Eat Wild. Eat Whole. Live Well.
That phrase can be found often on this website. It is my motto, the words I try to live by.
The way of life my husband and I have established here in North Dakota has become so meaningful. I only cook with wild game that we have hunted ourselves. I eat fresh, whole foods and believe that living well encompasses everything from health to lifestyle choices. Sharing photos of wild game recipes and of my life outdoors has become more than a hobby.
I never thought that anyone was reading my blog, but when the North Dakota Game & Fish contacted me and asked to feature me in the North Dakota Outdoors magazine, I was thrilled. Not because I wanted the exposure (I actually prefer to stay behind the lens of a camera), but because I knew there are others who are passionate about hunting and harvesting their own meat. This was my chance to connect with them. If I could inspire others to eat mindfully or to show how healthy and delicious wild game can be, than I know I have done my job.
I have to admit I was extremely nervous when Alicia Underlee Nelson, lifestyle/travel blogger of Prairie Style File and author of “North Dakota Beer“, came over to my home to interview me for the article. I was so eager to share my thoughts, but so worried that I wouldn’t find the right words to communicate my message clearly. How was I supposed to explain that I’m not just an ambitious home cook, but also a Yogi and Hunter without sounding like I have an identity crisis? Would she think I was crazy when I told her I had a bags of Duck Feet in my freezer?
Luckily for me Alicia was extremely laid back! Conversation was easy-going and most importantly, I got a chance to talk about something that I am very passionate about: cooking wild game.
After chatting for a while about the ins and outs of cooking, we decided to take the dogs out to one of our favorite pheasant hunting spots. The private land is owned by someone we know and we always check-in, making sure to say hello to all the farm critters (i.e. fainting goats). I was really happy that Alicia got to check out our stomping grounds and watch the dogs work.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share what I love and Alicia did a fantastic job conveying that message. Check out her story:
REIMAGINING WILD GAME COOKING
Alicia Underlee Nelson
The food on Wild and Whole, a North Dakota-based wild game cooking blog, is a feast for the senses. A perfect summer salad features juicy slices of grilled goose breast and ripe peaches, nectarines and apricots.
Venison takes on an international flair in countless variations – savory venison meatballs flavored with Middle Eastern spices, hearty venison chili with chorizo and spicy Thai venison lettuce cups.
These are not your grandmother’s wild game recipes.
That’s because Danielle Prewett, the website’s creator (and chef, photographer, writer, hunter and outdoorswoman) doesn’t particularly believe wild game needs its own recipes.
“A lot of people have this notion that wild game is its own separate little food group that gets its own special recipes – your mom and pop’s crock pot recipes handed down from the family. And that’s great. You don’t have to get rid of that,” said Prewett, as she settled into a chair in the sunny living room of the comfortable Dickinson home she shares with her husband, Travis. “But I like to think of wild game like meat you’d buy from the grocery store. Think of pheasant like chicken. With duck, venison, treat it like red meat – goose too. Once you kind of realize it’s just red meat, white meat, you realize that you can make anything you can make with chicken or beef and make it with wild game. You don’t need a special recipe.”
Sure, she says, wild game doesn’t need to cook as long as a steak or chicken, since it’s so lean. And Prewett always recommends wet or dry brining wild game, just like you would for a Thanksgiving turkey. “The salt helps to bring out the juices to ensure it retains its moisture,” she explained. Prewett’s recipes show that, with a few tips and tricks, wild game can be just as versatile and easy to prepare as any other protein.
For hunters and home cooks new to cooking wild game – or those accustomed to pairing it with a trusty can of cream of mushroom soup – this freedom can seem intimidating. Prewett understands that trying something new in the kitchen can be a challenge. She didn’t always cook and develop recipes for fun.
“When I was in college I was the worst cook ever,” she said with a laugh. “I was the person burning frozen pizzas. Then I met my husband, and his mom and his family are excellent cooks and I was pretty embarrassed by how terrible I was. They kind of got me into cooking when we were dating.”
After finishing college in Lubbock, Texas (where they met) the couple moved to Houston, where Prewett taught cooking classes in a high-end cookware store. “It was like four classes a day for appetizers, main, a side and dessert,” Prewett remembered. “And so all that repetition, over and over and over again really sort of set the foundation for how to cook.”
Growing up in Wichita Falls, in northern Texas, Prewett loved being outdoors, but didn’t hunt much. But her husband was an avid hunter and angler. And that influenced her cooking.
“Living in Houston, we always had venison, always had dove and duck,” she said. “That was sort of my first experiment with wild game. I was like, ‘This is exotic, this is gourmet, this is fun.’ And nobody else can get this kind of food unless you hunt it.”
A move north gave the couple a chance to hunt more often. “When we moved to North Dakota, we realized there’s tons of public land and such a variety of wild game,” Prewett said. “Living up here enabled us to sort of embrace a very different lifestyle that you can’t get in Houston. Cooking wild game really evolved from this idea of wanting to know where all my food comes from.”
Like food writer, Michael Pollan, and chef, hunter and angler, Hank Shaw, Prewett believes in eating healthy, high quality, minimally processed food. Her motto – both for her recipes and for her life – is simple: Eat wild. Eat whole. Live well. Prewett has steadily adjusted her lifestyle to reflect her passion for hunting for her own food, her respect for the traditional custom of eating the entire animal and her love of healthy, flavorful food and spending time outdoors.
