Monday, 28 February 2011

Jacked Jambalaya!

As in build muscles, that is! Just in time for Mardi Gras, this Jambalaya is chock-full of lean protein and whole grain carbs, perfect for anyone trying to stay healthy and/or watch their fat intake! It is modified from Emeril's Kicked Up Jambalaya, made up to be a healthier version: turkey andouille sausage, chicken breast, shrimp, brown rice, low-sodium chicken stock, and cooking spray.

But first, a brief interlude into the origin of that famous Louisiana dish, Jambalaya!

Jambalaya is a combination of meat, vegetables, and rice, similar to paella, and indeed it is of dual Spanish-French origin. There are actually two types of jambalaya: Creole and Cajun. They both start with what is known as the "holy trinity" of ingredients: onion, bell peppers and celery. Meat is then added, most often a spicy smoked sausage (andouille), poulty, and seafood. Stock and rice are also an integral part of the dish. The main difference between Creole and Cajun jambalaya is the addition of tomatoes. Creole jambalaya contains tomatoes, and is often also referred to as "red jambalaya" accordingly. Cajun jambalaya is more brownish in color, and without tomatoes.



Although there are many theories where the name "jambalaya" came from, the most likely is that it is derived from the Proven├žal (i.e. the French dialect spoken in Provence) word "Jambalaia", which literally means "mish mash" -- a pretty accurate description!


And now, back to the food!


This recipe is complex without being complicated, if that makes sense. It is a little time consuming, but the end result is so worth it. 


The first step is to make the Creole seasoning. This is actually commercially available if you can find it, as Emeril's Bayou Blast, but you can also make it from scratch. It contains paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic and onion powders, pepper, salt, thyme, oregano, and black pepper. At this point, you can control the heat by adjusting the amount of cayenne pepper in the mix. 1 tbls of cayenne gives it a nice hot pep. 2 tbls would be really hot. If you don't like hot spice at all, maybe 1/2 tbls, or eliminate it all together. There are two ways to modulate the heat in this recipe: adjust the amount of cayenne pepper in the Creole seasoning , or use less Creole seasoning overall. I'd probably opt to tweak the cayenne rather than less seasoning overall, but that is up to you.


Then, start chopping, this is the most labor-intensive part. I started with the veggies: onions, peppers and celery.


Then, some lovely turkey andouille sausage (I found mine at Whole Foods, Wellshire Farms brand), cut into 1/2" slices


Then, slice up some skinless chicken breasts (sorry, no pic), and prep some shrimp (peel, de-vein, and defrost if need be).


Now, it is time to flavor your meat with the Creole seasoning. I did this shake-n-bake style, putting each meat into a ziplock bag with the spices. I split the spices between all 3 because I wasn't reading the original recipe carefully -- Emeril actually only calls for you to season the chicken and shrimp (I guess because the sausage is already spiced). I don't think it much matters, to tell you the truth. Later, when it goes into the stock, most of the seasoning will go into the liquid anyway. How much seasoning you want to use is up to you, but I used it all. 


Toss those seasoned shrimp into the bottom of your dutch oven, with some olive oil spray. Periodically spray the shrimp as they cook, to keep the spices from burning. When they are done, take them out and set them aside.


Ditto for the chicken.


Now put the sausage in and brown it. This is not as critical to watch for done-ness if the sausage comes fully-cooked (check your package). 


Then, leaving the sausage in the pot, add in the onion, pepper and celery, along with chopped tomatoes, cayenne and some garlic. Let this cook for a few minutes, so the veggies can start to sweat. You can add some fresh thyme at this stage, although the thyme taste was a little strong for me.


Now it is time to add the stock, chicken, the can of crushed tomatoes (undrained), and the bay leaves.


This will simmer away happily for a bit, and then you add the rice. I pretty much used the whole box, because it was just a tad more than 2 cups, and it seemed like there was a lot of liquid that I was hoping the extra rice would absorb.


This cooks some more, and gets even happier.  Then, you add back in the shrimp, some chopped green onion, and some fresh chopped parsley (which I forgot), and it cooks a little more.


