Fried Pheasant Hearts with Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta, Roasted Kale and Mushrooms

Without Rick around, it can sometimes be a challenge to get creative with food. Especially when I'm working long hours in the field, the last thing I want to do when I get home is to prepare anything more elaborate than heating up a can of soup. Since the weather was crappy today, I cancelled my plans to go shoot (photograph) Fort Atkinson in Calhoun, and I welcome the break. I have driven hundreds of miles in just the last few days, and the clothes need to be washed and the carpet needs to be vacuumed and the flooring needs a dust pan to grace its tiles. And it's also about time that I start cooking again for Food for Hunters. It feels like it's been a long time. Hope we didn't lose too many of our followers from the inactivity. 

This is a warm, comforting dish that will cure all those less than desirable moods. The goat cheese polenta is creamy, satisfying and rich. Mushrooms add a bit of earthiness while the caramelized red onion contributes a touch of sweetness. Kale-- I love kale. I think it complements polenta so well, in color and taste. I also like to roast/bake more kale than I need. Kale chips are amazing!

If you're brave enough, or if you have any pheasant hearts on hand, fry it and add a few pieces to your polenta dish. They sort of taste like dove breasts. The hearts are not required, just something I decided to add just so I can keep myself from calling this dish vegetarian.  

Cassidy Gerdes and Bekah Jessen
In case if you're wondering, I am having a fantastic time in Nebraska-- living out my dream as an outdoor photographer and writer. Aside from the cold weather and missing Rick, which occasionally makes me cranky, everything is a-okay. I went turkey hunting for the first time with some girls at work a couple weekends ago and all I had to show for it was a broken shotgun. It's o.k. though, because we all had loads of fun. The good thing about Nebraska is that it doesn't cost residents much to go hunting. If you don't come home with anything, it's not a big deal. The memories are worth a lot more.  Jamie Bachmann, Cassidy Gerdes, Bekah Jessen and I thoroughly enjoyed our time hunting and figuring things out by ourselves with no men around. We were so close Sunday morning while sneaking up to some toms, but we made some rookie mistakes, so off those turkeys went! Nonetheless, it was a memorable learning experience, being able to hunt with other women-- who are all well-respected wildlife biologists, by the way. 
Jamie Bachmann

Jamie is an outdoor education instructor with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC); she and I are coworkers. Cassidy Gerdes is a Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist with Pheasants Forever and Bekah Jessen is a Coordinating Wildlife Biologist out of Grove Lake with NGPC. These women know their stuff, and I am proud to be able to work with them. Watch out, boys!

To give people an idea of the crazy weather in Nebraska, it was in the 80s the weekend we went hunting. The following Wednesday, Northeast Nebraska got dumped with snow-- all while I was driving out west to Burwell to photograph walleye marking at Game and Park's Calamus Fish Hatchery. The next day, the snow melted, showing no indication that the previous day's freak show ever happened.  I am learning the meaning of Nebraska's mantra first hand: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." -Jen

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes  
- 1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 tsp. of salt
- 2 ounces of goat cheese
- 1 tbs. of butter
Mushrooms and Onion
- 1 tbs. of olive oil
- 1 tbs. of butter 
- half a medium red onion, sliced
- 1 package of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- a splash of Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup of white wine
-  salt and black pepper, to taste
Roasted Kale
- half a bunch of kale
- olive oil
- a pinch of salt and pepper

Recipe for Crunchy Fried Pheasant Hearts here:

1. Bring 2 1/3 cups of water to a boil. Slowly add cornmeal, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add salt and more water, as needed. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. 

When polenta is done, stir in butter and goat cheese. Season to taste. Keep warm and set aside.
2. I like to cook the kale while cooking the polenta. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash kale and dry thoroughly. Remove the stems from leaves. Cut leaves into bite-size pieces. Lay on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to coat. Bake for 15 minutes. Set aside. Be careful with the salt because the kale with shrink considerably. 
I used baby bella mushrooms, but you can use whatever you want... just NOT the white button mushrooms because they don't have much flavor to them. 

I bet morels would be awesome, too, but I wouldn't know because I haven't had the privilege to taste it yet. 
3. Heat 1 tbs. of olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Sauté sliced red onion with a pinch of salt until softened and turning brown, about 5-7 minutes. Stir frequently. Add a couple splashes of worcestershire sauce. 

Place cooked onion into a separate bowl. Return pan to heat. 
4. Add 1 tbs. of butter to the pan. Add sliced mushroom with a pinch of salt and sauté until cooked, about 5 minutes. 

Add 1/4 cup of white wine to the mushrooms. Return the onion back to the pan. Allow wine to reduce and disappear almost completely. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Ladle some polenta in a bowl. Lay the roasted kale on top and then the mushrooms. The kale will be slightly crispy.

If you so choose, you can serve this with our Crunchy Fried Pheasant Hearts.



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