Lin-Manuel Miranda #HamilDrops New Track “Ben Franklin’s Song” With The Decemberists
Last week, Lin-Manuel Miranda announced the HAMILDROPS, a new Hamilton project that will see previously unreleased content drop once per month between now and December 2018.
So today, we begin THE HAMILDROPS. We’re gonna drop some new Hamilton content, every month, December NOW through December 2018.— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) December 14, 2017
The first of Miranda’s HAMILDROP is upon us, with the Hamilton mastermind overnight unveiling “Ben Franklin’s Song,” with music written recorded by indie rock band the Decemberists.
This is the first new Hamilton content since Miranda released The Hamilton Mixtape one year ago, and it did not disappoint. Miranda said he wrote the “Decemberists-esque lyrics” with the band in mind, and they include references to Benjamin Franklin’s yearly almanac and his inventions, the glass harmonica and bifocal glasses:
And do you know who the fuck I am?
Yeah, do you know who the fuck I am?
Do you know who the fuck I am?
I am Poor-Richard’s-Almanack-writing Benjamin fuckin’ Franklin
(See also: “I am 76-and-I’ll-still-kick-your-ass fuckin’ Franklin” and “I am Poor-Richard’s-Almanack-writing, polymath, bifocal-wearing, hardened glass-harmonica-playing, Benjamin fuckin’ Franklin”).
You can find all the ways to listen to the new track, as well as wait longlingly for future tracks, at the HAMILDROPs website.
Why Beyoncé Needed Ed Sheeran to Score Her First No. 1 Hit in Nine Years
If living well is the best revenge, perhaps charting well is the best Grammy clap-back? For Ed Sheeran, our premier polymath pop troubadour, this holiday season really has been the ultimate in bad news–good news whiplash. Within the space of two weeks, Sheeran was shut out of every top Grammy category—by a Recording Academy that seemed destined to bolt Sheeran’s name onto all the golden gramophones—and then, days later, he laid waste to the Billboard charts again. “Perfect,” the fourth official single from Sheeran’s ÷ (Divide) album, becomes his second Hot 100 No. 1 song of 2017, eight months after his first, “Shape of You,” completed a dozen-week run on top. The very same day Billboard announced this, the magazine also revealed that “Shape” was the No. 1 Hot 100 hit of the year, outgunning 2017’s record-setting Song of the Summer “Despacito,” which ranks second for the year. And by the way, it’s the second year in a row that Sheeran has been the author of the top Billboard hit, and the third year in a row that he’s had one of the top two: The No. 1 song of 2016, Justin Bieber’s spiteful kiss-off “Love Yourself,” was co-written by Sheeran, and on Billboard's list of the biggest songs of 2015, his “Thinking Out Loud” came in at No. 2.
Pretty quickly, in the press, Sheeran’s attitude toward the Grammy nominations has turned from sad-sack to modestly cheerful and maybe even a bit shady—his comments veering from two weeks ago’s “maybe this year wasn’t my year” to this week’s, “You know, I'm not dying.” He has even started redirecting the media toward his renewed chart prowess: “The week after [the Grammy snub], I get an MBE from the palace, I go No. 1 on Spotify, …I’m about to have my second ever Billboard No. 1—like, there’s so many things in the mix that counterbalance it.” It is hilarious to consider an Ed Sheeran who now turns to the love of the people as compensation for his underrating by the eternally middlebrow tastemakers in the Recording Academy—particularly when the latter camp gave him a Song of the Year Grammy just 22 months ago.
However its creator spins this, the success of “Perfect” on the Hot 100 wasn’t a foregone conclusion. In fact, in America, it was actually a minor comeback. If 2017 has felt like the year Ed Sheeran finally became inescapable, that’s mostly due to one song, the perky, faux–tropical-house “Shape of You.” After landing in January, “Shape” became even more absurdly ubiquitous than the average big hit. It broke a record for the longest run in Billboard’s Top 10—an unprecedented 33 weeks, from January through early September (this is basically how it topped “Despacito” for the year)—and it’s still sitting in the Top 30 in this, its 48th week. The problem for Ed was following it up. “Shape” arrived paired with a second hit, the wistful, windy “Castle on the Hill,” but after a big Top 10 debut in January, “Castle” plummeted and only managed to crawl back toward the Top 20 by midsummer. Third single “Galway Girl,” a risible blend of Irish jig and thumping pop, must have seemed like a good idea for Sheeran’s huge global audience but was an all-out flop in America, peaking outside our Top 40. By the fall, Sheeran had a unique problem: He was pop’s biggest star of the year—especially before his pal Taylor Swift came back—but he needed another real, actual, omnipresent hit.
