Homemade for the holidays: It’s time to get a jumpstart on DIY edible gifts

Gift items from Bella Cucina include (from left) a preserved lemon kit, a food citrus and fennel kit, and a jar of farmhouse lemons. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Use recipes from Asha Gomez, Tiffanie Barriere to make the perfect presents

The holidays inevitably sneak up on us, but you don’t have to stress about buying for friends during the pandemic. Gifts from the kitchen always feel special, so why not head there to start checking off your holiday to-do list?

Asha Gomez is a frequent guest on culinary TV shows, and has fed countless diners at Spice to Table and Cardamom Hill. “In this time, when you can’t have your family over sitting around a table,” she said, “there’s something special about being able to take that experience in a bottle to somebody else’s home.”

You can get edible gift ideas from "I Cook in Color" by Asha Gomez and Martha Foose. Courtesy of Running Press

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

She suggested making her pandan toffee sauce as a gift. In her new cookbook, “I Cook in Color,” it is paired with a date toffee pudding cake, but she said you can serve it over ice cream or fruit.

Tiffanie Barriere, who formerly worked at One Flew South, said that, when considering a liquid holiday gift, “Nothing says Christmas like cranberries.”

She suggested making a simple shrub, using fresh cranberries and basil, and bottling it in food-grade glass bottles (available on Amazon) as a present for family and friends. Shrubs, a mixture of fruit, sugar and vinegar, can serve as a foundation for a mocktail or cocktail. “Add an ounce or two to sparking water or even Champagne,” she said.

Tiffanie Barriere said that, when considering a liquid holiday gift, “Nothing says Christmas like cranberries.” Courtesy of Lynsey Weatherspoon

Credit: Lynsey Weatherspoon

Credit: Lynsey Weatherspoon

Alisa Barry’s Bella Cucina in Buckhead is stocked with ready-made Italian and European artisanal goods. While it sells everything from pesto to pasta bowls, Barry has some ideas for homemade pantry perks. “You can dry summer herbs open air or in the oven, and make a lovely salt or spice mixture for roasted chickens, fish and vegetables,” she said.

Preserved lemons are another of Barry’s ideas. “They take 40 days to cure before they’re ready to eat, so it’s a fun project that the whole family can do together,” said Barry, who sells a kit for making preserved lemons at Bella Cucina. “You can add different flavors, like cinnamon sticks or peppercorns.”

You can put the entire family to work on these projects. Packaging can have a personal touch, such as a Mason jar tied with ribbon, homemade tags or custom stamps commissioned on Etsy. Getting everyone into a creative gifting mindset is heartwarming (especially this year), and can be as enjoyable to prepare as to unwrap.

Pandan toffee sauce with date toffee pudding cake is from Asha Gomez's new book "I Cook in Color." Courtesy of Evan Sung

Credit: Evan Sung

Credit: Evan Sung


Gomez pours this sauce over sticky pudding cake, but she touts its versatility. “I love drizzling this over vanilla ice cream or over simple poached pears or baked apples," she said.

Pandan leaves commonly are used for flavoring sweets in Southeast Asian cooking. The long spiky leaves, which add an aromatic, herbaceous note to the sauce, can be found at Buford Highway Farmers Market or any Indian grocery store, such as Patel Brothers in Decatur.

Each batch makes enough for 8 servings, or to drizzle over an 8-inch cake. One batch can be divided among two pint-sized glass jars, making two smaller-portioned gifts. The recipe easily can be scaled up.

Asha Gomez's Padan Toffee Sauce
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 pandan leaves, each tied in a knot
  • Combine the butter, brown sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. As soon as the sauce boils (about 1-2 minutes) remove from the heat and remove the pandan leaves. Let the sauce cool, then transfer to 2 pint-size glass jars. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for about two weeks. Makes: 2½ to 3 cups (8 servings)

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 759 calories (percent of calories from fat, 43), 2 grams protein, 111 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 37 grams total fat (27 grams saturated), 61 milligrams cholesterol, 43 milligrams sodium.

Excerpted from “I Cook in Color: Bright Flavors from My Kitchen and Around the World,” by Asha Gomez and Martha Hall Foose (Running Press)


Barriere’s homemade shrub can be mixed with bubbly Champagne, or a spirit of choice. It also can be kept nonalcoholic when combined with sparkling water. For a double dose of cranberries, muddle a few fresh berries when building a drink and garnish with fresh basil. The recipe makes enough for one gift, but can be scaled up.

Tiffanie Barriere’s Cranberry Basil Shrub
  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 handful (12-14) fresh basil leaves
  • In a large saucepan, combine the cranberries, water, sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and lemon zest in the pot, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once the cranberries start to pop, lower the heat and add the basil. When the basil turns brown, remove from the heat.
  • Using a large strainer, strain and discard the solids. Let the liquid cool. Store refrigerated in a 32-ounce lidded glass jar. The shrub will keep refrigerated for six months. Makes: 3½ cups (28 ounces)

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per ounce: 34 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.


Finishing salts add aroma and flavor with every dash, and this lemon-fennel combination is easy to make at home.

Alisa Barry’s Meyer Lemon And Fennel Salt
  • 1 Meyer lemon (substitute with 1 Eureka lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon dried fennel seeds
  • ¼ cup sea salt flakes, such as Maldon’s
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • Using a zester, remove the lemon peel in strips, being careful not to include any white pith. Finely dice the strips and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan in an even layer. Set aside in a warm place to dry overnight.
  • The next day, mix the dried lemon peel with the fennel seed and salts until well-combined. The salt can be kept on the counter if used frequently, or stored at room temperature in an airtight container. Makes: generous ¾ cup

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per teaspoon: 1 calorie (percent of calories from fat, 2), trace protein, trace carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1,920 milligrams sodium.

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