Take it off the heat for about 10 minutes. At this point, it seemed like there was a lot of excess liquid. But I used a slotted spoon and served 2 helpings in a bowl. 


By the time my husband came back for seconds (maybe 10-15 minutes later of it sitting uncovered), this happened:


Beautiful!


It is a lot of steps, but once you get going, you realize that it isn't hard, just prep-intensive.


And there you have it, a filling and pretty lean meal. Comfort food that you can feel good about eating!


Jambalaya
(Printable Recipe)


Ingredients


For the Creole Seasoning

  • 2 1/2 tbls paprika
  • 2 tbls salt
  • 2 tbls garlic powder
  • 1 tbls cayenne pepper* (see text)
  • 1 tbls black pepper
  • 1 tbls onion powder
  • 1 tbls thyme, dried
  • 1 tbls oregano, dried

For the Jambalaya

  • 1 1/2 lb turkey andouille sausage (24 oz)
  • 1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined, and defrosted if frozen
  • 2 C onions, chopped
  • 1 C bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 C celery, chopped
  • 2 tbls garlic, minced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves (optional)
  • 1 C chopped tomatoes
  • 1-28oz can crushed tomatoes, undrained
  • 3 C low-sodium & lowfat chicken stock
  • 2 C brown rice (not minute rice)
  • 1 C green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 C fresh parsley, chopped.
  • Olive oil cooking spray



Directions

  1. Spray a large Dutch oven with olive oil spray over medium-high heat.
  2. Season shrimp with Creole seasoning and saute until almost cooked through, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove shrimp and set aside until later.
  3.  Season chicken pieces with Creole seasoning. Spray Dutch oven, and add chicken pieces and saute until browned on both sides, about 8 minutes. Remove and set aside. 
  4. Respray. Add sausage and cook until browned. 
  5. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaves, cayenne and thyme (if using) and cook until vegetables are wilted, about 6 minutes. 
  6. Add tomatoes, can of crushed tomatoes and stock and return chicken pieces to pot. 
  7. Season with salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
  8.  Add rice to pot, stir well and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and cook for 15 minutes. 
  9. Add shrimp, green onions and parsley to Dutch oven, mixing carefully, and continue to cook, covered, for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes before serving.


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Salt





There are some things in life that are just okay to do.

We might beat ourselves up about it in the chilly dawn as we feed our tiny, trusting babies Infacol in the hope that wind is what's making her kick her legs and screw up her face and go "MmmmmmmmmmmNNNNNNNNNN!!!!! EEERrrrwwwwwwww!!!!!! *snuffle snuffle* pause HHII - EEEEEEEEE!!!!!!" when she is supposed to be asleep.

But in fact, we should all just relax.

Like it's okay to pay your tax bill a bit late. And it's okay to feel a bit sick when you see the amount.

And it's okay to still, at 30, raise your eyes to the sky and say "Please, please" when you're at the cash machine, in the hope that the machine will give you money, rather than tell you that you've got "insufficient funds".

It's okay to occasionally let your baby fall asleep on your shoulder and then put her down for her mid-morning nap, rather than take her to some far room, close the curtains, put her down while still sort-of awake and then let her cry herself to sleep.

It's okay to not do any laundry for, like, two weeks.

It's okay to hate people more successful than you.

And it's okay to salt your food.

A lot of people really don't think that's okay, though. It's mostly people of a certain age, who grew up thinking that salting your food was the equivalent of churning through 60 a day. Too much salt is bad for your heart, you see.

But what do we mean by too much? The recommended daily allowance of salt for adults is 6g. That's a lot - (see photo above with box of Infacol for scale) - but only if you don't eat any, or much, processed food. For example, a KFC wing contains 1g of salt. One whole gram. Six of those and you're done for the entire day.

I eat barely any processed food because my husband gives me such hell for it, so that means I merrily cover my food with salt. And if you know that you don't eat much processed food either, you ought to be salting your food, conscience-free. Because salt is what makes food tasty (something KFC knows only too well).

