She Said, He Said: Endless Summer Pairings at Cooks of Crocus Hill

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Sommelier Leslee Miller, Chef Mike Shannon, and I have been teaming up to teach She Said:He Said beer/wine/food classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill since 2009. (Really? 2009? It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.)We’ve built up a camaraderie and easy-going teaching style that has made our classes the most popular of the Cooks lineup. They always sell out – usually very quickly.

Our next beer/wine pair-off happens August 8th at the St. Paul location on Grand Avenue. You don’t want to miss this. Leslee and I are going head-to-head with thoughtfully selected beers and wines paired to four courses of Mike’s summer deliciousness. Check out this menu.

  • Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad
  • Mediterranean Lemon Quinoa Bowl
  • Lamb Chops with Chickpeas and Tomatoes
  • Lemon Blueberry Mascarpone Tartlets

There are still a few spots available. You can register online at the Cooks of Crocus Hill website. Come join us!

Upcoming Beer Classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill


I have a bevy of new classes upcoming at Cooks of Crocus Hill. If you have never been to a class at Cooks, it’s high time you checked them out. You can learn about a wide range of culinary topics from scotch and steaks to how to boil water.  There are demonstration and participation classes taught by some of the area’s best chefs and beverage experts. Two locations, St. Paul and Edina, make it convenient from many areas of the metro. And in my experience (of course I’m teaching them so I may be biased) these classes are a blast.

Home Brewing 101
January 5, 2012, 6-9 pm
Cost $65
You can make good beer at home, and you can do it right the first time around. Cicerone Michael from A Perfect Pint will familiarize you with all of the ingredients, equipment, techniques and processes necessary to make extract beer at home. We’ll also taste several commercial examples of beginner-appropriate beers.
Menu: Light Appetizers and Samples of a Variety of Beers.

Bon Bons and Brews
February 9, 2012, 6-9 pm
Cost $70
With Chocolatier Randy Kingsbury
Beer and chocolate. Yeah, maybe it sounds a little weird. But believe it – nothing goes better with silky-smooth, chocolaty-rich truffles than beer. Add exotic ingredients to the chocolate and the pairing adventure really gets going. Chocolatier Randy Kingsbury and Cicerone Michael Agnew take you on an indulgent tour of the best pairings this taste team has to offer.
Menu: A Selection of Exotic Truffles Paired with Microbrewed Beers from Around the Country.

Best of the Best Beer & Wine Pairing Dinner
February 15, 2012, 6-9 pm (WAIT LIST)
Cost $75
With sommelier Leslee Miller and Chef Mike Shannon
Cooks’ favorite trio, Chef Mike Shannon, Sommelier Leslee Miller and Cicerone Michael Agnew, are back to share some of their favorite trios — of food, wine and beer, that is! They’ve picked the best and most popular taste teams from all of the classes they’ve taught together. Whether you’ve missed their classes and hope to catch up, or you’d just like to come back for more, join Mike, Leslee and Michael for an evening of their greatest hits! You’ll taste their best bites and sips while learning all about how to make some stellar combinations of your own at home.
Menu: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette; Roasted Root Vegetables with Herbed Aioli; Pot Roast with Shallots; Truffled Baked Potato Skins; Smore Pot de Creme.

Beer, Wine, and Cheese Throwdown
February 20, 2012, 6-9 pm
Cost $75
With sommelier Leslee Miller and France 44 cheesmonger Song Lee
Cheese please! Cheese pairs perfectly to both beer and wine, but Leslee and Michael demand that you to pick a winner. Join Cheesemonger Song Lee from France 44 with Sommelier Leslee and Cicerone Michael for this awesome libation- and fromage-a-thon. A variety of milks, textures and styles make this cheese-off one for the books when both sommelier and cicerone stand off in an epic challenge to tickle your palate.
Menu: Artisanal Cheeses Paired with a Global Selection of Beer and Wine.

The class list for the spring semester hasn’t been released yet, but here’s a sneak preview of my classes.

Spring Beer & Wine Dinner
April 4, 2012
With Leslee Miller and Mike Shannon. This will sell out quickly.

Local Brews & Breweries
May 22, 2012
Take a beer tour of the region.

World Tour of Beer Class at Cooks of Crocus Hill

The Beer, Wine & BBQ class a couple of weeks ago at Cooks of Crocus Hill was a blast. Sommelier Leslee Miller, Chef Mike and I rocked the kitchen with great grilled treats and eight luscious libations.