Sheeran addressed his emergency by breaking some industrial-strength glass: He called in Beyoncé. To be fair, the idea long predated Sheeran’s late-summer search for a single. The two had met and even sung together at the 2015 Grammys, and Ed began courting Bey to sing on the ballad as far back as last spring, while “Shape of You” was riding high. Finally recorded in September—Sheeran said the mighty Knowles-Carter needed only one take (shocker)—the new “Perfect” remained a secret for a few more weeks while Sheeran issued his original album cut as a single. His solo version managed to climb into the Top 10 by late November.
With or without Beyoncé, “Perfect” was fated to be some kind of hit: It’s schlock, if ruthlessly effective. As Alfred Soto points out at The Singles Jukebox, even those of us who find Sheeran noisome have “had to reckon with his considerable craft. He can write hooks and melodies—facts are facts, people.” In addition to orchestration by classical composer Matthew Sheeran, Ed’s brother, “Perfect” boasts an instantly familiar melody and a ’50s slow-dance arrangement. You half expect the Five Satins to show up and start doo-wopping “In the Still of the Night” over the chorus.
This throwback technique can produce magic—witness the 2015 country-to-pop crossover hit “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town, which paired a vintage trad-pop arrangement with creative, gender-flipped lyrics for something fresh and modern. But that’s where “Perfect” falls down—in its banal sentiments. The lyric is basically a mumblecore version of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”: “When you said you looked a mess/ I whispered underneath my breath/ But you heard it/ Darling, you look perfect/ Tonight.” The duet version improves things slightly but is mostly a case of Lord-giveth-and-taketh, as Queen Bey strips away the orchestration—her suggestion—to leave only Sheeran’s sturdy melody but also his awkward lyrics, which often resemble Max Martin in their syllable-filling nonsense but without the bracing lift of a Martin production.
The most Beyoncé thing about the duet was how Sheeran finally deployed it: a surprise reveal. Officially titled “Perfect Duet”—a full acoustic rerecording, yet close enough to the original Ed-only “Perfect” that Billboard counts the two versions together for chart purposes—version deux instantly gave the song a kick to go the last mile. After the Bey duet had been on sale only a few hours, it amassed enough points to hurtle “Perfect” into the Hot 100’s Top Three. The following week, with a full week of sales and streams, “Perfect” leapt to No. 1, ejecting Post Malone’s “Rockstar” from the penthouse after an eight-week run on top. “Perfect” is doing well at radio, too, currently ranked third in airplay. In the 2010s, pop radio hasn’t always warmed to slow romancers, unless they’re by Adele or the people imitating her, but after the smash success of 2015’s “Thinking Out Loud,” radio programmers appear to have placed Sheeran in a bulletproof Adele-like category.
The same week “Perfect”/“Perfect Duet” reached the summit, Billboard officially added Beyoncé’s name as a coequal credit on the single, since nearly two-thirds of “Perfect’s” digital sales were tallied by the duet. It’s the second time this year Bey was added to a single’s artist credit mid-run. Just two months ago, she turned J. Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” a post-“Despacito” crossover reggaetón hit, into a No. 3 smash by Bieber-izing it with new English verses. While the “Gente” remix gave Bey her first Top Three hit in more than three years, Bey’s teamup with Sheeran is an even bigger career milestone. “Perfect Duet” is Beyoncé’s first Hot 100 chart-topper since—perhaps you’ve heard of this one?—“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” which topped the Hot 100 in December 2008, a month after Barack Obama was elected president.