So bear that in mind. And next time you're standing at your stove, taking a sip off something off the end of a wooden spoon and feeling baffled as to why it tastes of nothing, reach for the salt - and be brave.

Because, *shush shush*, it's okay. It really is.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Raspberry Oat Bars (Easy Things to do with Cake Mix #2)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am currently baking my way through some of the excess baking supplies I purchased during the holidays, most notably several boxes of yellow cake mix. If the pecan cake bars of my previous post were easy, this next recipe is still easier, and quite tasty. It has a great fruit flavor, which makes it a perfect bar to make now that the weather is (supposed to be) getting warmer. It flurried by my house this morning, and I heard on the radio that there was 6" of snow on the ground in Bergen County. So maybe these bars can make you feel like Spring is coming (so long as you don't look out the window or go outside).



I originally modified this recipe from a posting I saw here, although I altered a decent amount of ingredients

You start with a box of yellow cake mix. Just plain old yellow, not the Butter Recipe yellow, which has artificial butter flavoring added to it. Trust me, we are putting almost 2 sticks of butter into the recipe, we don't need any artificial butter flavor on top of that.

Take that dry cake mix and add some quick cooking oats (1 minute oats, do not use slow cooking oats). Mix them around to combine them a bit.

Then, add melted butter, vanilla, and a little lemon zest.

Take half the crumbs, and pat them down into a sprayed 9"x13" pan. Pat it down firmly.

Next, take some seedless raspberry jam, and combine it with about 1 tbls of fresh lemon juice, stirring until smooth. Then, spread the jam on top of the base. I used a 12oz jar of jam, but you can buy a bigger jar if you want a thicker fruit layer.
Don't mind the crumbs, I started sprinkling before I remembered to take the pic of the jam layer...

Once the jam is down, take the remaining crumbs and sprinkle them on top. Once you are done sprinkling, you can pat the crumbs down semi-gently.

This gets baked for a little over 20 minutes.

When it comes out of the oven, let them cool completely, and then you can cut and serve!

Easy!! And tasty!! My favorite kind of recipe!

This recipe is actually very versatile, because you can vary the kind of cake mix, and kind of jam. How about chocolate cake with raspberry jam? Or lemon cake? White cake with cherry or blackberry jam? There are plenty of specialty jams out there at stores such as Wegman's or Harry & David's, and I'm sure most of them would pair wonderfully with a basic cake mix. Or, you can try lemon or lime curds, pumpkin or apple butters, or a combination of jam and curd -- maybe some nice lemon curd and blackberry jam?

And, this bar doesn't have to be refrigerated, which makes it a great take-along item for a party or picnic!

Raspberry Oat Bars
(Printable Recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1-18.5oz box yellow cake mix
  • 1 3/4 sticks butter (14 tbls), melted
  • 2 1/2 C quick-cooking oats
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1-12oz jar of seedless raspberry jam
  • 1 tbls fresh lemon juice


Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Combine dry mix and oatmeal in a bowl
  3. Add melted butter, vanilla and zest to oatmeal/cake mixture, and mix thoroughly
  4. Pat 1/2 of crumbs down in a 9"x13" pan, patting firmly
  5. Combine jam and lemon juice until smooth
  6. Spread jam on top of crumb layer evenly
  7. Sprinkle second 1/2 of crumbs on top of jam layer, patting down gently when finished
  8. Bake at 375F for 18-23 minutes, until golden brown.
  9. Take out and let cool
  10. Slice once cool. Can be stored, covered, at room temperature

Raspberry Jam

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Pecan Chocolate Cake Bars (Easy things to do with cake mix #1)

This post is short and sweet. After Christmas, I was left with an excess of certain baking ingredients that I intended to use over the holiday but never did. Things like 4 boxes of yellow cake mix, 2 boxes of pumpkin bread mix, 1 box of red velvet cake mix, 2 bags of bright red candy wafers, 2 huge jars of marshmallow fluff, a box of graham cracker crumbs, bags of chopped pecans, gads and gads of bittersweet chocolate chips, and 3 cans of pumpkin. Now, my apartment is the size of a shoebox, which makes my closet about the size of a postage stamp. I just can't possibly horde baking ingredients forever. Well, actually...I probably could, but according to my horrified husband, I just can't possibly horde baking ingredients forever. So I need to use up my supplies, pronto.

