Celebrity Chef Cat Cora Shares Recipes for Pre-Wedding Events

The Iron Chef provides some of her favorite appetizer recipes for summer bashes.

Celebrity chef, author, restaurateur, and TV personality Cat Cora has come to the rescue with five delectable dishes that will wow the attendees of your summer soirée.

Photo: Joe Buissink Photography

Hosting a pre-wedding summer bash is, in our opinion, one of the great joys of the season. Whether it be an engagement party, bridal shower, or even a “welcome” party for your actual nuptials, what could be more fun than soaking up the sun while celebrating your romance?

If you are throwing an event for an engaged pair, this time will likely be exciting, yet stressful – there’s so much to plan! In the event that you’re hosting a smaller celebration and have decided to forgo a caterer, you’re probably looking for the perfect recipe to whip up for your guests as well. Well, seek no longer! Celebrity chef, author, restaurateur, and TV personality Cat Cora has come to the rescue with five delectable dishes that will wow the attendees of your summer soirée. “The key to impressing your guests at pre-wedding parties is a beautiful presentation,” muses Cat. “These are some of my favorite appetizer recipes that provide something for everyone and bring delicious flavor and a touch of elegance to any event.”

Check out the dishes below!

1. Greek Lamb and Olive Sliders with Garlic “Sauce”
Makes 16 sliders


· 1 pound ground lamb 

· 1/3 cup chopped kalamata olives

· 3 tablespoons dried bread crumbs, preferably panko 

· 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion 

· 1 tablespoon chopped scallions 

· 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

· 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

· 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano 

· 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese 

Garlic Sauce

 1/4 cup plain yogurt 

· 2 garlic cloves, minced 

· 16 mini brioche rolls, split and toasted 

· 16 lettuce leaves, washed and dried 

· 16 tomato slices 

· 16 cucumber slices (optional) 

· 16 thin slices red onion (optional)

With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix the lamb, olives, bread crumbs, onion, scallions, salt, pepper, oregano, and feta until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Shape the meat mixture into 16 mini 1/4-inch-thick patties. 

Preheat a grill or a grill pan. Grill the meat patties over medium-hot coals or pan-grill over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes per side. The burgers should no longer be pink in the center. 

For the garlic sauce: While the burgers cook, stir together the yogurt and garlic. 

Place each burger on the bottom of a roll, spoon on a little garlic sauce, and top with lettuce, tomato, and cucumber and onion, if using. Cover with the top half of the roll and serve. 

2. Leek and Onion Tartlets with Fresh Lump Crabmeat
Makes 30 tartlets

· 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

· ½ cup finely chopped well-cleaned leeks (white and light green parts only)

· ½ cup finely chopped onion

· 1 large egg, beaten

· 1/2 cup light cream

· 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

· 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

· 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

· 1/4 cup lump crab meat

· 30 prebaked frozen miniature phyllo cups (two 15-ounce packages, not thawed)

Place a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat oven to 350°.

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter.

Add the leeks and onion, and stir constantly.

Cook until soft, 8-10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg, cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg together.

Stir the cooled onion mixture into the egg mixture.

Divide among the tartlet shells.

Place the tarts on a baking sheet and bake until the custard sets, about 10-15 minutes.

Serve the tartlets warm or at room temperature.

Option with crab: Pick over 1/4 cup lump crab meat, removing any shells and cartilage, and coarsely chop. Add a scant ¼ teaspoon crab meat to each phyllo shell before you spoon in the custard mixture. Bake as directed; top with crème fraiche and a touch of caviar, if you like.

3. Stuffed Mushrooms
Makes 12 mushrooms, serves 4-6

· 12 large cremini (or other brown) mushrooms, about half a pound 

· 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed 

· 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 

· 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic 

· 1/4 cup packed finely chopped prosciutto 

· 1 tablespoon finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes 

· 1/4 cup crumbled fresh goat cheese 

· 3 tablespoons plain dried breadcrumbs 

· 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

· 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

· Freshly ground black pepper

Rub each mushroom with a damp paper towel and cut off stem. 

Trim off and discard the hard end of each stem. Finely chop the stems. 

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for about one minute. Add the garlic, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion and garlic are golden brown. 