Let’s pause and reiterate this point, which might stun you if you haven’t been paying close attention to the Hot 100 for the last decade: This is Beyoncé’s first No. 1 song in nine years—her first of the 2010s, period, and she got it via Ed Sheeran. For all of the hashtags, concert grosses, political activism, critical acclaim, awards-show and Super Bowl–halftime dominance, and even jokey memes about the indestructability of Beyoncé’s fame, this whole decade the most famous pop star in America has had no pop-chart toppers. She came closest with “Drunk in Love,” the surfbortin’ lead single from her 2013 self-titled masterpiece, which reached No. 2 in early 2014. But “Drunk” peaked largely on the strength of Beyoncé’s massive download sales; it never ranked higher on Billboard’s airplay chart than No. 6. Other chattering-class phenomena like her Bey-squad banger “7/11” or her Black Lives Matter anthem “Formation” have fallen well short of the Top 10 (or, in the case of her delirious, boof-boofing “Countdown,” simply missed the Top 40 entirely). Now four years away from her 40th birthday, Bey seems to have regarded Sheeran’s “Perfect” the way Justin Timberlake leveraged “Can’t Stop the Feeling” last year—as a late-career insurance policy.
So, who needed whom more, between the Ginger Hobbit and the Queen Bey? The short answer is each needed the other—but for different reasons.
Sheeran’s needs were simpler. He had to revive a hit-bound but dormant track on a nine-month-old album. In other words, he had to give the public—even diehard fans—a reason to consume “Perfect” again. So he did what pal Taylor Swift did two and a half years ago with her album cut “Bad Blood,” the fourth single from 1989, which only became a smash after she got Kendrick Lamar to rap on it. As I said in this series when “Bad Blood” hit No. 1, all Lamar had to do for Swift was show up—in the digital era, when all songs are available for single-song purchase or streaming the moment an album drops, the music business no longer has scarcity at its command when it comes to picking the third, fourth, or fifth radio single from an album. Those songs have been out a la carte for months, and even if the artist is a superstar and the album’s a smash, turning a late single from it into a chart-topping hit is tougher now. That is, unless you can get a starry guest to reboot the track—preferably, if you are a white pop star, a cultural-cred–having black artist. (This trick also worked six years ago for Katy Perry on the fourth and fifth No. 1 hits from her record-setting Teenage Dream album, remixed with Kanye West and Missy Elliott, respectively.)
But Beyoncé needed Sheeran, too—as absurd as this sounds, he made Bey more radio-friendly. The 2010s has been a decade of exploration for Beyoncé as she’s, admirably, tested pop’s political and sonic boundaries. Truthfully, Bey has been cutting-edge her whole career, even back when she was a regular chart-topper: helping to reinvent R&B singing around rap cadence on the 1999 Destiny’s Child hit “Say My Name,” breaking the genius sample-deploying producer Rich Harrison on 2003’s start-stop smash “Crazy in Love,” and more. But this decade, she’s really pushed it to the limit, as much as a culturally dominant megastar can, from “Run the World (Girls)” to “Partition” to “Daddy Lessons.” At some point early this decade—probably around the time her 2011 album 4 did solid black radio business but tanked at Top 40—Bey decided that, like her husband’s sometime-friend Kanye West, she wasn’t necessarily going to try for pop hits anymore. Artistically, critically, and on the album chart, she’s pulled this off. At a time when albums don’t shift traditional units anymore, both Beyoncé and Lemonade sold at double-platinum levels (sold, not streamed) and commanded critics’ year-end lists. But sooner or later a pop deity needs a regular-ass radio hit to remind her global following why, exactly, she lives on Mt. Olympus. Sheeran’s wedding-ready weeper jump-started that process—kind of a genius move, when you’re not working on your own album and on de facto maternity leave.
As for Ed Sheeran, “Perfect” puts a button on the biggest year of his career and rights the ship after the Grammy story nearly ruined his narrative. And he’s not done milking the song yet: Late this week, Sheeran confirmed the rumor that’s been swirling for a couple of weeks and dropped “Perfect” version three: a duet with popera demigod Andrea Bocelli. Yet again, Ed’s singing partner might benefit as much from the teamup as Sheeran—Bocelli even more than Beyoncé. Despite two decades of gold and platinum albums and prior duets with everyone from Céline Dion to Mary J. Blige, the Italian tenor has never scored a U.S. Top 40 hit. Literally the only time Bocelli’s name has even appeared on the Hot 100 was the single week in 2010 that his duet with Blige on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” debuted and peaked at No. 75. Two chart weeks from now, when the data rolls in, it will be interesting to see whether in a three-way contest between solo Sheeran, Beyoncé, and Bocelli, the latter racks up enough sales and streams to have his name instantly added to a No. 1 hit. And hey, Bocelli has also—oddly—never won a Grammy. Maybe, by the time of the 2019 awards, “Perfect” will get him to the podium, and get Sheeran back there. Sound craven? You have to suspect this idea crossed somebody’s mind.