On September 9th I’m back at Cooks, this time teaming up with Chef Rachael Rydbeck for World Tour of Beer: A Beer Pairing Dinner. Together we will take you on a hops-filled international excursion to find the best beer and food pairings anywhere. The menu will feature five courses of great food and beer from around the world. Get to the Cooks website and register!

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Where: Cooks of Crocus Hill, 877 Grand Avenue in St. Paul
When: Friday, September 9th, 6-9 pm
Cost: $75
Menu: Provençal White Bean Dip (France); Chicken Tamales with Tomatilla Salsa (Mexico); Vegetable Curry (India); Thai Beef Salad (Thailand); Blueberry Cobbler (United States). Each course paired with beer.

Summer Beer Classes

Now that I’m back I’m hitting the ground running. I have a bevy of public events and classes coming up that I want to let you know about. Check these out.

Beer & Cheese Pairing at Midwest Supply
June 23, 6-8 PM, FREE
People usually talk about pairing wine and cheese, but beer is a much better companion. In fact, they are sort of the same thing (learn why by coming to the event). In the class we’ll talk about some basic principles of pairing beer and cheese while sampling the wares of some of Minnesota and Wisconsin’s best cheese makers and brewers. Midwest Supply is going to stay open later than normal so you can stock up on your brewing supplies while you’re there.

Summer Fresh Beer Pairing Dinner at Cooks of Crocus Hill
June 24, 6-9 PM, $75
With Chef Jeremy Reinicke
Fresh, light, easy. These are all the words that spring to mind when we think of summer food. But summer beers are no different! They’re fresh, light and easy to drink. Join Cicerone Michael Agnew and Chef Jeremy Reinicke for the perfect pairing of yummy warm-weather favorite foods and summery suds.
Menu: Assorted Fresh Cheeses; Summer Harvest Salad with Honey Basil Vinaigrette; Tuna Tartare with Dill on Toasted Baguette; Roasted Leg of Lamb with “Flanders Red” Marinade; Summer Berries with Puff Pastry and Aged Balsamic; a Selection of Summery Craft Beers.

Beer, Wine & BBQ at Cooks of Crocus Hill
July 29, 6-9 PM, $75, SOLD OUT get on the waiting list.
With Chef Mike Shannon and Sommelier Leslee Miller
Smoky. Sweet. We’re not just talking about the food either! Chef Mike, Sommelier Leslee and Cicerone Michael are back together again, this time pairing grapes and grains with the great summer flavors of the grill. Join them as Mike fires up the grill and Michael and Leslee throw down the pairings. There’s no better way to beat the heat this summer.
Menu: Grilled Tomatoes with Mozzarella; Grilled Romaine with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette; Coconut Shrimp with Vanilla Gastrique; Knife and Fork Manchego Burger; Grilled Peaches with Grand Marnier Cream.

Hope to see you there!

Spring Beer Classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill

I am pleased to announce new beer classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill for spring. I’ll be teaming up again with Master Sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusee Wine and Chef Mike Shannon for one of our now-legendary beer/wine pairing dinners. And I’ll be working with Heavy Table’s Becca Dilley and James Norton, authors of the Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, for some awesome pairings of local beer and cheese. Check these out.

The Big Thaw: Wine and Beer Pairing Dinner
April 15th, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM, $75
With Leslee Miller and Mike Shannon
It’s OK to come out now … the cold war is over! Join Chef Mike, Sommelier Leslee and Cicerone Michael at Cooks for a night of fabulous drinks and eats sure to thaw out your tail feathers and get your palate prepped for all the great gourmet goodies that spring has in store. Menu: Bacon and Crab in Endive; Asparagus Tip Vinaigrette; Spring Vegetable Primavera; White Bean Cassoulet with Sausage; Apple-Cherry Turnovers. This one WILL sell out.

Local Cheese and Ale
May 4th, 6:00-9:00 PM, $70
With Becca Dilley and James Norton
Even though we may disagree about The Favre and whether or not you should buy alcohol on Sundays, Minnesota and Wisconsin can at least come together on a few things, like the importance of good beer and cheese! Cicerone Michael Agnew will enlighten you on the ales, while Becca Dilley and James Norton, authors of The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, will take you on a tour of the best fromages these states have to offer. Menu: A Selection of Cheeses from Minnesota and Wisconsin Cheesemakers Paired with Craft Beers from Brewers in Both States.