Prewett’s website grew out of her own struggle to find flavorful wild game recipes that also worked with her lifestyle. “I searched the internet looking for recipes, and most of what I found were pretty unhealthy,” she explained. “So I decided to start cooking wild game the way I like to eat and over the years it has really evolved. I somehow stumbled upon a niche. I never thought in a million years I would ever start a blog, but family and friends put the idea into my head and eventually convinced me.”
She started Wild and Whole in July of 2016 and said she was shocked when folks, other than her family and friends, started responding to her posts. But as her work evolves and as the community around the website grows, the project has become a passion. “It has surprisingly become a hobby I really enjoy,” Prewett said. “Because I am a creative soul at heart, I find that taking photos of the meals I harvest is a way for me to express a very meaningful way of life. My hope is that it inspires others to eat mindfully, get outside and connect with food in a bigger way.”
People appreciate the photos too, as she has more than 3,000 followers on her Instagram account.
Prewett practices what she preaches. She only cooks meat or fish that she or her husband have hunted or caught themselves. “I believe you are what you eat, eats” she said, pausing for emphasis on that last part.
The Prewett household is a busy one during the hunting season. Both partners balance full time jobs (Travis works in oil and gas and Danielle is a legal secretary and a certified yoga instructor) with securing enough food to stock their freezers for the year.
So what’s Prewett’s favorite thing to hunt? “I have to say dove. And everyone is gonna make fun of me for that!” she laughed. “But I love dove hunting. Because one: the weather is still hot. And two: they’re really fun. And they’re fast little boogers and it’s a great way to get ready for hunting season and get some target practice.” Plus, she added, dove hunting is a tradition in Texas.
The shotgun Prewett uses, a handsome, 1953 Belgian-made Browning 20 gauge – is steeped in tradition as well. It was once her husband’s grandfather’s. She brings it pheasant hunting, too. “Pheasant hunting really changes when you’ve got a great pointer to hunt behind,” she added.
The Prewetts have two bird dogs. Marina is a golden retriever and a consummate water dog. Zissou is a Duetsch Drahthaar, a German wirehair pointer bred to competitive European standards, and a versatile hunting dog. The Prewetts are working through the complex certification process to breed him.
That means the couple and their dogs spend a lot of time together outdoors. Prewett loves the camaraderie of hunting and being outdoors with family and friends. One particular hunt back in Texas sparked her interest in eating the whole animal – even the bits that most hunters discard.
“I’m sort of a nose to tail eater,” she explained. “And I found this recipe from Hank Shaw years ago for hearts and livers in Cajun dirty rice. It was opening day of dove season. So I told everybody to save hearts and livers from all the birds. I was half joking, because if you know what a dove looks like, the whole bird is about this big” – and here she holds out her hand to indicate that the bird could fit inside her cupped palm – “so each heart is about the size of a kidney bean. It’s tiny.”
She might have been joking, but her hunting party wasn’t. They came back with a bag full of hearts and livers. And the resulting meal was a revelation “And since then I’ve always sort of saved the odd bits,” she said. “And if you look in my freezer, you’ll find duck feet, you’ll find carcasses – all sorts of stuff.”
Prewett recommends vacuum-sealed, food saver freezer bags over butcher paper to keep meat looking and tasting fresh. She always sorts, bags and labels every cut of meat separately.
Her husband jokes that he got some odd looks when she asked him to save fish heads to make fish stock, but both say that the extra effort definitely pays off. A great meal starts with processing, Prewett explained. And the couple works together to make that step easier.
She acknowledges that it does take a little more time to process meat using her system. But she says it results in better tasting meat and much faster prep times, since she’s not digging in the freezer and guessing about what she’s defrosting, or finishing a hasty processing job when she’s already in cooking mode. Smart game processing also adds to the appeal of a meal.
“We eat with our eyes,” Prewett said. “And that all starts with processing meat. I know some people get lazy, they step on the wings and rip the breast out. Well, when you go to cook it, it’s not going to look pretty. It’s about taking your time, getting the BBs out, getting the feathers out, making it look pretty.”
Many of the recipes Prewett creates and adapts on Wild and Whole can be dairy-free or gluten-free.
“I always say it’s about eating mindfully,” Prewett said, sounding every bit like the yoga instructor she is. “It’s about knowing what your body needs.”
Prewett will have a chance to share that message on a larger stage – literally – when she will be one of the headlining presenters for the Wild Game Cooking Stage at the 2018 National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic hosted by Pheasants Forever, February 16-18 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“We started following her when her recipes first started running in the Outdoor News weekly paper,” said Pheasants Forever’s public relations manager Jared Wiklund. “She really does make some interesting dishes, which we believe our members and followers will connect with at Pheasant Fest … Danielle will be an excellent addition to the show and we look forward to showcasing her talents as a wild game chef and upland hunter.”
It was a contact that Danielle remembers well. “I was a little surprised because it was the first time they’ve ever reached out to me, and I realized that my blog was actually starting to grow an audience,” Prewett said. “I am obviously very excited. It will be a lot of fun.”
Prewett knows that this event could mark a turning point in her career. But until then, the website is still a hobby, a chance to develop recipes, refine her food styling and photography skills (her favorite part of the process) and share her love of wild, whole, healthy food with the world.
“I’m continuing to just have fun with it and do what I enjoy,” Prewett said. “If I had a goal in life, it would just be to find happiness. I feel like everybody is always striving to find out what that is. But I think we’ve really found that here in North Dakota.
“Everything that we do outside, everything that we cook, just the lifestyle in general has been very meaningful for us. We’re very happy.”
ALICIA UNDERLEE NELSON, West Fargo, is a freelance writer who also blogs about food, travel and outdoor recreation in North Dakota and beyond at prairiestylefile.com.