrooms about 5 minutes on each side. Halve tomatoes, chop basil, crush and chop garlic and cube the mozzarella into 1/2-inch cubes. Combine 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil with 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper in mixing bowl; add tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese and toss. Spoon salad over grilled mushrooms.

Makes 4 servings.

Apple Ale Reduction

2 cups Simply Apple Juice

1 bottle Redd’s Apple Ale

2 tablespoons butter

Stir together and set on stove over medium-high heat and leave to reduce, stirring occasionally. Good over pork or chicken or as a dipping sauce for sandwiches.

Makes 1/2 cup.

Apple/Butternut Squash Mash

1 medium butternut squash

2 Fuji apples

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup water

Cut squash and apples into 1-inch chunks. Melt butter in pan and brown squash until starting to soften. Add apples. As apples are softening, add brown sugar and cinnamon. Add water to steam mixture. Cook until apples and squarsh are soft and the sugar caramel starts to form.

Makes 8 servings.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801; fax 461-8648 or email