Red velvet cake mix and red wafers are already gone, as Valentine's Day cupcakes with red molded chocolate decorations on top. I made the pumpkin bread last week, and sprinkled on some pecans. One box of yellow cake mix had a hole in the plastic holding the mix, so when I went to open up the box, it poofed all over my clothes. Said box is now in the trash, potential morph into baked goodness unfulfilled. So sad.

But this is the story of Yellow Cake Mix #2.

Yellow Cake Mix #2 has become Easy Things to do With Cake Mix #1. Still with me? Good. This yellow cake mix was destined for great things, although not the thing I thought it was destined for. I thought it was destined to become a yummy pecan pie bar, like a shortbread bar with a buttery crust.  But instead, it turned out to be more of a yummy pecan cake, and I'm advertising it as such.



My usual historical interludes have been more sporadic of late, and this post will have to fall in the interlude-less category, because I've already covered the topic of pecans quite extensively.

Take out that cake mix and reserve 2/3 C. To the remainder of the mix, add 1 stick of melted butter and one egg, mixing well to combine (I did this by hand, btw).

Take this dough, and pat it into the bottom of a sprayed 9"x13" pan, and partially bake it.

Meanwhile, combine eggs, vanilla, corn syrup, brown sugar, and the reserved cake mix in a bowl.

When the partially baked dough comes out, it should be slightly golden.

Sprinkle pecans and chocolate chips onto the base, then pour over the lovely filling.

It'll bake up nice and yummy.

And there you have a minimal-effort pecan cake with chocolate.

It easily cuts into squares, so I guess it could be called a "bar" -- it looks like one. But this has a softer texture, and I always think of bars as firm and dense...so I consider this a cake bar, if that makes sense.

Whatever it is, it's good!!

The original recipe can be found here, although I tweaked my version slightly.

Pecan Chocolate Cake Bars


Ingredients
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
For the filling
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1  cups dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans add chocolate chips!!!
  • 2/3 cup yellow cake mix

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch pan.
  2. Reserve 2/3 cup cake mix.
  3. Mix together remaining cake mix, margarine, and 1 egg. Pat in prepared pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Beat together 3 eggs, vanilla, reserved 2/3 cup cake mix, corn syrup, and brown sugar. Pour on cake in pan. Sprinkle pecans on top.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30-35 minutes.



Henry's tit bread




This isn't going to be the start of a descent into a lot of baby chat, I promise. I am aware that a lot of you don't have children, or don't want them. Or have them and don't like them and don't want to hear about anyone else's. So I'm wary of mentioning mine.

Just like I'm not going to mention my cleaner ever again. I mentioned my cleaner last time and "Brian" left a comment saying "Why don't you get off your lazy arse and clean your own house like the rest of the real world." [No question mark.]

I'm lucky - I don't get much stuff like that. So at first I deleted the comment and my aim was to forget about it. But it bothered me.

My husband thinks I'm being silly.

"She's not your cleaner," he said, "she's my cleaner. When you had a job you had a cleaner. You haven't got a job anymore but I do. And professional, working people have cleaners - and X is mine. If you want to fire her and do it yourself, I'll pay you. But you'd be so shit at it I'd have to fire you for incompetence and re-hire X. And I don't have the energy for all that."

As die-hard fans of this blog know, my dad is a former Oxford History lecturer and the author of an academic text on Karl Marx (available for purchase here). So if anyone is going to be very bothered by the question of whether or not I am lazy for having a cleaner, it's me.

I rang Dad to ask what he thought about all this, but as it was 8.30am on Sunday morning, he was too busy working to talk. So I texted my sister, The Hamburgler, instead, because she knows all about this stuff, too.

