I've never been an oatmeal eater. Steaming bowl of oatmeal with fruit or brown sugar on a winter morning? No thanks.
In my kitchen, oats have been reserved as an ingredient in cookies, crisps and cobblers.
But a recent #Foodiechats was devoted to oats, and my Twitter stream filled up with gorgeous shots of oats used in all sorts of dishes. So when the chance came to try oats in a frozen dinner, I had to taste it for curiosity's sake if nothing else.
Grainful, a small but growing company in upstate New York, has launched a line of four frozen entrees containing whole grain steel cut oats. They sent me one of each entree to sample, and I must admit I'd consider a road trip to Wegmans (currently the only store near York that carries them) to fill my freezer — even with the $4.99 to $5.99 price tag.
These meals-for-one are all between 240 and 280 calories and boast between 20 percent and 36 percent of the recommended daily serving of dietary fiber thanks to the oats. The packaging has a nifty spiciness rating (from zero to five peppers) so you can pick your heat level.
Andouille Sausage and Oats: This is a smooth, creamy oats dish that mimics jambalaya. The sausage adds snapiness and chewiness. I expected to like it the best, but it's actually my least favorite of the four, in that it was fine but didn't wow me. The box gives it four out of five peppers for spiciness, and it seemed a little bland except for a couple of bites of heat. Stir well.
Vegetarian Chili: This is a sweet, spicy chili with extra-gooey goodness from the cheese. It smells like every slow-cooker chili ever, the strong burst of cumin that says, "I will warm you up." But the spice (even at three peppers out of five) is more of an aftertaste here; the main flavor is oats and veggies and beans and cheese in a hearty, saucy texture. This one was tops on my husband's ranking.
Unstuffed Pepper: The fresh pepper smell is fantastic, and the oats have more heft to them than in some of the dishes. The ground turkey gives great flavor, the vegetables add crunch, and the oats are thick and chewy. At two peppers, this is the right level of spicy for me. My husband and I both loved this entree.
Porcini Mushroom Chicken: Hands down, this is my favorite Grainful meal. It's not spicy at all (zero peppers), but the oats make for an incredibly smooth, creamy, nutty replacement for wild rice in a chicken and mushroom dish I crave. The strong mushroom flavor is excellent.
The best thing about all of these meals is how full you feel afterward. I tried them at lunchtime, and I didn't reach for a snack all day. They kept me energized and focused.
Grainful has won me over: oats in a savory dinner won't scare me off now that I've tried them. In fact, I'm already on the hunt for recipes to replace my typical potato, pasta or rice sides with oats.
— Reach Mel Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.