Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

If you’ve ever lived in Fargo-Moorhead, you’re probably familiar with the last name. Skaff Apartments was founded in 1957 and even today remains family-owned and run. Laneil and Sam Skaff have devoted much of their lives to creating comfortable spaces to live. Now working alongside their children, their daughters Julie Stoe and Jenna Stowers assured us that their mom was not only a wonderful interior decorator for their properties, but also a talented at-home chef. Not wanting to miss a great opportunity to learn a few new culinary tips, we decided to visit their Moorhead home of 25 years to see what’s cooking. Whether your Valentine’s day centers around romance or family, Laneil Skaff created one meal that everyone is sure to fall in love with.

“When my daughter, Julie, asked me to do this, I thought of this entree recipe right away. It’s a recipe I make for Sam on a weeknight, but it’s also dressy enough to make for a special occasion,” said Laneil Skaff. “I wanted to do something that always tastes good, that’s easy and even the guys could make for Valentine’s Day. I don’t usually like to go out for Valentine’s Day because every restaurant is so busy, but this meal is simple and only takes about an hour.”

Valentine’s Day Menu:

Pear, Pomegranate and Pistachio Salad
For a fresh start, Laneil Skaff chose this salad because it’s one of her family’s favorites. It’s a pear, pomegranate and pistachio salad with a creamy poppy seed dressing. To make prep easy, this can be made ahead of time, then simply add the dressing before serving.

Coq au Riesling
“For the entree, I chose a chicken in a white wine sauce called Coq au Riesling. This recipe called for bone-in, skin-on chicken because it just delivers so much more flavor and moisture than boneless breasts,” said Laneil Skaff. “For this dish, you can serve it over rice or noodles, but I prefer a crusty bread to soak up the delicious sauce. This recipe can easily be made into other dishes. Roast some vegetables, use the chicken and sauce and recreate it as a rice bowl the next day.”

Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce
For dessert, Laneil Skaff did a simple, poached pear in chardonnay, with a caramel sauce, then garnished it with fresh raspberries and cracked pepper.

Tips of the Trade:
When it comes to cooking, Laneil Skaff generally uses a cheaper wine. Since her poached pears require an entire bottle, this is a good thing. She suggests sticking to the less expensive selection, but choosing one that you would like enough to drink.

International Inspiration
“I like to roam the internet, page through magazines and sometimes I find recipes through T.V. shows. I love cooking and I love being able to glean recipes that are easy and yet delicious. I’m pretty sure I should have been born Italian,” laughed Laneil Skaff. “When I was in Italy, my favorite thing was the pasta and the different dishes. We went to a small agriturismo which is like a bed and breakfast where they grow all of their own produce. It’s a working farm with grape vines and olive trees. He would just show up and he’d cook for you and I got him to tell me a recipe of his. Wherever we go, I like to find a recipe that I can bring home and try to recreate.”

“We have a couple of pasta favorites, one that’s a white wine, lemon-chicken pasta and also a Fascilli Fresco. We eat this a lot in the summer using fresh tomatoes and basil that we grow, along with garlic in an olive oil. We just let that sauce marinate all day long, then cook the noodles and combine it at the end with fresh cheese. It’s just easy and you can add chicken breast if you want or serve it alongside. Those are two very versatile dishes,” said Laneil Skaff.

Even though Italian is a favorite in their home, Laneil Skaff loves to branch out and try virtually any nationality of cuisine. “I love to go to cooking classes. There’s something to be learned from anybody and everyone. I usually go to Sur La Table when I’m down in Phoenix and bring some girlfriends with me. It’s a cooking store that hosts cooking classes as well. One of my favorites was the croissant class. Sometimes you learn a lot of new things and then there are others like my risotto class where I realized that I was actually doing it right all along,” said Laneil Skaff.

“I love to cook and I’m at the age now, where I kind of wish I had pursued it earlier. But, back then I had four kids,” laughed Laneil Skaff. “There are days I’d love to open a little, funky restaurant, but an idea from other cities that intrigues me the most is having people come and eat and pay what they can.”

Family Recipe Night
“The kids’favorite thing to do is recipe night, where we try out new recipes and then all watch a T.V. show. It was usually centered around the show “24”. We all get together quite a bit. On birthdays I let them either pick a place to eat or write a menu, so sometimes it’s breakfast, hot dogs or sloppy joes. Last night it was a new recipe for me, Pad Sai Mu??, a Thai dish. So, I took a little trip to the Asian grocery store and got the Chinese broccoli and the noodles that I needed. A trip there is kind of an event in itself, it’s fun,” said Laneil Skaff. “You have to have a strong stomach for smells, but it is delightful and a great place to get what you can’t find at other stores. And it’s more reasonable because sometimes you can find it in the regular grocery stores, but it’s so expensive.”

The Skaffs are blessed with six grandkids ranging from 15 years-old to three months. “The younger ones love my mac and cheese, but my oldest has two things he calls “The Famous”. One of them is my hot fudge sauce and the other is my raspberry jelly,” laughed Laneil Skaff.

Skaff’s Grocery Staples
In the Skaff’s fridge, you can always find a few basic ingredients; garlic, onions, celery, diced tomatoes and carrots. “With these, I can make just about any kind of soup. I always keep a few different proteins in my freezer and then I use the garnishes like cilantro, parsley and croutons. I think it’s a well-rounded mix of things,” said Laneil Skaff. “It’s amazing what you can make with those very basic ingredients.”

Many of Laneil Skaff’s cutting boards and the elevated wood boards hail from a local store, Eco Chic Boutique which happens to be located on the street level of one of the Skaff’s properties, Stone West Village in Fargo.