Me: Would Karl Marx believe that my cleaner is oppressed?
The Hamburgler: He wouldn't believe it, he would know it. But he also 'knew' that chairs were 'really' the exploitation of man. Fucking idiot. It's a chair.

I don't know about you, but that made things no clearer for me. I would like to say something like "I'm not going to fire my cleaner, who has her own family to support, just so that people like "Brian" don't think I'm lazy. Because out of my cleaner and "Brian", guess whose good opinion I'd rather have?"

But that's just me being defensive. And I suspect that not wanting to starve their workers was the main self-defence cry of 19th Century mill-owners. "Put them out of work?" they'd cry. "But who, pray, would feed their children?"

I could fire my cleaner and do it all myself. Do I not because I am lazy? I don't think I'm lazy. But maybe I am. My cleaner is great and she would find other work. But I don't think that's the point. I think "Brian"'s point is that he thinks being a cleaner is demeaning. He thinks it's a shit job and that anyone who hires someone to do a shit job is a shitty person. But I don't think being a cleaner is a shit job.

Perhaps what "Brian" would like me to do is ring all X's clients and get her fired from everything, then she would see the light and go to university and become a lawyer. Or a buyer for Topshop, or some other suitable job for a young woman that isn't cleaning people's houses.
 
After a lot of thinking like this, I have come to the conclusion that, on balance, it's just best if I pretend my cleaner doesn't exist.

Anyway, I digress.

As I said, I won't go into the foul details, but I had cause the other day to be brought some "breastfeeing bread" by my friend Henry. It is supposed to... how to put this nicely... help things along. I don't think you need to know any more. Or is coyness extra revolting?

Anyway when he turned up with it I was slightly horrified, as it smells a lot like curry because of the fenugreek seeds in it: fenugreek being the active ingredient in aiding... supply. "Oh God," I thought, "curry bread? This is going to be horrid."

But it wasn't. It was fantastic. I mean really, like, "wow" delicious. It's like a very rich soda bread, only better. Superb with any kind of jam and, I suspect, really nice with baked beans. Definitely excellent with cream cheese and salmon, as I ate it just now.
 
Do not fear: if you don't happen to be breastfeeding, it won't make you spontaneously lactate. And if you find fennel seeds or fenugreek really disgusting leave them out. They are only essential to "nursing mothers" (vomit) but if you're not in that social category and don't like them, don't put them in.

[NB if you ARE breastfeeding and need a bit of help, this does actually work, despite sounding a lot like a load of old hippy cack.]

I must admit to you now that I haven't made this myself, yet. Henry assures me that it is easy and although he's no bullshitter, he is a chef - so his level of competence unevens the playing field a bit.

Anyway, here goes. This is copied word for word out of the first Leon cookbook - this is where my 100wpm touch-typing comes in handy - which is why there isn't any swearing in it.

Makes a 1kg loaf

soft butter
330g strong wholemeal spelt flour
170g strong white flour
5g fast-acting easy-blend dried yeast
2 tsp crushed sea salt
1 tsp aniseeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds - ground
4-g pumpkin seeds
40g sunflower seeds
2.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
300ml warm water
15g extra sunflower and pumpkin seeds for the top
40g pine nuts

Smear a 1 kg loaf tin with butter. Mix all the dry ingredients (except the pine nuts and seeds for the top) together in a bowl large enough to knead the dough in. Add the oil, then the water, stirring until the mixture sticks together. Knead in the bowl for just a few minutes until smooth. You can add a little flour if it is too sticky, but remember the maxim - wetter is better. It doesn't matter if a little sticks to your hands.

Shape, then put into the tin. Cut a pattern in deep gashes on the top and sprinkle the reserved seeds into the gashes; slighty push the pine nuts into the surface and sprinkle a little extra spelt flour (or bran if you have some to hand) all over.