A Make-Ahead, Totally Genius Holiday Breakfast Casserole
Of course make-ahead breakfast casseroles are genius. They let you knock out all the thinking and doing the day before, when you have time and space to putter. And they feed a hungry crowd much more smoothly than flipping fried eggs or rolling omelettes for eight (don’t do it).
The trouble is: In their ingenious practicality, these casseroles can often feel utilitarian at best. They’re a breakfast you can cut into neat rectangles, with none of the dramatic pouf of a Dutch baby or tactile glee of a pull-apart monkey bread.
More Women Accuse Dustin Hoffman of Sexual Assault, Indecent Exposure
Dustin Hoffman—the man who has said of previous misconduct allegations against him that this is simply how members of a “family” treat one another on set—has been accused of sexually assaulting two women and exposing himself to a minor. The three women spoke to Variety about their experiences with Hoffman, with details that line up with multiple previous allegations against him.
Cori Thomas was a high school friend of Hoffman’s daughter Karina in 1980 and, as an aspiring actress, a huge fan of Hoffman. After an innocent Sunday spent with Hoffman and Karina in Manhattan, Hoffman suggested that they wait for Thomas’ parents to pick her up at his hotel, according to Thomas’ account. When Karina went home to the house of her mother (whom Hoffman was in the process of divorcing), Hoffman took a shower before returning to the room wearing nothing but a towel.
“He came out of the bathroom with a towel at first wrapped around him, which he dropped,” Thomas said. “He was standing there naked. I think I almost collapsed, actually. It was the first time I had ever seen a naked man. I was mortified. I didn’t know what to do. And he milked it. He milked the fact that he was naked. He stood there. He took his time.”
Hoffman put on a robe and asked Thomas, then 16, for a foot massage, which she then did. (Hoffman allegedly asked Anna Graham Hunter, a 17-year-old intern on the set of Death of a Salesman, to give him a massage on her first day.) While massaging his feet, Hoffman kept telling Thomas, “I’m naked. Do you want to see?” Thomas said she was only able to extricate herself from the situation when the phone rang, announcing her own mother’s arrival. Thomas said she was humiliated and unable to tell her mother until decades later. (Her mother recalled being concerned about her daughter having been alone with Hoffman.)
The other women, Melissa Kester and a woman who requested anonymity, told Variety about different incidents that occurred during the making of Ishtar, which was released in 1987. Kester, a recent college graduate at the time, was dating a man working on the music for the film. She met Hoffman multiple times at the studio where he was recording vocal tracks for the film. On the third such occasion, struggling with a take, Hoffman “jokingly” called for Kester to be sent into the booth with him.
“I’m standing there, and it’s kind of a small room, and he grabs me, so we’re both facing out so we’re both facing the people in the studio. I’m thinking that it’s kind of flirtatious and funny, like he’s holding onto me, because I’m going to help him sing better. I felt awkward. It’s a little weird. He’s hugging me while he’s singing. But ha ha ha, it’s all a joke. My boyfriend is right there.”
Hoffman continued with the take.
“And as he’s doing that, he literally just stuck his fingers down my pants,” Kester said. “He put his fingers inside me. And the thing I feel most bad about is I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there. I just froze in the situation like ‘Oh my god, what is happening?’ It’s shocking when that happens to you.”
The incident described is reminiscent of accusations by Kathryn Rossetter, Hoffman’s Death of a Salesman Broadway co-star, who said Hoffman would regularly grope her while she was waiting in the wings—on mic and unable to protest—before an entrance, one night even sticking his fingers inside her. Kester said she never told her boyfriend about the incident.
The third woman said Hoffman approached her while she was an extra in a nightclub scene in the film. He invited her back to the set for the final day of the shoot, insisting she stay for the wrap-up party. After offering her a ride home, Hoffman started touching her without her consent, and she froze.
“There are people inches from us,” she said. “And he just took his hand and stuck his fingers right up inside of me. I didn’t know what to do. He’s smiling at me. I was frozen. I was outside of my body.”
After the car dropped her off, Hoffman handed her $20 and told her to take a cab to his home, which she did, describing herself as being in “a kind of fugue state.” She then engaged in consensual sexual activity with Hoffman but says the incident in the car was nonconsensual.
