Review: Lenard’s Fresh Meal Kits

A few months ago, I got to try three versions of Lenard’s Barbie Bags, and found them to be innovative low-effort dinner options that were tasty and not horrendously unhealthy. There’s really something to be said for a ready-made meal for those times when working professionals like myself get home after a long day.

This is a market that Lenard’s is really trying to tap into with the release of new offerings such as the Barbie Bags and now, the Fresh Meal Kits. These kits are described as:

Packed with flavour and ready in just 15 minutes, they’re sure to become a regular item on your shopping list. These exciting, easy and tasty meals are freshly prepared in store with 100% fresh chicken breast and include the perfect accompaniment to complete your meal.

With the support of Lenard’s, I got to road-test two different Fresh Meal Kits last month.

Korean BBQ Fresh Meal Kit with Hokkien Noodles

As someone who’s grown up eating nearly exclusively food from East Asia, I was quite sceptical about the concept of a ‘Korean BBQ’ meal kit that included hokkien noodles. As most people will know, hokkien noodles are more commonly associated with the cuisines of Singapore and Malaysia. A more accurate noodle choice would possibly have been dangmyeon, or noodles made from the starch of sweet potatoes.

lenards-koreanbbqRecognising however, that I tend to be more pedantic than most people about these small cultural differences and sensitivities given my own cultural background, I was eager to try the kit.

The veggie and chicken mix was in an interesting soy-based marinade. Primarily consisting of green beans, carrots and baby corn with a healthy amount of chicken strips, I added some bamboo shoots to bulk up the veggie content. The veggies could have done with more preparation – there were small things that annoyed me, like the fact that the carrot tops weren’t cut off.

lenards-koreanbbq02

I ended up serving this dish with a side of steamed bokchoy with oyster sauce. As the meat to veggie ratio in the marinade mix was approximately 50/50, I really wanted to increase the amount of veggies presented on the dish.

In truth, there wasn’t much of a “Korean BBQ” flavour to this dish as they were very subtle – they definitely weren’t distinctive in the way that typical Korean barbecued meats has a smoky grilled flavour that really makes it special. It would be more accurate to simply call this dish stir-fried noodles with chicken (however less exciting it sounds from a marketing perspective) and thus not raise any unrealistic expectations of having the smoky goodness of bulgogi.

Fajita Fresh Meal Pack with 10 Tortilla Wraps

I can’t claim the same amount of familiarity with Mexican food as I can Asian – however, I still consider the meal I had in a little roadside cafe in Mexico to be one of the best I’ve ever had in my life. The sheer heat and flavours of the simple tacos, nachos and fajitas served to me by the sunburnt and wrinkled Mexican lady were truly memorable. The spiciness of that meal actually caused me to go into a chilli coma and nearly hallucinate on the streets of Tijuana.

lenards-fajitas

These fajitas are a far cry from those I sampled when in Mexico, and the marinaded mix has been largely tamed for less experienced palates – you won’t find hallucinogenic chillies here! For a more characteristic spice mix, I added some extra Mexican chilli powder at the end to heat up my dining experience. Some fresh chopped jalapeno chillies would do the job just as well.

I found the mix interesting actually – unlikely the more balanced 50/50 mix of chicken and vegetables in the Korean BBQ kit, this was more meat-heavy with a ratio that was more like 85/15. The pieces of capsicum and beans seemed more like an afterthought and I would have personally preferred more vegetables for a more balanced meal. With some personal adjustments for the degree of hotness, and the addition of some fresh veggie-based side dishes, these fajitas would be my choice out of the two Fresh Meal Kits.

Keep in mind of course, that each Lenard’s store around the country is largely franchised. Fresh Meal Kits from different stores will taste slightly differently, and be made up of different ingredients, or different ratios of the same ingredients. The thoughts above are only representative of the products I received from two stores on the northern suburbs of Sydney, and you may have different experiences to mine.

Note: I received these two Fresh Meal Kits from Lenard’s free of charge for review purposes, however all words and opinions are my own.

Review: HelloFresh Classic Box

I’ve tried produce boxes from Doorstep Organics and Bondi Fruitologist in recent months and am starting to consider myself a bit of a produce box aficionado – whatever that means! Continuing the trend, I got the chance to try a Hello Fresh Classic Box (three meals for two people) last week.

Hello Fresh is a produce box with a difference – rather than simply providing you with an assortment of fruit and vegetables and expecting you to come up with your own recipes, they provide you with everything you could need to create complete meals each night – recipe and ingredients.

