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Cranberry Curd Bars

I was pretty sure Oregon couldn't get any more awesome. I mean, between its vast evergreen forests, its stunning coastline, its wonderful people, and its near-perfect produce, can you really expect more? But this place keeps surprising me.

It surprised me this spring with the best strawberries I've ever had. By far. They were what strawberries should be. The ideal strawberry. They were so good, I pretty much didn't do anything with them except eat them out of hand. I finally, begrudgingly made some jam so I could taste them all winter, but I could easily have just eaten all those too.

It surprised me this summer with peaches and watermelon as good as you can find in the South. I didn't think that was possible, but it happened. Please don't take offense at that statement. As a southerner, I have always felt that the South was pretty much the queen of peaches and melons. But there you have it.

It has surprised me this fall with its apples and pears. Glorious! I've never been much of an apple fan, but I've been eating them every day since they came in season. Can't stop.

And last week, just when I thought nothing could surprise me, we found local cranberries (cranberries!) at our farmer's market. Pinch me.

Cranberries are not the easiest fruit to love. This is why cranberry sauce exists. Cranberries need to be softened and sweetened up pretty dramatically before they're enjoyable. But we keep them around because they're just so flavorful and lovely. There are few other places in fruitdom where you can find such a dramatic red color. Let's just say it's a little berry with a big personality.

I've been mulling over Thanksgiving desserts for some time now, trying to think of a way to gussy up the usual spread. Cranberry sauce is nice. It goes well with turkey. You pretty much can't do Thanksgiving without it. But is anyone else tired of that being the ONLY thing we do with cranberries at Thanksgiving? I think I see a few hands in the back.

This is not intended to replace pumpkin or pecan pie. But do consider it a nice alternative or a lively addition to those fine pies. It's beautiful and delicious, and it will be a nice, tart surprise for tastebuds lulled almost to sleep by turkey and dressing.

Other articles you might enjoy: Spiced Cranberry Sauce, Whole Cranberry Sauce With Dijon and Walnuts, "Pumpkin" Pie

Cranberry Curd Bars With Hazelnut Crust
Makes about 25 small squares

For the crust, combine in a food processor:
           1 cup all-purpose or pastry flour
            1/2 cup hazelnut meal*
            1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
            1 teaspoon vanilla
            1/2 teaspoon salt
Add and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs:
           1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Add:
           1 egg yolk
Pulse until the dough just starts to come together. When you compress it between your fingers, it should come together, but it should not be wet or sticky.
Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days ahead of time.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment or grease well. Press the shortbread into the pan evenly. Prick it all over with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Bake until deep golden brown and dry to the touch, about 18 to 22 minutes.
While the crust bakes, make the curd. Combine in a saucepan:
           1 pound cranberries
            1 cup water
Cook until the cranberries release their juices, about 15 to 20 minutes. Strain the juice into a bowl with a fine-mesh sieve, pressing the berries with a spatula to extract all the juice and thick pulp. You should have roughly 1 cup of juice.
Combine the cranberry juice in a saucepan with:
           4 eggs, well-beaten
            1 cup sugar
Heat very slowly over medium-low to medium heat, whisking constantly, until the curd thickens. This can take 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add:
           5 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
Whisk until the butter has melted and is incorporated. Pour the curd over the baked crust and return to the oven, lowering the heat to 350˚F. Bake until the curd is set, about 10 to 15 minutes.

*You can buy hazelnut meal, but to make it at home, pulse 3/4 cup roasted hazelnuts in a food processor until very fine. It can be a little "rustic"--some larger pieces of hazelnut are fine. You can also substitute almond meal or just use 1 1/4 cups flour and no nut meal.

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Steam or boil until just tender and bright green, about 3 to 5 minutes:
     1 pound asparagus, rinsed and woody bottoms snapped off if necessary
Meanwhile, spread:...