Hoffman was not available to comment on the story, but his attorney wrote a letter to Variety calling the accusations “defamatory falsehoods.”
6 Things We Know (and Don’t Know) About the Disney-Fox Merger
With the Walt Disney Company’s announcement Thursday that it had reached a megadeal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion (plus another $13.7 billion in assumed debt), Hollywood watchers have been working overtime trying to parse the merger’s overall entertainment-industry impact. Will it yield a Reese’s “Your chocolate’s in my peanut butter” corporate synergy between two behemoth TV-movie-internet companies—or mark the birth of a terrifying new media monopoly? And will the FCC, which under the Trump administration has turned a surprisingly cold shoulder to mergers, put a stop to the whole thing? There are plenty of unanswered questions, but there are few broad areas where certain outcomes seem more likely. Let’s break down what we (think) we know so far:
Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It Got a Modern-Day Update. Crooklyn Should Be Next.
Like pretty much every narrative he’s ever produced, Spike Lee’s Netflix adaptation of his feature debut She’s Gotta Have It has proven to be polarizing. It’s been deemed “a boring rehash of the original” and “buoyant, funny … and un-Spikeishly restrained”; “as fresh as a flip phone” and a depiction of Lee’s “most feminist heroine yet.” That last point especially is debatable, even if one thing everyone can agree on is that this new version is decidedly aware of the ways in which perceptions around black female sexuality have evolved since 1986. Yes, Nola Darling 2.0 (DeWanda Wise) is a vast improvement over her previous incarnation as an elusive, one-dimensional figure (Tracy Camilla Johns) for the men in her life to project their fantasies and desires on. But when looking back on the filmmaker’s fascinatingly varied career, I can’t help but echo other critics’ sentiments that She’s Gotta Have It’s tale of a black, single young adult woman juggling a complicated love life and a career isn’t exactly groundbreaking when stronger representations like Insecure and Being Mary Jane currently exist, and Living Single and Girlfriends preceded it by decades. What’s still largely missing from the screen, is a nuanced, studied narrative built around young black girls. Perhaps a more interesting and fruitful return to the well for Lee would have been a series adaptation of Crooklyn instead.
Released in 1994, Crooklyn tends to be overshadowed by Lee’s splashier, more controversial efforts like Do the Right Thing and School Daze, or critically acclaimed crowd-pleasers like 25th Hour and Malcolm X. It’s a “small” and innocuous film by comparison, loosely inspired by his childhood and co-written with his siblings, Cinqué and Joie, largely unconcerned with institutional racism, the criminal justice system, or morality tales. But that’s an inherent part of its charm. Set in the early 1970s, the first half plays out in loosely connected slice-of-life vignettes, the camera weaving along a single bustling block in Bed-Stuy where black and brown kids play freely among Vietnam war vets, druggies, an oddball who owns dozens of dogs in his garden-level apartment, and other colorful neighbors. Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), a school teacher, and her husband Woody (Delroy Lindo), a struggling musician, are raising their five kids in a beautiful brownstone, and while they certainly don’t live within the tax bracket of the Huxtables (at one point their electricity gets cut off and for a period of time they have to rely on food stamps), they aren’t living The Struggle, either—the family dynamics, of stressed out parents and squabbling siblings, are nearly universal.
Black Women Came Through With Both the Votes in Alabama and the Jokes on Late Night
On Tuesday night, Doug Jones became the first Democratic candidate to win a Senate race in Alabama since 1992. This was thanks in large part to massive black voter turnout—and in particular, to black women, who made up 17 percent of voters and overwhelmingly chose Jones over opponent Roy Moore. Late-night comedy is still an overwhelmingly white and male scene, but on Wednesday night, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah stepped back and let their black, female contributors seize the limelight for a victory lap—and some advice about what to do next.
The Last Jedi Revives an Extremely Arcane Bit of Star Wars Lore. Here’s What You Need to Know.
The new Star Wars installment is chock-full of references to the space opera’s past, but here’s one allusion that moviegoers, and even many Star Wars buffs, might not be able to place: a pair of tiny golden cubes on a chain, the Millennium Falcon’s space-travel equivalent of fuzzy rearview mirror dice. The dice are the property of the galaxy’s favorite rogue, the late Han Solo, and they’re still dangling in the cockpit when, as glimpsed in a TV spot, Luke Skywalker reenters the freighter. Like everything in the Star Wars universe, the tiny gold knickknack has a backstory, and Slate investigated it.
