Column, the first

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Greetings, Chatham County.

My name is Debbie Matthews, and I am delighted to be writing this new weekly column for the Chatham News + Record about food, cooking, and all the culinary etcetera that pops into my head.

But first, I think it’s only fair to tell you a bit about myself, to have some idea of what you’re getting yourself in for.

Raised in a Coast Guard family, I moved often as a kid, but I’ve spent most of my life in N.C.. I’ve been married to Petey since Swatches and Cabbage Patch Kids. We have one child, The Kid, who was educated at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, and aside from being a pretty awesome spawn, functions as my kitchen co-conspirator.

My favorite foods are potato salad and birthday cake. I know all the lyrics to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and I can bend my thumbs backward at a 90 degree angle. I love dogs and have a 120-pound Akita goofball named Crowley.

My favorite movie is The Big Chill. I’m also a big fan of carbs, sleeping in, old-school Gothic romance novels, and cute shoes. I have three magazine subscriptions: Our State, British Cosmopolitan and Mad Magazine.

I loathe corduroy, raspberries, fake Southern accents, and bad journalism. People who abuse the less powerful are evil, and “naked” cakes and vegetarian “cheese” are abominations.

I believe new sweatsuits and flannel sheets, warm from the dryer, are a gift. I am impatient to a pathological degree, which makes me a dreadful road trip companion. I love swimming in the ocean, walking in the woods, and look forward to the State Fair like a 4-year-old. Listening to good music while preparing good food makes my day.

If you have questions or comments, please sing out. I promise I will answer each and every missive. You can reach me at

For my first recipe, Gentle Reader, I’m giving you my extra-strength brownie recipe. These treats are so good, they will make you the rock star of any picnic, bake sale, or potluck. They also have a dirty little secret.

They come from a box.

I use one from Betty or Duncan with words like “dark,” “chocolate,” and “fudge” on the front. Then I make according to directions.


I add a heaping tablespoon of dark cocoa powder, a big pinch of kosher salt, and a capful of vanilla extract to the mix. I replace the water it calls for with espresso — not enough to make the brownies taste like coffee, but deepens the flavor of the chocolate.

Next up: stir-ins. I change them up frequently, but lately I’m adding one bag of Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips and half a bag of Nestle’s semi-sweet minis. But any stir-ins you prefer add flavor and personality. You do you.

Before baking I top the batter with broken pretzel pieces. Then halfway through baking, I spin the pan 180 degrees for even baking, and sprinkle on ½ cup of M&Ms. Or, before baking, drop six big dollops of peanut butter or dulce de leche onto batter and gently swirl until it looks tie-dyed.

But the most crucial part of the recipe is cooking time. Cook it 1-2 minutes less than the box instructs — they’ll be moist and not cakey. After baking, let cool on counter for 45 minutes, then in the fridge until fully chilled. This’ll set that fudgy consistency.

So, Gentle Reader, thank you for having me. And, while I can’t promise this space will always be hilarious, I can promise you that these columns will always be about food, and they will always, always be honest.

Thanks for your time.


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