Sign up online at the Cooks of Crocus Hill website.

Cozy Comforts Beer & Wine Pairing Dinner at Cooks of Crocus Hill

Last night the tastebud-teasing trio of Sommelier Leslee Miller, Chef Mike Shannon, and Cicerone Michael Agnew (that’s me) came together at Cooks of Crocus Hill in St. Paul for another beer, wine, and food pairing experience. This one, called Cozy Comforts, focused on the kind of foods that Minnesotans need to help them through January’s deep-freeze. As temperatures routinely drop well below zero, we crave rich and wholesome foods like pot roast and mac & cheese; the kind of food that your grandma used to make (only a lot fancier). During the three-hour class, guests tasted their way through five courses, each paired with a beer, a wine, or both.

I started the night off with a welcome beer, Schell’s Snowstorm. Snowstorm is the annual winter seasonal release from New Ulm’s August Schell Brewing. Every year it is brewed to a different style. This year’s version is a dark wheat doppelbock (just try saying that three times fast). This is a fantastic beer to warm the soul, combining the familiar banana and clove flavors of a German Hefeweizen with the rich, sweet, caramel maltiness of a doppelbock. Several people told me that they typically don’t like wheat beers, but that this one made them reconsider.

The first course was braised winter greens with bacon. Imagine kale (I love kale) braised in cider and topped off with cranberries and bacon; bitter, sweet, tart, and salty/savory all in one place. Leslee paired this with Helfrich Riesling from Alsace. The wine had earthy aromas of wet stone and a bright acidic tartness. It really spoke to the cranberries in the dish and made them absolutely pop.

For the second course Chef Mike whipped up four-cheese macaroni and cheese with gruyere, white cheddar, parmesan, and just a touch of gorgonzola. I paired this with Isolation Ale from Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. Isolation Ale is a traditional English winter warmer, malt-forward with a bit of bitterness to balance and light orangey citrus notes. It paired well, but I think I could have gone even maltier with something like an English barleywine.

Next on the menu was ginger orange Cornish hens with sweet potatoes and green apples. Leslee made an unexpected pairing to this dish, choosing a bigger Spanish red, Caliza Syrah from Marqués de Griñón. The wine had strong peppery flavors that spoke to the ginger in the dish, while the citrusy sauce and sweet potato/apple side-dish pulled out nice fruity notes from the wine.

The pairings with the fourth and fifth courses were the best of the night. The fourth course was a very traditional pot roast with carrots and shallots. Leslee focused on the sweetness of the carrots and onions, choosing Root: 1 Carmenere, a red from Chile. It featured juicy plum and berry flavors with light tannins on the finish. The wine went perfectly with the veggies and also pulled some sweetness from the meat. I went with Meantime London Porter, a medium-bodied, moderately-roasty porter from England. The roastiness of the beer was perfect with the meat and the light caramel sweetness also spoke to the carrots and onions.

Desert was S ‘more Pot De Crème, an original creation of Chef Mike. Rich chocolate custard was topped with crumbled graham-cracker and torch-toasted marshmallow cream. The drink pairings offered a lesson in both complementary and contrasting flavors. I chose Rogue Chocolate Stout, rich, sweet, and chocolaty. I was going for chocolate overload. The flavors melded perfectly as one disappeared into the other. Leslee went with Astoria Lounge Sweet a tasty sparkling wine from Italy. It’s deep honeycomb and fruit flavors countered the rich chocolate/marshmallow of the desert and the light sparkle cleansed the palate for the next bite. It reminded me of the way a tart raspberry sauce enhances a dark chocolate cake.

Our next Cooks of Crocus Hill beer/wine pairing event is on April 15th. The theme is “the Big Thaw”; food, beer, and wine to bring us out of hibernation.

Upcoming Beer Classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill

I have a couple of beer classes upcoming at Cooks of Crocus Hill. Check these out.

ABCs of Beer
Monday, December 20th, 6-8 PM
Cost: $55
What’s the difference between ale and lager? What’s the best glass for my favorite beer? Which beers can I cellar and which ones should I drink young? Join Certified Cicerone (the beer expert equivalent of a sommelier) Michael Agnew as he shows you all the basics and then some. You’ll learn how to taste, select and care for beers of all types and styles. Includes a selection of Craft Beers from around the world representing basic styles and light snacks.