Cooking for a Cause:
Beyond her family gatherings, Laneil Skaff stays busy cooking for the masses to benefit local non-profits and her church. One of the non-profits does vital work in South Africa and another in the Philippines, so she learned how to make South African food and Filipino dishes. Her largest gatherings were a Norwegian supper and a Thai banquet which served from 100 to 300 people at a time. Another she’s currently working on is the Frozen Meal Ministry through their church, Bethel Lutheran.

“We all love to cook with her,” said her daughter, Julie Stoe. “She cooks for a lot of different things from the Frozen Meal Ministry to thank you dinners for the ministry and we usually help.” It’s not unusual to see the entire Skaff family either helping prep, cook or serve at any of these functions right alongside others in the church who love to cook and learn new recipes. “It’s a great way to see the ladies. Instead of coffee, we get together to cook,” said Laneil Skaff.
Get the Recipes:
Coq au Riesling

¼ Cup butter-divided
Splash of olive oil
2 Medium onions, finely chopped
¼ Pound pancetta sliced into thin strips (can also use bacon)
4 Garlic cloves, thinly sliced
8 Chicken pieces on the bone (I used 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks –can also use breasts – best on the bone and with skin)
8 oz. Portabella mushrooms, sliced
2 Cups Riesling
1 Cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful chopped parsley

In a large skillet over med-high heat, fry bacon until crispy and bacon has rendered its fat. Remove from pan (leaving fat behind).

Melt two tablespoons of butter and oil. Salt and pepper chicken and brown the pieces all over and remove from pan. Add rest of butter and onions and allow to fry until translucent. Add the garlic and allow to sauté for another 30 seconds before removing mixture from the pan (leaving the fat behind). Add the mushrooms and allow to fry for five minutes (can add a little more oil if pan is too dry.)

Add the onion, bacon, and chicken back to skillet. Pour in the wine and allow to come up to a boil. Turn down heat to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Uncover, add cream and continue to cook another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste – garnish with parsley.
Serve with white or brown rice, hot buttered noodles or crusty bread.


Pear, Pomegranate, and Pistachio Salad
With a Creamy Poppyseed Dressing

2 Cups romaine, chopped
2 Cups spring mix
4 Salad onions, thinly sliced
4 Mini cucumbers, peeled every other strip and thinly sliced
2 Pears, thinly sliced
1 Pomegranate, seeded
½ Cup shelled pistachios
½ Cup crumbled feta cheese

Creamy Poppyseed dressing
½ Cup mayonnaise
¼ Cup two percent milk
3 Tablespoons sugar
4 Teaspoons cider vinegar
2 Teaspoons poppy seeds

Whisk together in mayonnaise, milk, sugar, cider vinegar, and poppy seeds. Set aside.
In a large bowl add tossed romaine, onions, cucumbers, pomegranate seeds, pears, feta cheese and pistachios. Add the dressing and toss gently. Serve immediately.


Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce

4 Anjou pears, with stems
1 Cup granulated sugar
1 750 ml bottle of Chardonnay
1 Tablespoon peppercorns
Zest of one lemon

Caramel sauce
1 Cup sugar
3 Tablespoons water
5 Tablespoons butter
½ Cup whipping cream

Place sugar, wine, peppercorns and lemon zest in a small, deep pan and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. While mixture is heating, peel pears, leaving the stem and a little peel at the top. Cut a small slice off the bottom of the pear so they stand. Once the liquid is boiling, place pears in pan, standing up. Turn heat down to med-low and place cover on pan. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes or until tender.

Make caramel sauce: Have all ingredients ready to go – this will go fast.
Heat sugar and water on med-high in a heavy, three-quart saucepan. As the sugar melts, stir with whisk or spoon. As soon as it comes to a boil, stop stirring. The syrup will become dark amber. Immediately add the butter and whisk until melted. As soon as the butter is melted, pull from heat, allow to cool 30 seconds. Add cream slowly to mixture and continue to stir. Mixture will foam. Continue to stir until smooth. Cool. (Can be made ahead and stored in the fridge.)

Plating dessert: Place pear standing on a plate or small bowl. Drizzle caramel over top – sprinkle with pepper. Garnish with raspberries or pomegranates. Serve warm and enjoy!

At Home with Laneil Skaff:
Laneil Skaff is in the midst of planning a remodel on her kitchen, but in the meantime, they embrace the space that brings their family together. Beyond the spacious kitchen, overlooking the river in their South Moorhead home, the Skaff’s style is stylish and inviting. “My style is comfortable, I love the Fixer Upper style using reclaimed wood,” said Laneil Skaff. “In this room, we have a lot of windows, so I love to bring the outside in with the birch branches. Just keeping things natural, mixing woods and metals. I switched to grey, but I try to keep it as warm as possible because I live in a 25-year-old home. So, I try to mix in the flavor of the oak with brand new colors and accessories.”

When Laneil Skaff wants to update her home, she turns to a few of her favorite stores like Scheels Home & Hardware, Eco Chic Boutique, Grain Designs, Pottery Barn, West Elm and Crate & Barrel. “I like to shop a variety of places, including local art shows and art fairs. I like it to look hand-crafted and I don’t want it to look like I bought it all at once,” said Laneil Skaff. I want it to look like a collection of living and always be someplace that can gather people in and make them feel comfortable.”

Future Issues:
This spring, Laneil Skaff will be showing our readers her favorite Tuscan recipes and sharing a few memories from her trip to Italy. Also, don’t miss our July issue when we head to the lakes area to feature their newly renovated, farmhouse chic lake home.