Paper plates are in our lives for a number of reasons; outdoor parties, on-the-go events, a lack of dishwasher, not wanting to use the dishwasher, and children’s sporting events are just some of the occasions when this disposable dishware seeps into our daily routine. But we're all wondering the same question — which is the best brand to use? And even more importantly, which is the most cost-effective option?
With these questions in mind, we tested some of the leading national paper plate brands and a few store-brand varieties to see which plate would hold its own in three tests. We modeled our tests after those conducted by Good Housekeeping, and tested for soak-through resistance, microwave performance, and strength.
Click here to see The Best of Paper Plates Slideshow
We selected the standard dinner plate size from Chinet, Dixie, Solo, Hefty, and two store-brand varieties — in both decorated and standard white versions. Diameters ranged from 8.75 inches to 10.38 inches, and the brands boasted characteristics such as "eco-friendly," "soak-proof," "heavy duty," and "grease-resistant."
To test soak-through resistance, each plate was placed on top of a paper towel, after which 1/4 cup of oil and 1/4 cup of water were poured onto each plate's surface. We let these plates sit for one hour, after which they were assessed for oil and water seepage onto the towels below the plate.
Best performer(s): Dixie and Hefty
Worst Performer(s): Chinet and Store Brand
To test microwave performance, we filled each plate with a slice of pizza and half a can of baked beans. Plates were then placed on top of a paper towel in the microwave, and heated for two minutes. Plates were assessed for temperature, shape, moisture on the plate, moisture that seeped through onto the towel, and if the plate had degraded.
Best Performer(s): Chinet
Worst Performer(s): Hefty and Store Brand
In the strength test, plates were held with one hand, while a steady stream of water was poured onto the plate. Each was timed for how long it took for the water to seep off the edge and the plate to warp or bend.
Best Performer(s): Solo
Worst Performer(s): Hefty
Overall Best Performer: Dixie
While Dixie only won one test outright, the brand ranked just behind the best performer in each other category, making it the best all-around performer.
Overall Best Performer for Cost: Dixie
At $0.17 per plate, Dixie is not the cheapest plate of the bunch, but as it ranks higher than both Solo and Chinet in performance, its middle-of-the-road price makes it the most cost-effective. The least expensive options, purely for cost, were both store-brand varieties, at $0.07 per plate and $0.08 per plate, as well as Hefty plates, which were also $0.08 per plate.
Overall Worst Performer: Store Brand
The store-brand varieties ranked worst in two categories, and second-to-worst in one category, making them the overall worst performing lines of paper plates.
6 Reasons Why French Press Makes the Best Coffee
If you like coffee, you will find that you have many choices. You can spend lots of money to let Starbucks make it for you. You can purchase a high-priced espresso machine to create a good cup of coffee. You can spend very little money on a drip machine. You can buy a percolator. The final choice is a French press machine. 
Easy Paper Flower Crafts For Preschoolers
If you thought paper craft is just for older kids and adults, you were wrong! Go through these basic paper flower craft ideas that even your preschooler can make.
1. 5-Petal Flower
The five-petal flower is a simple paper flower craft that your preschooler can make at home. You can make variations of this flower by changing the number of petals to six or eight.
You Will Need:
- Choose a paper that you can fold easily. For ease, pick a square-shaped paper so that the kids can start right with the flower.
- Fold the square in half, and use a ruler scale to mark the one-third point on the top-left edge of the paper. You can help your kid with this if needed.
- Now pull the bottom right corner of the paper towards the one-third point on the top left.
- Fold the bottom left corner over the right edge.
- Fold the top right corner over the left edge of the paper.
- You will have a pointy edge towards the bottom. Cut along the horizontal line made by the edge of the paper. The resultant would be a wedge.
- Starting from the top left corner of the wedge, draw a half-circle that goes down till a half-inch above the bottom right edge.
- Cut along the line and open the fold – you have a five-petal flower.
2. Watercolor Flowers
Kids love to draw. If your kids scribble often, why not make flowers out of their art?
You Will Need:
- White chart paper
- Watercolors, oil pastels, crayons – anything to color
- Containers for the water color
- A small glass of water
- Beads (optional)
- Set up the art station for the kids using a washable cloth to cover the table.
- Let your kids use the watercolors, crayons, and oil paints to fill the white sheet of paper. Let them draw anything they like – lines, dots, wavy lines or just blotches – on the paper.