Cozy Comforts Wine & Beer Pairing Dinner
With Sommelier Leslee Miller and Chef Mike Shannon
Thursday, January 6th, 6-9 PM
Cost: $75
The weather outside is still frightful, but the wine, beer and tasty comfort food at Cooks are totally delightful! Snuggle up with Sommelier Leslee, Cicerone Michael and Chef Mike for a fun-filled new take on Minnesotan winter comforts.
Braised Winter Greens; Four-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese; Cornish Hens with Ginger-Apple Sweet Potatoes, Smore Pot de Creme.

Fall Beer Classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill

Join me for more great beer classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill this fall. I’m teaming up once again with Chef Mike Shannon and Sommelier Leslee Miller to compare and contrast come harvest seasonal beers, wines, and cuisine. Belgian and Bavarian beers are on tap, as well as a beer tour of the Land-o-Lakes.

Here’s the descriptions:

Belgian Beer and Snacks
With Chef Maggie Lyon
Friday, September 24th, 6-9 PM
Cost: $70
Chuck your preconceived notions about beer out the window. From the sassy sours to tempting Trappists, no one else does beer like the Belgians. Join Cicerone Michael Agnew and sample your way through the uniquely complex beers of Belgium, while Chef Maggie prepares some traditional Belgian bar snacks to enjoy with them.
Menu: A Selection of Belgian Craft Beers; Mussels; Frites; Several Aïolis.

Fall Harvest Dinner: Beer and Wine Pairing
With Chef Mike Shannon and Sommelier Leslee Miller
Tuesday, September 28th, 6-9 PM
Cost: $75
With an abundance of late-summer vegetables comes time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Join Chef Mike as he creates a menu from a fabulous array of fall finds, while Sommelier Leslee and Cicerone Michael provide perfect wine and beer pairings for a harvest feast.
Menu: Grilled Shrimp Salad with Goat Cheese Fritters; Beef Carpaccio Crostini with Caramelized Onions and Bleu Cheese; Sausage-Stuffed Portobellos; Pork Loin with Mango Chutney; Baked Stuffed Apples.

Bavarian Beer Experience
Saturday, October 9th, 2-4 PM
Cost: $55
Eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa! When Crown Prince Ludwig organized a horse race to celebrate his wedding in 1810, little did he know he’d given rise to the greatest beer fest on the planet. Every fall, the streets of Munich flow with beer as tens of thousands converge on the Theresienwiese for Oktoberfest. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew will give you a taste of the ‘fest with a tour of the famous beer styles of Bavaria.
Menu: An assortment of German Lager and Ale-Style Beers from Brewers in Bavaria as well as Craft-Brewed Versions from the U.S.; Brats; Pretzels.

Minnesota Suds: A Beer Tour of the Land o’ Lakes
Tuesday, November 2nd, 6-9 PM
Cost: $65
Does Minnesota make great beer? Oh ya, you betcha! Our state’s burgeoning brew scene now boasts nearly 20 breweries producing great year-round and seasonal suds. Your guide, certified Cicerone Michael Agnew, takes you on a tantalizing tour of the best brews the land o’ lakes has to offer.
Menu: A Selection of Beers from Minnesota Breweries and Brewpubs; Cheese; Snacks.

Go to Cooks of Crocus Hill to find out more or to register for a class.

Cheese & Ale at Cooks of Crocus Hill

Last night was the Cheese and Ale class at Cooks of Crocus Hill. Fromager Ken Liss and I took guest through a varied course of six beers paired with six artisan cheeses. There were some expected brilliant pairings and some pleasant surprises as well. And as always, there was Ken’s “secret ingredient” that I will talk about later.

As a welcome beer I poured Flat Earth’s Sunburst Ale, an apricot infused Belgian Pale Ale that turned out to be one of the favorites of the night. Other beers were Lagunitas Pils, Saison Dupont, Meantime IPA, Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen Rauchbier, and Deschutes Black Butte Porter.

Ken brought a wide range of cheeses including Brillat Savarin cow’s milk brie, Le Cabrie goat’s milk brie from Wisconsin, Colliers Powerful Cheddar, the Italian sheep’s milk cheese Pecorino Ginepro, Saenkanter aged gouda, and Cashel Blue, a creamy blue cheese from Ireland.

Some of the pairings were obvious. IPA and cheddar are made for one another and the Meantime IPA and the Colliers cheddar was a perfect match. The beer’s fruity and grassy notes complemented herbal/grassy flavors in the cheese while the bitter hops cleared the creamy cheese off the palate. The IPA also paired brilliantly with the blue.

