100% Honest: Review of Grainful Steel Cut Sides: Savory Oatmeal for Lunch and Dinner!

9/22/15, Tuesday Night

Having to sit through a three-hour lecture, I missed dinnertime with my family, and I was one hungry mama. The hubby came home with my food, carrying a large box from Grainful, like a burly lumberjack (sans the bulging muscles, beard, and chest hair). Still, mmm. (Hungry, Kat, hungry. Not that other word that begins with an H and ends with a Y! Let's keep this review PG-rated!) 

What's Grainful, you ask? Well, imagine that you're eating oatmeal for breakfast and a lightbulb flashes atop your head. You wonder, why can't I have this for lunch or dinner? That's Grainful's epiphany and pitch; as they more eloquently put it, "MOUTHWATERING ENTRÉES AND SIDES MADE WITH 100% WHOLE GRAIN STEEL CUT OATS."

I opened the box, anticipating hearty and easy-to-prepare microwavable entrees within; to my surprise (and to the disappointment of my very hungry and growling belly), I received four bags of stovetop "Steel Cut Sides." Sides, not entrees! Bummer... 

http://www.grainful.com/steel-cut-sides/

http://www.grainful.com/steel-cut-sides/

Being a professional blogger and adult, I quickly moved on. After all, it's not Grainful's fault that I starved myself all day. (I'm a mommy, student, professor, blogger, and author, so hey, sometimes I just forget to eat!)

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, which flavor should I choose from the four, Cheesy Oats, Madras Curry, Tomato Risotto, or Jambalaya? I struggled with deciding on a flavor, thanks to my hunger-induced brain fog. In the end, I chose the Tomato Risotto because Italian is my favorite cuisine of all, second only to Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and French, that is. Oh and Malaysian. 

Grainful's description also made my mouth water: "Steel Cut Sides Tomato Risotto combines wholesome whole grain steel cut oats with vibrant Mediterranean ingredients."

INGREDIENTS
Steel Cut Oats, Tomato Powder, Tomatoes, Salt, Granulated Garlic (YES, all plant-based! WIN. But where's the rest of the vibrant Mediterranean ingredients?) 

Game on! I was only cooking for myself (the bae and boo had both eaten already). I immediately noticed that the Grainful Steel Cut Oat Sides bags are non-resealable. Boo. I'm definitely not cooking the entire bag of oatmeal for myself that night. So note to Grainful: resealable bags would be nice! Or even those boxes with the closable side-sprouts. 

My food posed on the sofa... very smashing! Now, baby, if only your bag was resealable... 

My food posed on the sofa... very smashing! Now, baby, if only your bag was resealable... 

Next step is to actually cook the oats. The instructions are a bit confusing to me. The serving size is about 1 Cup, and there are 4 Servings Per Container. We're told to combine contents of the package" with 3 1/4 cups of water and additional ingredients such as vegetables, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 25 minutes while stirring every 2 minutes... Hold on now... do I cook everything in the bag? Do I just pour in 1 Cup of oats into the pot along with all that water?

And 25 minutes? Plus labor every 2 minutes?!?!? And depending on "doneness" and your taste preference, you may have to add another 5 minutes of cooking for softer oatmeal. Post-cooking, you have to let the side sit for 5 minutes before you enjoy... Even if I weren't so hungry, I normally don't have the patience to wait almost 30 minutes for oatmeal... 

I was so, so hungry at that point that I winged it with the measurements. I anticipated a microwavable dinner and now had to cook for about 1/2 hour before I could finally eat. 

Ingredients and instructions on the back of the bag

Ingredients and instructions on the back of the bag

I added snap peas into the pot along with the simmering oatmeal. It was looking beautiful and colorful. As I stirred the oatmeal, I tasted it and found it to be a bit like bland tomato soup. The makeshift chef in me took the liberty to add in some Sriracha (I love spice!) and garlic powder. 

boil first, then simmer for 25 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes... 

boil first, then simmer for 25 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes... 

Oats are still very crunchy here. I needed to add more water as it simmered

Oats are still very crunchy here. I needed to add more water as it simmered

After 30 minutes, I was finally able to sample and taste the Grainful Steel Cut Oat Sides *Tomato Risotto*

Mr. Panda was my dinner guest that night

Mr. Panda was my dinner guest that night

Honestly, I was not in love with this flavor. It tasted like oatmeal mixed with, well... tomatoes. I did like the rehydrated tomatoes (crunchy!), and appreciated the fact that the "sauce" came in powder form. You can control the amount of flavoring. I did not taste the "granulated garlic", even with my garlic powder addition, as the taste of tomatoes overwhelmed all the other flavors, even the Sriracha! 

The addition of the snow peas... not the best idea. Everything was just so crunchy! Grainful recommends cooking the Tomato Risotto Oat Side with eggplants cooked in olive oil, adding basil and mozzarella, or pairing it with grilled steak or shrimp. I so, so agree with the eggplants. The sweetness and creaminess of that veggie would neutralize the tomato-ness of the oatmeal (I know, I know, it's called TOMATO RISOTTO), and soften the overall texture of the side.