- Let the paper dry. Now cut the paper into small, petal-shaped pieces. You will need at least five or six petals for each flower. Make sure that the petals of each flower are of the same color.
- Cut out a small circle from the colored paper, preferably of a different color used by the kids. We chose violet for the flowers and yellow for the center.
- Glue the petals to the circle, close to each other, such that the circle is the center. The pointy edge of the petals should be out.
- Let it dry and then glue a small bead in the center to give it a cute look.
- Your DIY watercolor paper flowers are ready!
Paper Picks: The Best of Paper Plates - Recipes
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Weird year, huh?
Technically, it’s been 16 months since our last annual (ahem) "Best of Austin" issue. We celebrated this issue’s 30th anniversary back in November 2019. I don’t have to tell you why we skipped 2020 altogether.
Even with the long break, I wondered if it was too soon to revive our "Best of Austin" awards, while we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, still grappling with so much loss and trauma. How do you begin to talk about "best" when we’ve just been through the worst year of our lives?
It was our readers, in fact, that convinced me the timing was right. You voted in our Readers Poll in droves: first the write-in, nominating ballot, and then the second, finalist ballot. 39,200 people voted in the second round – the most engagement we’ve ever had by a long shot. When I read the comments left in this round, explaining why you were casting particular votes, I truly got it: that you are so grateful. That every ballot cast was a thank-you – to an artist, a restaurant, a nonprofit, a plumber, and so many other people and places that lifted your spirits, made your burdens a little lighter.
35,000 comments. That’s how many comments you left. That is a lot of gratitude, y’all.
"Makes me feel less alone and feel like part of a community." A reader left that comment about the Chronicle, and it moved me in ways I can hardly describe. A sense of community hasn’t always been so easy to come by during these many months of social isolation and upheaval. But it’s what we’re always striving for here at the paper, and what I think you’ll find in these pages.
This year we celebrate 206 Readers Poll winners, almost 700 more finalists, and an additional 102 Critics Picks awarded by Chronicle staff and contributors. Whether you’ve lived in Austin for one day or 50 years, I guarantee you’ll find something in here that speaks to you. – Kimberley Jones
Starting at $10.99 per serving, $35 off plus four free gifts for new users
Sunbasket is truly a ray of sunshine for those who value organic ingredients and getting a healthy and delicious meal on the table.
The meal kit service offers two different types of meals: the traditional cook-it-yourself type with the organic ingredients and recipe cards in the box and the ready-made kind, where all you need is an oven or a microwave and you’re good to go.
They also cater to almost any type of diet under the sun, offering kits for paleo, vegetarian, pescatarian, clean-eaters, gluten-free, diabetes-friendly and a chef’s choice option for those wanting to expand their culinary horizons. For my box, I decided to do a mix of everything, getting one oven-ready meal that was gluten-free, dairy-free and pescatarian and one regular meal kit to be cooked up.
For the instant option, I was sent a shrimp paella with fire-roasted tomatoes and bell peppers, instantly taking me back to Spain where I tried the dish for the first time. Instead of a bulky pan to cook my paella, I was given a microwave-safe container, cutting my cook time to just six minutes total. I was wary of overcooked and rubbery fish with dry rice, but the dish came out moist and delicious, so either I have a magic microwave or the people at Sunbasket knew what they were doing when it comes to microwavable meals.
They have a full breakfast menu with options for different types of eggs, oatmeals, bread and spreads, and even juice, smoothies and a coffee-in-a-can that looks awesome. Moving on to lunch and dinner, they have both the ready-made meals as well as cooking options, a whole section for pasta and sauces, extra protein packs, and of course, snacks. This site had some of the most variety I had seen so far in my meal kit quest, and can 100% be eaten for every meal of the day without getting bored with the selections.
For the traditional meal, I went for their Italian sausage and vegetable skillet with spicy green harissa. This meal was also gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free, and also paleo, and labeled as spicy for those who can’t take the heat. The veggies included all had organic stickers on them, and were fresh and crisp as I was chopping them up. I also noticed that they were full-sized, ultimately serving a bit more than the two promised portions.