Transfer to a medium bowl. Pour a little more oil (about 1/2 tablespoon) into the pan if necessary, raise the heat to medium, add the mushroom stems to the pan, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the onion. 

Add the prosciutto to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, until the prosciutto is brown and crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the prosciutto to the onion and mushrooms and let cool for several minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, and salt to the cooled onion mixture and mix until the ingredients are well-dispersed but not mashed together. Using a spoon, lightly pack each mushroom cap with a generous portion of the stuffing. Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with the remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with pepper. Bake until the feeling is golden and the mushrooms are tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

4. Watermelon Gazpacho Shooters with Crème Fraiche and Basque-Rubbed Grilled Shrimp
Serves 4-6

Watermelon Gazpacho Shooters

· 6 cups chopped, seeded watermelon; reserve juice 

· 1 cup peeled, seeded, and diced cucumber 

· 1 red bell pepper, diced 

· 1 yellow bell pepper, diced 

· 1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced 

· 3 celery hearts, diced 

· 1/2 small red onion, finely diced 

· 1/4 cup finally chopped fresh mint 

· 1/4 cup finally chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

· 2 tablespoons +1 teaspoon lime juice, from two large limes 

· 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 

· 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 

· Freshly ground black pepper 

· 1/4 cup crème fraîche

Purée the watermelon and any reserved juice in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, toss the cucumber, peppers, celery, onion, herbs, lime juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. 

Pour the watermelon puree over the vegetables, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least one hour. 

Taste and season with more salt and black pepper or jalapeño, if it's not spicy enough. 

Serve very cold in shot glasses, topped with a spoonful of crème fraiche and a grilled shrimp along the rim of the glass.

Basque-Rubbed Grilled Shrimp

 4 lbs. shrimp 

· Salt & freshly ground black pepper 

· 1 tablespoon dried orange rind 

· 1/2 tablespoon chili powder 

· 1 teaspoon sea salt 

Combine orange rind, chili powder, and 1 tsp sea salt in a small bowl. Rub shrimp with salt and pepper, and then rub shrimp with entire Basque blend until well-coated. Cover, set in refrigerator, 30 minutes. 

Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high.

Place shrimp on hot grill and sear on both sides until pink. 

Remove and serve immediately. 

5. Tomato-Mozza Skewers w/ Bloody Mary Vinaigrette & Crispy Buttermilk-Soaked Onions
Serves 4

Bloody Mary Vinaigrette

· 1/2 cup bottled Bloody Mary Mix (see note)

· 2 TBS extra-virgin olive 0il

· 1/2 tsp kosher salt

· 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

· 2 celery hearts (3 tablespoons, finely diced)

Tomato Skewers

· 32 fresh mozzarella bocconcini

· 32 cherry yomatoes

· 32 large basil leaves (Washed and dried)

· 8 wooden skewers (10-inch)

Crispy Buttermilk-Soaked Onions 

· 1 quart canola oil for frying 

· 1 medium red onion 

· 1/2 cup buttermilk, shake before measuring 

· 1 cup all-purpose flour 

· 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Pour the oil into a large heavy pot and place over medium-high heat. 

While the oil heats, shave the onion as thinly as you can using a Benriner, a mandoline, or a sharp knife. Line a plate with paper towels and set aside. 

Pour the buttermilk into a shallow dish. Place the flour in a separate shallow dish. Season with the salt. When the oil reaches 375°F on an instant-read or digital thermometer, dip the onion slices into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drop off, and dredge the slices in the flour.  Carefully drop the coated onions into the hot oil. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side, and drain on the paper-lined plate. Serve immediately.

Vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.
For the Skewers: Thread the mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil leaves on the skewers, alternating them and using 4 of each per skewer. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the Salad: Arrange two skewers on each of four salad plates and drizzle the skewers with the vinaigrette. You can also arrange all the skewers on a big platter and pour the vinaigrette into a small bowl for dipping. If you're serving with the crispy onions, mound them next to the skewers and serve immediately.
Cat's Note: Some Bloody Mary mixes are saltier and spicier than others; be sure to taste before adding any more salt or pepper.

Photos courtesy of Cat Cora

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