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Originally published Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Nosh and chill: Pull together a flavorful meal without cooking

Easy summer meals can be pulled together quickly from the deli and your pantry, and you don't have to turn on the oven.

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Phew! You spent all day in the sun and the thought of turning on the oven and heating up your kitchen makes you crazy.

So just don't cook. You can still have a wonderful summer meal without heating up the ingredients. It's not the raw-food craze, it's just common sense. Why not stop on the way home and get some beautiful cheeses, chilled seafood or cold cuts?

Some side salads and creative desserts are all you need to make the meal simple yet memorable. Add a bottle of wine and dine elegantly outside on your patio where it's cool. It's a matter of knowing where to find great ingredients that can be fabulous when served as-is.

Give cheese a chance

Often cheese is served before or after dinner. But Starr Cornwall, cheese monger at Laguna, Calif.'s Sapphire Pantry, says, "Cheese can be dinner. One ounce of cheese has more nutrition than an egg." In the summer, she loves a simple supper of goat cheese, salad, bread and a glass of sauvignon blanc.

If you're having company, you'll want to do something more elaborate. When you line up a cheese tasting, think variety.

"Have cheeses made from goat, cow and sheep's milk. Have something blue. Have hard and soft cheeses. And always have something with some zip in it," Cornwall says.

Make sure you serve bread and crackers, and consider some accompaniments for your cheeses.

"Europeans have cheese and bread alone. Americans love putting stuff on their food," Cornwall says.

Cornwall, who was a personal chef for P. Diddy, offers apricot and white-cherry butter from Armenia, Marcona almonds and Spanish fig "bread" — pressed, dried figs that taste great with flavorful cheeses such as Manchego.

"Honey goes great on goat cheese. It cuts the gaminess," Cornwall said.

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Swing by the deli

The busiest place in some grocery stores is the deli case. That's where you'll find folks buying lox, salami and other goodies. You can pile them high on crusty rolls for a super sandwich or lay them on a plate and eat them with a fork.

Find some that coordinate. The easiest thing to do is go with an Italian theme. Pick a savory hard salami and match it with mortadella, a rich bologna flecked with fat. Add some capicolla, Italian ham or prosciutto.

Then pick out some marinated olives and vegetables such as artichokes. You can also get roasted red peppers in a jar. Breadsticks or ready-made pasta salads complete the meal. For dessert, find some Italian cookies and gelato.

A summery Italian white wine such as Pinot Grigio coordinates perfectly. A dry red wine such as Chianti is great, too. If you can afford it, treat yourself to a Barolo.

Dip in

In Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants, you'll often see a platter called mezze (appetizers), and many are served cold with dips. I love this idea because you can put it all on one platter and make different flavor combinations by dunking your foods.

Start with hummus, which you can find in most grocery stores with specialty foods. For something different but a little harder to find, try for muhammara (a pomegranate-flavored dip). Then add a creamy dip such as garlic aioli, tzatziki or even good old ranch dip from the store.

Pick some proteins: cold chicken, crab claws or chilled shrimp, calamari, even lamb kebabs. And add a salad or crudite. Couscous salad or pita bread will coordinate perfectly with this indoor picnic.

Syrah and full-bodied reds match the olive oils in the meal. For dessert, there's nothing better than baklava with some dried fruits such as figs, apricots and dates. Or how about blood oranges, goat cheese with honey and Turkish coffee? The cool possibilities are endless.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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