- Wide array of options for both pre-made and traditional cook meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snacks
- Ready-to-eat meals taste fresh, even when microwaved
- Ample amounts of organic produce and nitrate-free meats in the traditional meal kit can serve more than the serving size and perfect for hungry families
- Smaller recipe cards for easy storage, and also found online or on the app for iPhone and Android
The Printing Process: Letterpress Printing
Every morning this week, I’m running a series of guests posts about different printing methods – so if you’ve ever wondered why certain printing methods are best for certain kinds of designs (or cost more than others), this is for you! You can read the previous installments covering digital printing, engraving, screen printing, letterpress printing with antique type, and foil stamping all right here. Today Kim and Kyle from Baltimore Print Studios are here to walk us through modern letterpress printing!
Hello OSBP! We’re Kim and Kyle from Baltimore Print Studios, a public-access letterpress and screen printing studio where we also print commercially and for ourselves. We’re thrilled to share the process of letterpress printing with you and how things work in our shop.
What is Letterpress?
Letterpress printing has become the go-to printing technique for wedding invitations, greeting cards, and business cards for anyone hoping to make an impression (pun intended) on the recipient. Today’s cottage industry of letterpress printers has been built on the shoulders of 100 years of printing industry, starting around the late 1800s. It’s easy to forget that what we treasure today as an artisan product, made by a well-trained craftsperson, was once known simply as printing.
What began with hand-set wood and metal type (read more about this from Jen of Starshaped Press here) has become an industry centered around the photo polymer plate. Designing for letterpress today begins on a computer, and as such, new fonts, embellished ornaments, graphics, patterns, and complicated multi-color designs can be produced with relative ease. The printing part is still by hand, one at a time.
The Printing Process
The images below walk you through the process of printing 2-color, double-sided business cards on a Vandercook SP-20 printing press. They were designed for a wedding photography company called Readyluck, by Baltimore designer Christopher Clark. These cards were printed on Crane Lettra 220 lb Pearl White cotton paper.
This is the Vandercook SP-20. In this press’s first life it probably pulled proofs of pages for a daily newspaper. Today, these presses are sought after for their quality and large printing size.
Polymer plates are produced using a photographic process. The digital design is output to a film as a negative (left), and then exposed to a polymer plate using UV light (right). The polymer plate is made of a light-sensitive, water-soluble plastic with a clear backing. The portions of the plate that are exposed through the clear parts of the film hardens, and what is not washes away. What remains is a raised surface in the shape of the design. A separate plate is produced for every color being printed, and the paper is run through the press at least once for each color in the design. We send our designs to Boxcar Press, where they transfer your digital design onto a polymer plate. These plates match a gridded Boxcar Base, a machined aluminum plate that raises the plate to type high.
The plate is affixed to a machined metal base which is in turn locked into the press.
Ink is mixed by hand. When possible, ink can be weighed out to match a specific color recipe, but in our shop we mix everything by eye, often matching to a specific Pantone color. We use oil-based, lithography inks.
The press is inked. Even the inking process has to be done carefully. Too much ink will produce a sloppy print. Too little, and the color will not be solid.
Printing begins. This plate prints an area half the size of the sheet. The sheet of paper is hand-fed through the press twice, once from each end of the paper. This produces 8 cards per sheet in a process called a work-and-turn. The 220 lb Crane Lettra paper, double than the standard 110 lb weight (and more than twice the cost), allows for a deeper impression on both sides, which was desired by the client.
The ink is allowed to dry and the next day the press is inked up in red. Differences in pressure and the amount of ink can dramatically affect the printed color. Adjustments are made to produce the desired color, and the print run is checked periodically to be sure the color is consistent. For this particular run, the red ink ran out relatively quickly and frequent re-inkings were required.
All presses have a system of registration. Consistent placement of every print on every sheet is a must for quality printing. This design, like most we produce, has cross-hair trim marks made into the plate that serve not only as cutting guides, but printing guides as well. After this print run dried, a third printing run was made on the reverse of the pages.
Cutting! Printing is finished and the job is ready to cut. We usually die cut our business card jobs, even when the job doesn’t call for an unusual shape. Our business card die cuts four cards in a single pass. The press is outfitted with a metal die-jacket for protection, and the die itself is made up of metal cutting blades surrounded by protective foam pads. (Ed. Note: We’ll be covering die cutting in greater detail tomorrow!)
Each pass on the press cuts four cards. While this is an extremely inefficient press for die cutting, its accuracy far out-weighs speed for us.
The design for these cards utilized a random, non-repeating pattern and intentionally transparent colors. The four cards together create one overall design, but each business card is unique.