It works really well, especially as it means that you don’t have to worry about having to buy additional ingredients every time you try cooking a new meal as long as you have some basics in the pantry (oil, salt, pepper, etc). This means you could save money on your grocery shop, as rather than buying a whole bag of onions, you are simply provided with the single onion you need for a recipe!

hellofresh-01

All ingredients provided in the Hello Fresh classic box (three meals worth for two people)

My Hello Fresh box arrived promptly on Monday afternoon, and was waiting for me on my veranda when I got home. A great feature of the box is how careful they are with food safety – the cold items (chicken breast and beef mince) were stored carefully in a Styrofoam box for insulation. All the produce provided was incredibly fresh – and remained so up until Friday when I cooked my last meal. Also in the box was the recipe booklet – colourful, well designed and appealing.

hellofresh-02

Apricot glazed chicken and cous cous salad (added figs)

This was the first meal I cooked out of the box, as the cous cous salad appealed to me the most. We use cous cous in our main meals quite often in place of rice, pasta, or other grains – I find that it doesn’t sit as heavily in my stomach after a meal! The simplicity of this salad was really great – cous cous, chickpeas, parsley and red onion with a squeeze of lemon juice. I will probably replicate it in the future, perhaps with the addition of slivered almonds or sultanas for an extra something!

I found that the chicken wasn’t glazed as much as it should have been, although I followed the recipe’s instructions to the letter. In the future, I would probably add to the apricot glaze with a spoonful or two of honey just to ensure that it glazes properly.

I added a fig and a half each to the plate when I plated up the meal, as I kept about half the salad for lunch the next day so portion sizes were smaller. The sweetness of the figs actually worked quite well with both the salad and the chicken.

hellofresh-03

Vegetarian gong bao (added beef kebab)

For the next meal, I turned a perfectly lovely vegetarian dish into something not very vegetarian at all, by adding a beef kebab (courtesy of a local butcher) to each plate. I don’t have anything against purely vegetarian meals, however I simply wanted to save a portion of the rice and gong bao for lunch the next day, so needed to supplement what was left!

The gongbao was really delicious. Unfortunately the ‘vegetarian’ part of this meal was a bit boring, as mushrooms were all that were provided. In the future, I would probably replicate the sauce (delicious!), but perhaps add in extra elements like bamboo shoots and capsicum, simply for a change in texture and increased complexity. There was a real chilli punch to this dish, though we only used one bird’s eye chilli!

hellofresh-04

Beef burger with beetroot relish (added mango salad)

This was probably the heartiest of all the meals I cooked, a real ‘get your hands dirty’ meal both in terms of the preparation and the consumption. I added a mango salad on the side (simply diced mango with mixed salad leaves with the juice of the mango as a dressing) as the beefiness of the burger was quite overwhelming.

Again, I altered the recipe slightly by adding cheese to the burger, not using all the beetroot relish (I saved half of it to go in a salad the next day), and by adding additional spices to the mince before I turned it into a patty. The final result was really well received by K, who really enjoyed the slight sweetness of the beetroot with the spice of the beef patty in the toasted bun.

Summary

The service is really perfect for the working couple or family with two working parents – who already have some culinary skills. The presumed knowledge in many of the recipes can be quite extensive, and someone who doesn’t know precisely how to prepare beetroot or slice ginger could get a crucial step in the process wrong.

I really enjoyed the meals in my Hello Fresh box. The only thing that stops us from signing up for a weekly service is our personal preference for meals that afford more in the way of leftovers, as we both take lunch to work. I had to work to add an extra element to the meal every night (e.g kebab, salad, figs) to ensure that we could save part of the meal for lunch the next day.

I also really enjoy meal planning and being creative with all the ingredients in my fridge – something that a pre-determined meal box from Hello Fresh doesn’t allow.

There are times though, where I can see us wanting the easy convenience of a Hello Fresh box. The week after we come back from holiday for example – when we haven’t yet had the chance to do a grocery shop to stock up our fridge. Or a week in which we both have extensive extracurricular study commitments or long days in the office, when thinking up a meal is the last thing we want to do at night. I can definitely see us making use of Hello Fresh on an occasional basis into the future.

I’m even thinking of buying a few weeks worth of boxes for my not-quite-mother-in-law as she has a lot of trouble learning how to cook meals for two people, after decades of feeding two sons who have since moved out of home. The controlled portions of Hello Fresh meals might just be the thing to help her learn how to cook for two!

I definitely recommend Hello Fresh for time-poor working professionals who still want the comforts of a home cooked meal and enjoy the process of cooking without the hassle of having to think up recipes or go grocery shopping! I award Hello Fresh an 8.5 out of 10 for freshness, business ingenuity, and diversity of recipes.

Note: I received the Classic Box from HelloFresh free of charge for review purposes. All words and opinions are my own.

