By Alan Robinson, dealnews writer
The holiday entertaining season — Thanksgiving to New Year’s — is just around the corner, so now is the time to get organized, make a list, and go online to take care of all the pertinent food and beverages necessary to make your upcoming holiday dinner a real crowd-pleaser.
The smart host doesn't just run out to the local market to get what's needed a few days before the event. If you've got enough time, you should be going online to look for discounts and specials. A week will do, and the big events of the season have been on the calendar for hundreds of years (so you have no excuse for forgetting!). Then, only as the big day approaches will you need to make a quick trip to the supermarket for fresh produce items — and even most of those you could order from an online grocer.
You can't order Trader Joe's infamous Two-Buck Chuck online, but you can get a slew of other discount wines and liquor online, especially if you're buying in bulk. First of all, most online grocers sell wine and beer, so you can just add them to your order and let the delivery man handle the heavy lifting at your doorstop. You can even order wine from Costco.com (check for delivery restrictions in your state). Otherwise, you can go with a site like NapaCabs.com, which has a subsection for "90+ Wines Under $20" and is listed as one of Food & Wine magazine's top 10 wine sellers. For the harder stuff, you need a site like Mission Liquors, which has a huge selection of vodkas and other spirits available for shipping, but at a steep starting cost of $19.95 and to a limited number of states.
BEST DEAL: Your closest online local grocery is your best bet, since you'll pay minimal shipping charges and get as much selection as you probably need.
The supermarket meat department is mostly just a ho-hum choice of frozen turkeys and mainstream hams. But the universe of online meat purveyors is not limited by the same brick-and-mortar constraints. For a new twist on an old standard, D’Artagnan offers a selection of free range, organic, heritage and wild turkeys (eat like the Pilgrims did!), in addition to Scottish game birds (fresh grouse, pheasant, partridge and wood pidgeon). Or take a more traditional approach (think Dickens) with a leg of lamb roast or a Christmas goose. Schauls.comoffers a complete range of meat products with special sections devoted to savory lamb and gourmet poultry.
BEST DEAL: Gourmet Grocery Online offers a 2-lb. ham dinner with three sides (roasted vegetable medley, green bean casserole and whipped sweet potatoes) that serves 4 for $79.95, $40 off the regular price.
Whether a formal sit-down dinner or a grab-and-go buffet, the meat dish can’t carry the meal by itself. But the shopping and preparation for several side dishes can be a big task, so turn to a local online grocery or a national home delivery company for help here. Schwans.com has a complete range of sides that serve anywhere from 3 to 15 people. Accent the meal with a specialty bread like Buttermilk Biscuits from Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, available in two-dozen or four-dozen orders.
BEST DEAL: Potatoes au gratin ($10.99) from Schwan’s home delivery serves 12 and comes in a re-heat tray that can go straight to the buffet table or portioned into serving bowls for family-style dining.
Pie is the finale to the overall meal "performance," so bring down the house with a butternut chip or coconut press pie (both from Royers Round Top Café). If that’s a bit much, opt for their traditional pecan pie. Pumpkin and fruit pies (apple, cherry, berry) don’t ship well, but there's no end to the creativity of pie companies around the country these days that you can tap into.
BEST DEAL: A perennial favorite in New York, the Little Pie Company has many seasonal pies for $65, which includes shipping. Try the famous Sour Cream Apple Walnut or old-fashioned Pecan for your holiday table, or, if you can't decide, get a sampler pack of mini pies.
Pie not your thing? Be creative — think tiramisu, mousse or the venerable cheesecake. Many bakeries, like Eileen’s Cheesecake will ship overnight anywhere in the U.S. Or step it up a notch with a signature dessert like a mousse duo from chef Jean-Yves Charon at Galaxy Desserts. Each duo comes in a plastic shot glass. A sampler of 12 duos (three different duo flavor combinations of 4 each) sells for $42.99 and ships overnight.
BEST DEAL: The Seven Layer Caramel Cake from Caroline's Cakes in Annapolis, MD will satisfy 14-20 guests and only set you back $45. Once you see all the layers and the gooey frosting, you'll be sold.
The difference is in the details. Make sure your holiday event as all the right touches — from beverage napkins to throw-away table cloths to coordinating plates and cups. Hallmark and sites like Party Supplies Hut offer free shipping on orders of $50 or more, but these deals change from day to day. So take inventory of your Christmas cards, decorations and party supplies needed and make one big order — but check often to guarantee the best shipping deal.
BEST DEAL: OrientalTrading.com has 8-piece paper Christmas tree-shaped dessert plates marked down from $3.19 to $1.49 and 8-piece plastic Christmas tree-shaped dinner plates reduced from $3.99 to $1.99.
Alan Robinson is a dealnews' writer who is based in New York who writes about the food an beverage industries.