The light pilsner was a perfect match for both the cow’s milk and the goat’s milk brie. Floral saaz hops complemented light floral notes in the cheeses and the pils malt added sweetness to these otherwise salty, creamy bries.

Like IPA and cheddar, porter is made for blue cheese. The Black Butte and the Cashel Blue bore this out as bitter black malt and chocolate notes blended brilliantly with the creamy, pungent, and spicy blue cheese.

The most surprising pairing for me was the Brillat Savarin brie with the Black Butte porter. I would have expected the full-flavored porter to overwhelm the much lighter cheese. Instead, the buttery cheese brought out a creaminess in the beer while the cheese’s saltiness balanced the roasted malt bitterness in the beer such that the cheese not only stood up to the bigger beer but complemented it beautifully.

The match made in heaven for the evening was another pairing with the Brillat Svarin. Paired with the Schlenkerla Rauchbier, this was a match to make the angels sing. The salty brie was perfect with the bacon flavors in the beer. Think canapés with brie and cured meats. Ken’s “secret ingredient” further enhanced this pairing. A bit of smoked salt sprinkled onto the cheese pushed it into cheese and beer bliss. This was another pairing that I would not have expected.

Smoked, Grilled, and Sauced: A Beer and Wine Pairing Experience

Friday night I co-taught a wonderful class at Cooks of Crocus Hill in St. Paul. My co-presenters for the class were Chef Mike Shannon and Level III Sommelier Leslee Miller. Thirty-six guests were treated to a five-course meal of grilled and smoked delights each paired with either a beer or a wine. The final two courses were paired with both. As we ate and drank our way through the deliciousness the three of us traded off explaining the pairings, offering up knowledge, and weaving tales about our respective passions.

As we offered our introductions, guests enjoyed a light, sparkling, wine from Portugal. Famega Vinho Verde was a delicious white with a gentle touch of spritz and fantastic strawberry and pear fruit. I had to comment when Leslee mentioned that its 9.5% ABV made it a “low-alcohol wine that you could drink quite a bit of in an evening.” Coming from the world of beer, when we get above 8% we start talking about strong beers that have to be consumed in moderation.

The first dish that Chef Mike offered up was a twist on the traditional Cobb salad with lightly sauced pulled pork in place of the chicken. I paired this with Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. Hefewizen pairs well with egg and cured meats, so it was a natural with the boiled egg and bacon on the salad. My main concern was that it wouldn’t stand up to the pulled pork. Guests however commented that the spicy yeast character of the beer really pulled out the flavors of the pork while the full wheaty/yeasty mouthfeel was able to hold its own against it.

The next course was a smoked salmon pizza with Asiago cheese. Leslee paired this with Croatian Korta Katarina Plavac Mali Rosé. This was another light, fruity wine with strawberry and rhubarb notes. It managed to stand up well to the assertive Asiago cheese and the smoked salmon brought out smoky notes in the wine that were not there when tasted alone.

The next course was mine to pair, a grilled Jamaican jerk chicken with a fruity/spicy Caribbean slaw. I paired this with Meantime IPA. The citrus and stone fruit flavors played well with the fruit of the slaw while the hops brought out the spice. This is a balanced English IPA with enough malt to knock heat back again on the way down.

After a short break we returned for the dish that I was really anticipating, a middle-eastern seasoned lamb chop with tomatoes and chick peas. Both Leslee and I took this one on and both pairings were possibly the best of the night. Leslee poured 2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. This big, Italian red made with 100% Sangiovese grapes had intense dark fruity flavors and spice notes that stood up to the well-seasoned lamb, while tannins in the finish swept away the fat. I paired this dish with Ovni Ale Biére de Garde from Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul. Caramel, toast, and spicy hops in this beer was another perfect match with the similar flavors in the lamb. Both the wine and the beer were perfect with the dish.

The desert was cheesecake with a sour cherry sauce. I went for Lindemans Kriek with this one. The sweet and sour cherry beer matched the cheesecake flavor for flavor. Leslee chose Schlink Haus Dornfelder, German Sweet Wine. Sweet, but not too sweet, and loaded with cherry fruit notes, this was another great match.

Three hours, five courses, and eight pours after we began a satisfied crowd filtered out of the upstairs kitchen space at Cooks. I had a blast and I believe the guests did as well. I hope to teach another course with Leslee and Mike soon. Thanks to all who came.