Review: Lenard’s Barbie Bags

K and I have only recently started to live together on a full-time basis. Up until a few months ago, he would spend a few nights at my place each week, and the rest of the time back at his parents’ house. Over time, the ratio gradually tipped more in favour of staying at my place, to the point where he would be here five nights out of seven. We’ve only recently decided together that it’s time to make it official, with the purchase of a new chest of drawers for his belongings, a joint bank account, an increase to my internet plan (for two people), and other couple-y things.

As part of this change, I’ve had to learn how to officially cook for two again. Living alone, you become accustomed to getting home late after work and fixing yourself a dinner of beans on toast…or cornflakes…or two minute noodles…or half a packet of chips. When there’s two of you though, you become more aware of bad eating habits, and I’m trying to make sure we have a proper dinner most nights, with leftovers for work lunches the next day if possible.

That’s why I was pleased to be able to have the opportunity to try Lenard’s new range of “Barbie Bags”. They’re freshly prepared in-store, so they’re a healthier option than a frozen meal or takeaway. They also don’t require much effort as you pop them straight onto the barbecue or oven, so even if you don’t get home until 7pm, you can be having a hot meal by 8pm without needing to spend half an hour prepping ingredients, then another half an hour slaving over the stove.

This is becoming really important to me as I have barely a week left of work before I go on holiday for a month, so I’m finding that I’m working long days to make sure everything’s in place before I leave. The last thing I want to do when I come home is slave away in the kitchen! (Instead, I spend that hour doing house things like laundry, and cleaning, and paying bills, and all that exciting stuff that’s part and parcel of being an adult.)

There are three types of Barbie Bags: Smokey Spanish Paella, Creamy Mushroom Risotto and Chicken Snags in Onion Gravy. I tried all three, testing both the barbecue and oven methods.

Smokey Spanish Paella

We decided to cook the paella on the first night, testing the oven method rather than the barbecue method. Following instructions to the T, we removed the label and placed it in a pre-heated oven for fifty minutes, turning halfway through as directed.

Verdict: the rice was unfortunately a bit underdone – for perfect rice, I would recommend cooking this Barbie Bag either at a slightly higher temperature or for longer if you are planning on cooking it in the oven. The flavours of the paella were really beautiful though it could have done with some more veggies, and the chicken (on the bone) was done perfectly and was still really moist. The bag worked really well in that way, as it sealed in all the steam during the cooking process even though it didn’t expand the way it was supposed to. A 7.5 out of 10.

Creamy Mushroom Risotto & Chicken Snags in Onion Gravy

I did these two Barbie Bags at the one time for some meal variety, when I went over to my not-quite-parents-in-law’s house for dinner. My not-quite-mother-in-law did some roast veggies for the side, and K and I did these two bags on the barbecue, again following instructions to a T (30 minutes on the barbecue on medium heat, turning halfway through).

Verdict: The risotto really proved how hard it is to cook the Barbie Bags perfectly – while the paella the night before was underdone, the risotto was burnt and overcooked, though we followed instructions perfectly. It’s worth taking any cooking instructions with a grain of salt, and just trusting your instincts considering that ovens and barbecues can differ a lot from house to house. There was a funny smell coming from the risotto towards the end of the cooking process, but we left it on the barbecue per instructions. Never again!

We managed to salvage about 70% of the risotto, but had to throw the rest of it in the bin. What we managed to salvage was dry, and quite bland because it had been overcooked. With more moisture, it could have been a half-decent risotto. A 5 out of 10.

The chicken snags on the other hand, were really quite delicious and perfectly cooked – they were juicy and simple but tasty. The onion gravy in particular really set off the simple chicken flavours of the sausage. Even my not-quite-mother-in-law enjoyed them, which says something as she doesn’t often eat sausages. My not-quite-father-in-law was a fan of the onion gravy, going back for seconds. In his words, “It’s really hard to find a good commercial gravy, but this is actually quite good!” A 8 out of 10.

Because this meal (risotto and chicken sausages) was really quite carb and protein-heavy, the veggie element really helped to balance the heaviness of the meal.

Overall, I rate the Lenard’s Barbie Bags a 7 out 10. 

If it was based purely on flavours, the Barbie Bags would get good ratings – the flavours are clearly excellent. However the difficulty in cooking them using different ovens and barbecues makes it really hard to judge when the dish is cooked perfectly, and can really affect the quality of the dish.

My top tips for cooking these Barbie Bags right would be: 1) err on the side of cooking at a higher temperature and longer time if you are cooking in the oven; 2) cook for a shorter time on a lower flame on the barbecue. Also to ensure a well-rounded meal, add a vegetable side to balance out the carbs and protein!

Lenard’s Barbie Bags range in price, but generally retail for around $18 per bag. They will feed four people – two adults and two children I think, or four adults if you add a side salad to bulk out the meal. You can find your closest Lenard’s store (in Australia) here.

Note: I received these three Barbie Bags from Lenard’s free of charge for review purposes, however all words and opinions are my own.