Tips and Advice
Letterpress printing takes some time. In our shop, each page is fed by hand, and each color of a print job can be several hours on press from start to clean-up. Add to that designs that need to be sent out to be made into plates. A two-week turn-around is common.
Letterpress excels at printing fine type and line work. Letterpress printing is not ideal for solid fields of color. Most large solid shapes result in the color printing ‘salty’, a term used to describe the texture and color of the paper showing through the ink. Your printer can tell you what is possible on their equipment.
While letterpress was never intended to be printed with a dramatic impression, or deboss, into the paper, it is often the most desired feature today. Printing like this will quickly damage wood and metal type, but polymer plates are more durable (and more easily replaced). Certain papers show off this impression better than others.
Bacon-Cooking Method: Baking on a Rack with Paper Towels Underneath
Total Time: 24 minutes (regular-cut bacon) 29 minutes (thick-cut bacon) + 10 minutes oven preheating time
About This Method: I was intrigued by this tip, given in a tweet by Alton Brown: Filling in the blanks of his brief explanation, I lined a rimmed baking sheet with layers of paper towels, arranged a wire rack over the paper towels, placed bacon slices on the rack, and baked at 400°F till the bacon was done to my liking.
The bacon stayed the meatiest with this oven-rack method, with the least amount of shrinkage. To see what difference the paper towels made, I cooked one batch of regular-cut and one batch of thick-cut bacon over paper towels and one batch of each with no paper towels. The paper towels definitely helped with cleanup, but didn’t eliminate it entirely the unlined pan gathered lots of grease and some splotchy scorched spots that I had to scrub off. But even with the towels, the rack had to be scrubbed, and that was, frankly, time-consuming.
I know what some of you are thinking — and no, the paper towels don’t catch fire or smoke at 400°F. They do soak up the hot rendered bacon fat, basically eliminating any chance that you’ll burn yourself with hot grease. Of course, if you value bacon drippings like I do, this method isn’t ideal.
My Takeaway: This technique is great for cooking a large amount of bacon you could do two pans at once (that is, if you have enough pans and wire racks). I liked how baking the bacon on a rack makes it easy to control the end product: I cooked one batch until it was crispy and one batch until it was meaty-chewy, with a Canadian bacon–like texture. And okay, I admit that I might be a baby (or maybe even a bit lazy), but I really hated scrubbing baked-on bacon bits off a wire rack. I tried washing it in the dishwasher, but some stuck-on bits remained, and I had to get out my brush and scrub anyway.
Bottom line: This is a good technique for cooking a large volume of meaty bacon with easy cleanup of the pan — but be prepared to scrub the rack.
Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles
Hwa Yuan New York City
Soft and luxurious, bathed in an emulsified mixture of sesame paste and peanut butter, rendered vivid and fiery by chili oil and sweetened by sugar, then cut by vinegar, this version is classic New York takeout, made at home.
C hien Lieh Tang, the chef of Hwa Yuan in Manhattan’s Chinatown, grew up in the kitchens of his family’s restaurants in Taipei. “I remember watching the chefs spread the hot noodles on ice,” he said in a recent video call, demonstrating the gentle, draping hand motions used to make the spicy cold noodles dressed with sesame paste that were popular in hot Taiwan summers.
He added, “Every ingredient in the sauce was put together at the last minute” — and switched over to furious whisking.
The Tang family’s roots are in Nanchong, in the Sichuan province of China, where fresh noodles slicked with dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns are classic street food. Like about two million others from mainland China, Mr. Tang’s parents moved to Taiwan after the Communist Revolution of 1949. When immigration restrictions were lifted in 1965, many moved on to the United States, including Mr. Tang’s father, Yu Fa Tang (nicknamed Shorty).
He opened a restaurant on this site in 1967, and became a successful restaurateur with multiple Sichuanese restaurants in Manhattan and a much-copied recipe for cold noodles — made without Sichuan peppercorns, then unavailable in New York. But he died young, and the original Hwa Yuan Szechuan Inn closed in 1991.
Today, Mr. Tang, 67, and his son, James, 35, who helps run the business, are luckier than most Chinatown restaurant owners in the pandemic. The family owns the building, so they do not have to worry about rent, a tremendous barrier to reopening in New York. They have been able to keep the kitchen running for delivery and takeout with a skeleton crew of cooks.