Put the tin into a large plastic bag that can be tucked under the tin to leave the loaf enclosed with plenty of air. Leave until the dough has doubled in size. This will take about 2-2.5 hours in a warm kitchen.
Bake in a preheated oven at 230C for 20 mins then turn down to 200C for another 20 minutes.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Easy Favor Packaging

I have now made cookies favors for two different events, both baby showers. The first was for my cousin, where I baked up really cute Mickey Mouse sugar cookies, and packaged them to be consistent with the Disney theme that her mom chose for the shower.



The second were the Grover Cookies of my previous post, which were for my friend Allie's baby shower.



Since the process of making these favors was pretty much the same both times, and since it really can be applied to almost any favor that you would like to make, I thought a separate post that just talked about favors and favor packaging might be useful to some people wanting to create tidy-looking favors for an event. The two examples I have listed here are both edible, obviously, but this method of packaging can also be used for non-edible favors, if you like the look.



The Favors

Let's start from the beginning: what to make? Cookies are an obvious choice, but candy, cake balls, mini-cakes, muffins, and even cupcakes (depending on the icing) are also potential choices with this type of packaging. Is there a theme, be it colors or characters?

Whatever you choose, just keep in mind that, depending on the size of the function, you might be in for a lot of work if you choose a favor that is too complicated to make. So put some thought into a few things: 1) How many do you have to make (accounting for a few extras)? 2) How complicated are they to make? 3) Do they need to be decorated, and if so, how long will that take? 4) Can they be made in advance? 5) If so, how feasible is it to store them (i.e. how much room do you have in your freezer)? 6) Are they something that can stay out at room temperature for a considerable length of time post-packaging (at least a day or two)?

Number 6 is particularly important, because this dictates how far in advance you can package the favors.Something like Oreo Balls would be exceptionally delicious as favors -- buuuuuut they have cream cheese in them and are thus perishable.  So if you want them as favors, you either have to package them the day before and find space in your fridge for all the favors in their packaging, or you have to commit to packaging them just before you leave when it will probably be highly inconvenient to do so. And then, they will be sitting at room temperature for an indeterminate length of time (some people might not eat theirs during the party, or even the same day, for that matter), so you'll have to run around encouraging people to gobble down their favors before they leave the party, lest they get sick later. My best advice, therefore, is to choose something that will freeze well, so that you can bake it in advance. Something that isn't too complicated to decorate, especially if you have a lot to make. And, finally, something that is perfectly stable at room temperature, so that you can package them a day or two in advance, pack them in a travel box, and leave them there until it is time to bring them to the party. It might not be exactly what you pictured in your head when you first start mulling over ideas for favors, but trust me,  this advice will reduce your stress-level by at least ten-fold.

One of my favorite ways to make favors is to use a stamp cookie cutter -- one of those cookie cutters that comes with a little stamp that leaves a design in the dough. My Micky Mouse cookie cutter for my cousin's shower was a stamp cookie cutter.
(I apologize in advance for the quality on some of the Mickey Mouse pictures, I don't know what is going on with my phone -- the details on the cookies themselves were clear as bells)


 First you use the outer cutter to cut into the dough:


Then you use the inner stamp to create a darling little imprint in the dough which will still be visible after baking:


Some cookie cutter sets also come with texture maps as an alternate way to press a design into the dough.  The great thing about these types of cookies is that the imprint itself is a decoration, so you don't necessarily have an additional step for decorating if you don't want it. For the Mickey Mouse cookies, I left them as-is and packaged them up.


Alternatively, if you intend to decorate the cookies with royal icing or something like that, your job just got a whole lot easier, because now you have lines to trace and you don't have to freehand it!  A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of options like these. My personal favorites are the Star Wars Cookie Cutters from Williams-Sonoma. They have two sets, Heroes and Villains and Vehicles, and I own (and am in love with) both of them. How cute would those be, all packaged up for a birthday party??

In the case of the Grover cookies, they were frosted and dipped in sprinkles -- nothing crazy.

The Grovers weren't from-scratch dough, they were slice-and-bake, and you know what? Everyone just loved them, and thought they were both adorable and delicious. Remember, you're making these out of love for someone, so don't be afraid to make some decisions that ease some of the stress on yourself, too!