The golden dice make their first appearance in Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, the film that introduced George Lucas’ saga. Set decorator Roger Christian, whose team won an Academy Award for the 1977 film, wrote in his autobiography that he added the dice as a finishing touch that helped develop Solo’s character as “reckless” and “a gambler.” Christian took inspiration from actor Harrison Ford’s previous film with Lucas, American Graffiti, in which Ford’s character had a skull dangling off his mirror, but Christian deemed a skull “a little too rock ’n’ roll for Star Wars.” So the dice became a part of the Millennium Falcon. Eagle-eyed viewers can glimpse the dice at the very top of the frame during the scene where the ship is sucked into the Death Star by a tractor beam, for instance. Chewbacca also hits his head on the dice as he boards the Falcon in Mos Eisley, the spaceport where the famous cantina scene occurs.
Speaking to Vanity Fair before the release of The Last Jedi, Pablo Hidalgo, creative executive of Lucasfilm Story Group, said that the production might have forgotten about the dice in the interim; they didn’t appear again until the saga returned with The Force Awakens. Hidalgo said the team behind the 2015 movie re-watched old footage to reconstruct Solo’s ship. (According to the Metro, the art department at Pinewood Studios realized they were missing the dice after filming had started and bought a pair of 24-karat-plated dice from a fan of the franchise on eBay for £22 in June 2014).
Hidalgo, who J.J. Abrams called the “keeper of all arcane details of Star Wars,” spoke about the dice’s origins in that same Vanity Fair piece, and the charm showed up on the magazine’s Force Awakens cover, nestled between the V and A.
“The story that you would hear if you traveled to cantinas or watering holes around the Star Wars galaxy,” Hidalgo says, spinning his yarn, “is that those dice were involved in a game of Corellian Spike—a dice-using version of a card game called sabacc. Rumor has it Han won the Millennium Falcon [from Lando Calrissian] with those dice. Whether or not that’s just bar talk, I can’t say.”
This account is reiterated in Star Wars: The Force Awakens the Visual Dictionary, which Hidalgo wrote. But in the Expanded Universe young readers novel Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure, published in 2015, author Greg Rucka seems to suggest an alternate story. He writes, “The Wookiee barked a response to C-3PO, slapped his comm button again, and swung up from his seat, ducking out of habit as he stepped out of the cockpit and knocked the pair of novelty chance dice that he’d hung there as a joke some years ago.” The official Star Wars website references this as a “canonical explanation.” [Very mild The Last Jedi spoilers follow.]
So the origins of the dice are muddy, although perhaps not quite as mysterious as the question of Rey’s parentage at the start of The Last Jedi. But we do know they have sentimental value: Luke swipes them out of the Falcon and gives this reminder of Han over to Leia when the twins reunite. The film lingers on this moment with a close up of the dice resting in General Organa’s hands, but viewers who aren’t eagle-eyed or steeped in Star Wars lore might be left wondering what significance, exactly, the golden dice hold.
Disney Makes Deal to Acquire 21st Century Fox for $52.4 Billion
The Walt Disney Company announced on Thursday that it will acquire most of 21st Century Fox in a deal valued at $52.4 billion. The acquisition will include Fox’s TV and film studios, cable networks such as National Geographic and FX, and international TV businesses. The deal does not include Fox News, Fox Business, FS1, FS2, or the Big Ten Network, which will remain under the control of Rupert Murdoch.
The Trick to Smooth, Melty, Austin Diner–Worthy Queso
This post originally appeared on Food52.
There’s a difference between the jarred queso I pop into the microwave as guests walk through the door and the ooey, gooey appetizer gracing Tex-Mex restaurant tables. The former usually congeals untouched; the latter, I’m tempted to lick out of the bowl.
Great homemade queso takes a little longer than a twirl in the microwave. And while we're fans of making dinner a little speedier, that’s one shortcut you definitely shouldn’t take. No matter what cheese you decide to melt, it’s very important to buy chunks or blocks and grate the cheese yourself, says Homesick Texan creator Lisa Fain. “Pre-packaged shredded cheese is mixed with non-clumping agents, [which] prevent the cheese from melting into a smooth sauce,” she writes in her latest book, Queso!, which is chock-full of delicious dairy recipes and bits of Lone Star State history.