The quality of the oats was admittedly excellent: slightly crunchy, requiring extra mastication (yes, I like big words), so that helped me burn a few calories as I ate! I think I prefer my oats a bit softer and creamier, so next time, I would add more water. This would work great as a side dish, replacing white rice or pasta. It's definitely healthy. My hubby said theses oats tasted too healthy, so much so that he needed to wash down this extreme taste of healthiness with junk food. Anyhoo, moving on... 

Grainful Steel Cut Oat Sides are gluten free, non-GMO, and contain soluble fiber. I don't see the word "organic" on the packaging.

After eating my savory oatmeal entree, not side LOL, I was full! The fiber and protein packed in the oats satiated me. 

I couldn't sleep that night, however, because something very technical bugged me. I emailed my contact person from Grainful, the super friendly and helpful, Katie, a question:

"Can I cook these oats using a rice cooker?"

Katie responded the next morning, at the crack of dawn, literally, like before the sun even rose:

"...I just talked to our chef and she believes you should be able to use a rice cooker. We have never tried it out on our end but would love to hear how it goes if you try!" 

(Katie's response surprised my hubby and me. Maybe I should become a chef, or quit my two day jobs and become a full-time product tester and reviewer! I came to the conclusion that I'm brilliant. And so darn modest too...)

Well, Katie, I'm happy to report to you that I did just that today, and it worked out beautifully! Twenty minutes in the rice cooker (Jambalaya flavor this time) cooked the oats, and no stirring on my part was needed. My wrist and the lazy person in my rejoiced! The oats came out creamy and delicious, while still retaining some of that nice crunch. The rice cooker cooked oats tasted better than the stove-cooked version! (Kudos to our Aroma 8-Cup (Cooked) Digital Rice Cooker and Food Steamer!)

jambalaya flavor in the rice cooker, no additional ingredients or modifications Ingredients: Steel Cut Oats, Red Bell Pepper Flakes, Celery, Tomatoes, Tomato Powder, Salt, Basil, Smoked Paprika, Granulated Garlic.

jambalaya flavor in the rice cooker, no additional ingredients or modifications
Ingredients: Steel Cut Oats, Red Bell Pepper Flakes, Celery, Tomatoes, Tomato Powder, Salt, Basil, Smoked Paprika, Granulated Garlic.

looks similar to the stove-cooked tomato risotto oats. This, jambalaya flavor, was cooked in the rice cooker

looks similar to the stove-cooked tomato risotto oats. This, jambalaya flavor, was cooked in the rice cooker

I loved the spicy kick of Jamabalaya flavor, and in general, found this flavor more delicious than the Tomato Risotto flavor.

Note to Grainful: If you're considering putting out new flavors in the future, think Asian flavors à la Hooni Kim style: soy sauce, ginger, miso paste, gochujang, wasabi, etc... and Asian ingredients such as tofu, kimchi, fermented black beans. I would be your forever fan then!

Though not completely in love with Grainful's Steel Cut Oat Sides, this mama likes the idea of savory oatmeals and Grainful's innovative product line. I will try the other flavor, Madras Curry, soon. It has more ingredients than the other three flavors: Steel Cut Oats, Golden Raisins, Madras Curry Powder (Coriander, Turmeric, Mustard, Garlic, Salt, Chilies, Pepper, and Other Spices), Turbinado Sugar, Peas, Tomato Powder, Salt, Cayenne Pepper. I will skip the Cheesy Oats, only because I'm trying to eat more plant-based food, and less animal-based food and products.

I can see myself replacing rice and pasta with these oats every now and then, and cooking up a batch the night before to bring to work for lunch. Eating savory oatmeal for lunch would be similar to eating hot Quinoa Rice Bowls from Pret A Manger. 

Final Score: I will give Grainful Steel Cut Sides 3.5 out of 5 pandas, with points taken away due to the lengthy and labor-intensive-ish cooking process using the stove (I'm a spoiled I-want-things-now-millennial and busy mama!), the overpowering taste and smell of tomato (Tomato Risotto), the slightly confusing instructions, and having no definitive vegan options (3 out of 4 of their frozen entrees include meat, and the one vegetarian option contains cheese). I wish I saw the word ORGANIC somewhere. 

I'm happy to report that you can cook this oatmeal using a rice cooker, that the oats are very healthy and appears to be high quality, that you can have oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner now, and that from my wonderful experience with Katie, their customer service must be stellar. 

Creepy, i cut a panda in half! but before you report me to peta, i must disclose that no real pandas were harmed in the making of this review 

Creepy, i cut a panda in half! but before you report me to peta, i must disclose that no real pandas were harmed in the making of this review 

Back story and disclosure: Shortly after I answered Grainful's "call for food bloggers" to review their products, Katie sent me samples and I received them in a few days' time. Other than receiving the samples to review, I was not financially compensated for this 100% honest post. The opinions I've published are completely my own, based on my experience.

I don't believe in sugarcoating my reviews. As an author, I've received hundreds of reviews, emails, and letters from my readers. Though I'm always happy to receive words that swell my head and boost my ego and confidence, I only grow and improve when I receive constructive criticism, and sometimes harsh words relaying to me that I'm just "not there yet." Honest and constructive feedback may sting at first, but in the long run, they only serve to benefit the reader and those being reviewed. That's my spiel about honesty! It's really the best policy! 

Happy blogging, reading, browsing, and I hope you try out Grainful and form your own opinion, and let me know what you think! How many PANDAS would you give Grainful? Oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Why not?

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