The Labels

Even though I have Labels and Packaging listed separately, you have to think about them together to some extent, at least for sizing, because they are a pair.  The labels on my favors are folded over the tops of the bags and stapled on. So, the first question is: what size labels do you need to make? And in order to answer that question, you need to know what size bag you want to use.

For most things you will make, the best cellophane bag size to buy will be 4"x6" -- that should accommodate most things you would make. So, let's use that as an example, with the understanding that you can scale it up if you need a bigger bag.

Aesthetically, I think a set up where the favor is 1/3 label and 2/3 bag is the most pleasing to the eye. For a 4"x6" bag that is 6" long, this means that you want the label to hang down 2 inches. Since the label will be folded in half horizontally over the top of the bag, figure 4 inches of height in order to get a 2" overhang on either side of the bag. Your bags are also 4" wide, so you will need a template that is 4.25"x4.25" (I always put a little extra on, so that the label extends past the sides of the bag ever so slightly, the last thing you want is a label that is more narrow than the bag).

PowerPoint is a great option to make the labels in, if you have access to it, because you can freely move around words and text. Open a blank PowerPoint slide (in '07 version) and go to Design -> Page Set Up and select "Custom" in the pull-down menu, while making the Height and Width both 4.25".  Click show ruler, and keep in mind that the horizontal zero is the axis the label will be folded on.

Now, make one half of the label with a mixture of fonts and pictures. There are plenty of fonts available online to tie into a theme. The font below on the Disney label was Waltograph. Once you have one side made, decide if you want the second half to be exactly the same, or if you want different things on either side. If you are doing the same combo of pics and text on both sides, it is easy to get it over to the other side. Select all of the pics and text on one half of the label, then go to Arrange -> Group together. Then, you can select the entire group, and go to Arrange ->Rotate -> Flip Vertically and  Arrange ->Rotate -> Flip Horizontally.   If you are using different pics (like I did below), you can do this with just the text, and arrange the pictures by hand. You end up with something like this:

 and


Now, if you select the label, and hit the Shape Outline option, you can outline the labels in a very light grey, this will really help when you are cutting them. Then you can print them out, maybe 4 or 6 to a sheet -- regular paper is fine, but you can also use something more sturdy like card stock or photo paper. Cut them out with scissors or slice them out with a paper slicer, and the labels are all set!

The Packaging

I am very concerned with freshness. So I opt to heat seal the favor bags before putting the labels on, using one of these, an impulse heat sealer:

These things are great! In order to activate the heat, there is a little metal piece under the handle that needs to connect to the screw at the end of the sealer, so it is only hot when you are sealing something. They run about $35-45 depending on the size you get. Mine is an 8" sealer, but if you want it for larger projects, they have sizes up to 16".

You set the length of exposure with the knob in the front. I have found Level 2 to be perfect for the Wilton 4"x6" cellophane bags, but you might have to play around a bit to find the sweet spot for sealing the bags you bought. Here's how it works:

  • Put the favor in the bag.
  • Set the sealer to the proper level
  • Line up the edges of the bag a bit -- it doesn't have to be perfect, this will be covered by the label anyway. 
  • Drape the bag over the bottom of the element, try to make it straight. Make sure that you are positioning the seam somewhere that will be covered by the label.
  • Bring the top of the sealer down over the bag, and press down with the handle. This will complete the circuit and the sealer will turn on. The little red light above the knob will go on, and the machine will hum.
  • When the light goes back off (just a few seconds), the machine has done its business, but don't go lifting the handle immediately, you need to give the bag a few seconds to resolidify, so count to four first (as in one thousand one...etc).
  • Gently lift the top lever up. Most likely the bag will be stuck to the top.
  • Gently peel the bag off of the top, and voila! Heat sealed favors!


Now you can fold and staple on those labels, and you have these:


Beautiful favors in nice neat little packages! And the best part is, you can use the same basic process again and again to make favors unique to each event!