The Tangs have never shared the recipe for their sesame noodles. But The New York Times developed a home-cooking version of it in 2007, with a common twist: substituting peanut butter if the right kind of sesame paste is hard to come by.
Mr. Tang said that since the restaurant reopened with an elegant makeover in 2017 and received a two-star review in The Times, there has been a constant flow of customers who announce that they are there to honor a first date, an engagement, or a passionate love affair with carp in hot bean sauce, the first dish he ever learned to make.
Anti-Chinese rhetoric and violence have risen across the country because of misinformation about the coronavirus, and many Chinese restaurants have been forced to shut down completely because employees fear leaving their own neighborhoods. Still, Mr. Tang said, it wasn’t locals who avoided Chinese restaurants in February, when business was down by 40 percent, but tourists.
“New Yorkers know better than that,” he said. “We are all in this together.”
Plate Sets and Individual Designs
Choose from appetizer and dessert plates in solid neutrals or colorful patterns and designs. White dessert plates, for example, complement any dinnerware or kitchen linens, while bolder designs add a modern and eclectic touch to the meal. Whatever shade you decide on, the plates elevate your food's presentation. For an ideal gift, select a plate set with four to twelve pieces. They give the dining table a cohesive feeling, and are especially convenient for those looking to significantly expand their dish collection.
How to choose the right type of salt for your recipe
In a world history of food and cooking, salt is the most universal ingredient. Sweet, savory, meat, vegetable, in the background or in your face, there is salt.
“Salt is the single most important ingredient in cooking and the single most powerful tool for improving the flavor of food,” says Mark Bitterman in his encyclopedic book, “Salted.”
So it’s no wonder that you may experience decision paralysis when it comes time to select a salt from the grocery store shelf or your pantry. Or you may take the exact opposite approach and give absolutely zero thought to this staple ingredient.
Here’s why it matters and what you should consider.
Know the types. There are four types of salt that most home cooks use on a regular basis: table, kosher, sea and finishing. The good news? They’re all essentially chemically identical — as in salt, or sodium chloride. The differences boil down to how they’re made, their shape and, depending on whom you ask, their flavor.
- Table salt is granulated with a fine texture consisting of small cubes. It often includes potassium iodide to provide iodine (more on that later) and an anti-caking agent to keep crystals from sticking to each other, Harold McGee writes in “Keys to Good Cooking.”
- Kosher salt consists of larger, flakier crystals, named because of its ability to help extract blood and moisture out of meat during the koshering process of Jewish dietary law. It is not iodized.
- Sea salt can be more or less refined than other types, with smaller or larger crystals. It may feature additional minerals that impart a bitter flavor, McGee says.
- Finishing salts often boast pedigree of sourcing and can come in a wide array of shapes and colors.
Understand why the shape and size matters. “The type of salt can make a major difference in how well it blends in. Flakey sea salt and Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt blend faster and better than granular table salt,” Shirley Corriher writes in “BakeWise.” That has to do with how each type of salt is formed. Corriher points out that 90 percent of a granular salt will bounce off a surface, while 95 percent of a hollow flaky salt will stick, not to mention dissolve faster. Both factors are major reasons chefs and cookbook authors often express a preference for Diamond Crystal, which is a hollow flaky pyramid. Other kosher salts, such as the common Morton’s coarse salt, are formed when granular salt is flattened by rollers, according to Corriher. She favors sea salt for baking (she advocates grinding Maldon as needed), as does Rose Levy Beranbaum, who in “The Baking Bible” notes that “it integrates more readily into batter than does a coarse salt.” One other factor to consider: Kosher salt is easier to pinch, pick up and see when you’re, say, seasoning meat. Kosher salt also makes for a clear brine.
In “The Food Lab,” J. Kenji Lopez-Alt calls kosher salt the “only one you absolutely need in your kitchen.” If you’re concerned about iodine deficiency, know that plenty of foods, including dairy, seafood and vegetables, include iodine.
Understand the flavor. Here’s where things get fuzzy. Do different salts taste different? Depends whom you ask. Bitterman, a writer and gourmet food shop owner who calls himself the world’s first “selmelier,” is adamant that they do. He has little use for grocery store salts, describing the flavor of table salt as “drying spray paint, dirt, fishhooks,” kosher salt as “hot, bright, sometimes metallic and/or faintly acrid” and sea salt as “sharp flatness.” Needless to say, he doesn’t recommend using any of them in home cooking.