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Stir-Fry: Quick Indoor Cooking for Summer

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Quick! Step into your kitchen and cook a delicious dinner for your family on a hot summer's evening.

That's much more easily said than done. At this time of year, the kitchen is the last place most people want to be for long stretches. Who wants to stand over a hot stove when the pavement outside feels hot enough to cook on?

But I've got the perfect solution for summertime cooking, and it's one that doesn't involve the usual step of heating up the backyard grill. It's stir-frying, that classic Asian technique for cooking little pieces of food in a large, curved pan using a constant stirring motion.

Why do I suggest stir-frying as an ideal summer cooking method? The answer is simple: It all happens so quickly that you wind up spending very little time in the kitchen at all. Which leaves you all the more time to enjoy dinner with family and friends.

Stir-frying is such a quick cooking technique for several key reasons. First, there's the fact that you cut up the solid ingredients into small, uniform, bite-sized pieces that cook through evenly in just a few minutes; and the liquid ingredients and seasonings are usually combined in advance and added to form a sauce virtually in seconds.

Next, there's the cooking vessel you use. In Asia, the classic choice is a wok, a large hemispherical metal pan with a curved surface and high sides that distributes heat evenly and, combined with a constant stirring motion using a long-handled spatula or spoon, maximizes the food's contact with the cooking surface. To tell you the truth, though, I find that stir-frying works just as well if you use a large saute pan with curved sides; the important thing is that you have enough room in the pan to keep the food in constant motion on the cooking surface without overcrowding.

My recipe for Stir-fried Pork with Bell Pepper, Onion, and Carrot is a great example of this quick-cooking technique in action. It starts with tender boneless pork chops, which you cut into bite-sized strips; but you could also substitute a lean cut of beef or lamb, or boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The vegetables that go with it are also cut into uniform little pieces that rapidly turn tender-crisp in the pan. (I've also included instructions for roasting some bell pepper wedges to line the serving platter for an attractive presentation; but if you don't want to go through the added step of heating up the oven, just skip this, dice both of the bell peppers, and stick to the stir-frying.)

So, quick! Step into your kitchen. No one will believe you cooked such a great dinner at the end of a long, hot day.

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STIR-FRIED PORK WITH BELL PEPPER, ONION, AND CARROT

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 pound boneless center-cut organic pork chops

2 organic green bell peppers

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted Asian-style sesame oil

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Splash white wine vinegar

1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped

1 medium-sized organic carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice

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Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

With a sharp knife, trim excess fat or connective tissue from the pork chops and cut them crosswise into slices about 1/2 inch thick.

Halve, stem, seed, and devein the bell peppers. Cut half of 1 pepper into small dice. Cut the remaining pepper halves into 2 wedges each for a total of 6 wedges.

In a 10-to-12-inch ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. Add the 6 pepper wedges skin side down and season lightly with salt and pepper. Continue cooking, turning occasionally with tongs, until they have lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Turn all the wedges skin side up, transfer the pan to the oven, and cook until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes longer.

While the pepper wedges cook in the oven, put the soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, sugar, garlic, pepper flakes, and vinegar in a medium-sized mixing bowl and stir until the cornstarch has dissolved completely. Add the pork slices and toss until the pork is thoroughly coated. Set aside.

When the pepper wedges are done, transfer them skin side down to a serving platter. Set aside.

Return the pan to high heat and add the remaining olive oil. When the oil is hot enough to swirl freely, add the pork mixture and stir-fry until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped bell pepper, onion, and carrot, season to taste with salt and pepper, and continue stir-frying until the pork is cooked through and the vegetables are slightly softened, about 3 to 5 minutes more.

Spoon the stir-fry over the pepper wedges and serve immediately.

(c) 2009 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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