Bob Blumberg and Jessica Cuevas know what it takes for a marriage to succeed.
And that's the approach the pair has taken in the kitchen over the 20 years the two have been wed.
"We tend to involve each other, even when we're not the primary one cooking," said Cuevas.
"We'll ask each other 'What's it need,'" added Blumberg.
"We rely on each other for feedback," continued Cuevas.
One reason the partnership works so well is that the Margate husband and wife each bring their own cooking styles and backgrounds when working in the kitchen.
Blumberg, 59, and owner of Bob's Lawn Care landscaping, learned how to cook by watching his grandmother.
Cuevas, 45, and a third-grade teacher at the William H. Ross School in Margate, grew up in Florida and learned from her aunt a variety of Lebanese recipes that had been passed down in the family.
Both have warm memories of their kitchen tutors.
Blumberg grew up in Margate and still lives in the house where his parents, Jack and Stella Blumberg, raised their four children - three boys (including Margate Commissioner Maury Blumberg, who lives next door) and a daughter. Stella Blumberg worked full-time as a teacher. Meals were typical family fare, such as roast chicken or spaghetti.
The children grew up close to their grandmother, Claire Miller, of Atlantic City. Blumberg remembers Friday nights spent sleeping over his grandmother's house. He remembers those sleepovers as fun. He also remembers them as times he picked up cooking tips from Miller.
"She was very patient with me," Blumberg recalled. "She was very open to showing me how to do certain things. I would ask questions, she would patiently answer me. That's how I learned what I know, cooking-wise. They are good memories."
Typical Friday night meals included chicken dishes, casseroles and his grandmother's crab cakes - a recipe Blumberg still makes, although he's had to make changes over the years.
"She made really great crab cakes. They had a great flavor and consistency. She tied it together with mayonnaise, but Jessica dislikes it, so we have to improvise. Sometimes now we use a little bit of sour cream, instead of mayonnaise, to moisten it up," he said.
Blumberg also learned to make his grandmother's roasted potatoes - which remain a particular family favorite.
"Everybody in the family always looks forward to Bob making Nan's roasted potatoes," Cuevas said.
Miller's impact on Blumberg's life extended beyond the kitchen. She was an avid gardener, and passed on her love of plants and growing things to her grandson.
"She did steer me to my career. She had this garden, and I picked up gardening from her," Blumberg said. "She trusted me with the watering. She had about 100 house plants ...."
"And so do we," Cuevas interjected with a laugh. "People come in the house and comment we have jungle in here. He brings home plants people leave outside as winter approaches. He calls them orphans."
Cuevas grew up in a house where both parents worked, so Cuevas found herself helping out in the kitchen at an early age.
"I assumed the responsibility of learning how to cook probably in middle school," Cuevas said. "I would get home from school and start meals. I remember doing pot roasts in the crock pot."
Often, her mother would start meals, and Cuevas would add things, such as vegetables to a pot roast, when she got home.
She grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., the oldest of three children in a Columbian-American family. Her father's family's background was Lebanese, so many family dishes had Middle Eastern origins.
One family favorite was chicken and rice, one of the first meals Cuevas learned to make.
"I was cooking it very early - it only took about an hour to make," she said.
She learned how to cook from her mom, Susan Vernon, who taught her the basics of cooking. Her father's sister, her Aunt Yamila Lamilla, was also influential in the young girl's kitchen education - teaching her recipes from her father's side of the family.
"I asked a lot more questions of my aunt, than I did of my mother. My aunt was able to teach me how to make tabbouleh - a bulgur wheat salad - and also hummus. Those are both things that I still bring when I go to a party or go to someone's house for dinner."
The aunt also taught Cuevas how to make Lebanese potato salad, a recipe she'd learned from her mother, who died of breast cancer before her niece was born.
These days both Blumberg and Cuevas have the opportunity to frequently make their signature dishes. His family all live close by, and - living in the old family house - his place has become sort of a gathering spot for his extended clan.
"Everyone lives within a five-mile radius of each other. People don't knock, they just walk in. We all feel very comfortable," he said.
The couple eat at home most nights. They alternate cooking responsibilities based on their free time. A teacher, Cuevas is free during the summer, while Blumberg has more time during the winter.
He no longer eats poultry, beef or pork, so most meals are salads, roasted vegetables, pasta or rice. Blumberg is famous for the veggie burgers he makes for his birthday party in June.
"They are different every year," Cuevas said.
The couple clearly enjoys their time together in the kitchen, it's a place where they can relax and discuss the happenings of the day.
"We get along very well in the kitchen. We talk about who we saw and what we did," Cuevas said.
The pair also find themselves frequently discussing who they will share their meals with. They like to send dishes over to people in the neighborhood, who frequently reciprocate by sending over their own meals.
"Most of the dishes never come back empty," Blumberg said.
The only time these two seem to clash is when talk turns to who is the best cook.
"He is," Cuevas says, seconds before Blumberg can chime in with "She is."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Nan's Roasted Potatoes
•2 1/2 pounds
•1/3 cup canola oil
•1 teaspoon garlic powder and paprika
•1 teaspoon paprika
•1/2 tablespoon Kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and rinse the potatoes. Cut them into 1-inch pieces. Spread them in an even layer on a roasting tray. Drizzle oil on top of potatoes and sprinkle with seasonings. Bake for approximately 1/2 hour. Remove tray from oven and turn potatoes over. Cook for another 1/2 hour until brown and crispy. Serve immediately.
Nan's Crab Cakes
•1 celery stalk,
•1/2 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
•1/2 small onion,
•2 tablespoons butter
•1/4 cup bread crumbs
•2 tablespoons fresh
•2 tablespoons regular
•or low-fat sour cream
•1 tablespoon brown
•1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
•Old Bay Seasoning
•1 pound lump crab meat
Saute the vegetables in butter until softened. Combine wet ingredients first in mixing bowl, then add dry. Make sure mixture is well combined. Form into 6 small patties, shaping them with palms and fingers. Saute in butter on medium heat for 5 minutes on each side. Patties should be golden brown. Drain on paper towels before serving.
Aunt Yamila's Potato Salad
•2 pounds red skin potatoes (not baking potatoes), cut into 2 inch pieces
•1 large lemon or 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
•2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
•Salt and pepper to taste
•2 large cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
•1/4 cup minced fresh parsley to garnish (optional)
Boil the potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and transfer to a bowl.
Squeeze the lemons and pour the fresh lemon juice into a Ball jar or dressing jar. Add the olive oil, the salt and pepper and the garlic. Shake well until the dressing is well mixed. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and mix well. I toss the salad every 1/2 hour to make sure all the potatoes get coated with the dressing. Garnish with fresh parsley, if desired. This dish is best served at room temperature.
Makes: 8 servings
Colombian Arroz con Pollo
•2 to 3 chicken breasts or 4 to 5 chicken thighs
•4 cups water
•2 tablespoons olive oil
•1 large onion, finely chopped
•2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
•2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
•1 teaspoon salt
•1 teaspoon cumin
•1 teaspoon coriander
•1 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
•1 teaspoon paprika
•1/2 jar pimiento stuffed olives, drained and sliced (optional for garnish)
Season the chicken with salt and place in a large pot with water and cover. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
Remove chicken and shred with fork, set aside. Save the water.
Saute onions and garlic in oil for a few minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add rice to pot and stir to coat the rice with oil. Saute for 2 to 3 more minutes.
Add 4 cups of water (same water you used to cook the chicken in) to the sauteed vegetables.
Add shredded chicken and seasonings.
Stir gently and cook on medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. Do not open lid or stir until it's done.
Garnish with olives if desired.