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Mouthing Off

To market, to market: The new King Soopers in Parker (12959 South Parker Road) features a vastly expanded gourmet-foods section--this is the store that serves people from the Pinery and Stroh Ranch, second only to Highlands Ranch in Douglas County wealth--but I also found a few blunders. The store offers raw wheat germ in the bulk-foods aisle, for instance. Wheat germ is the heart of the wheat kernel, and it's very high in oil, which makes it extremely perishable. In its raw form, it should always be kept in the refrigerator, and even when it's been toasted and vacuum-packed in a jar, it needs to be refrigerated or frozen in order to keep for two to three months. Because wheat germ is one of the few plant-based proteins that's nearly complete (soybean is another), it's a very good way to balance a vegetarian diet. But not if it's stale.

In the produce aisle, the eggplant was among the vegetables getting a regular sprinkler shower. Eggplant is hard enough to keep at its firm, smooth best under optimum conditions, but when the air's soggy, the skin shrivels faster, which is what had happened to these poor aubergines. A few vegetables away, I got a chuckle out of the professionally printed sign for "mesculun," apparently a less feminine version of mesclun, which is mixed greens, mostly baby ones.

I was not amused in the meat department, however. While looking over a pile of obviously frozen whole chickens that had been cut up, I noticed the large sign above them that said "Fresh chicken." I asked the nearest meat man why the sign said the birds were fresh when they clearly weren't. "Oh, they're not really frozen," he replied. "They come in with a crust of ice on them to keep the bacteria down." Crust, my arse. In grocery-store lingo, there are chickens that are "fresh," meaning that they're kept under ordinary refrigeration, and then there are those that are called "deep chilled," which means that the water crystals in the chicken are frozen at 28 degrees but the meat is technically not frozen.

And then there's frozen, which is what this chicken was. I took a package of the poultry pieces home and couldn't pull them apart; they were frozen all the way through. And that's just plain dangerous, because if the chicken had thawed all the way and I'd later refrozen it (thinking the bird had started out fresh), we could be talking about some serious bacterial growth. If the shipper makes a mistake and the chicken comes in frozen, the meat department should label it as such.

There were a couple of things to commend, however, including chicken necks and backs, which I've never been able to get my local Safeway to carry; those cuts are ideal for making chicken stock, because they're cheaper than the rest of the chicken but offer as much, if not more, flavor. Finally, this new King Soopers' selection of organic produce, while not as good as that at Wild Oats, was still fine for this part of town, and--wheat germ aside--the bulk selection is well-stocked.

I have to confess, though, that I've always liked Safeway better, mainly because the prices are lower. In fact, this trip cost me $243, and my bill has never been more than $209 for the same stuff. Looking back over last year's grocery receipts, I discovered that while I routinely wind up with around 36 items reduced by my Safeway card for savings averaging $42, only 21 items out of the 109 I bought were reduced by my King Soopers card, for a savings of just $15.91. Ouch.

Just desserts: A fast followup to my December 10 "Train in Vain" review of Great Northern Tavern at 8101 East Belleview Avenue. First I received a phone call from Mary Ludwig, whose pastries at Rialto Cafe (934 16th Street) won a Best of Denver 1998 award; she then moved on to Great Northern but says she left long before the review came out and so did not make the desserts I enjoyed during my visits. My server told me differently, but Ludwig's information was seconded by Elena Zitto, who wrote to say that she's the one who made the chocolate cylinder I liked so much. Zitto works for Pasquini's Baking Company, at 1710 South Broadway, where that dessert and others can be bought retail or wholesale.

--Wagner

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