I can admit that writing this recipe and editing the photos on this soup was a bit painful, in more ways than one. I’ll explain why…
For the last two weeks I have been feeling a bit under the weather. No cold or flu showed it’s face but I was just not feeling like myself. In addition to feeling a bit “off”, a few other symptoms arose and I was experiencing sharp and abnormal pains on my right side, near my kidney. It started in the back, then slowly made it’s way to the front to my upper abdomen then found it’s way to my lower right pelvis. I also noticed blood in my urine last Monday.
Being that both of my parents have kidney stones, and I myself was diagnosed with small kidney stones years ago, I decided to make my way to the urologist to rule out any type of infection or the passing of a stone, etc. The stones that I was diagnosed with years ago, were very very small at the time and have caused me no issues at all. Back when I was diagnosed, the doctor explained that it was likely hereditary and with a healthy diet I could keep them that small and probably never have to worry about them. So when I made it to the doctor this time around, they tested for infections and that came up negative but they did say I had a higher than normal level of blood in my urine. I say higher than normal because every time they have ever tested me, I have always had a small amount of blood. They tell me that this is somewhat normal for some people and that it was so microscopic, and normally it wasn’t anything I needed to be concerned with.
At first, based on my symptoms and the blood, they told me I was likely passing a stone or a stone had moved and caused some irritation and inflammation of my kidney, they tried to talk me into a CT scan, which I declined, sent me home with some pain meds and told me to come back in a few days. When I came back everything was about the same, but the pain had traveled to the front almost exclusively and I was now experiencing digestive issues and pain, the pain still very much only on the right side and now very low in my pelvis. I felt bloated, gassy and I was experiencing indigestion, all things I haven’t experienced in years. There have been other not so pleasant side-effects as well, but I will spare you all the details.
So, I began speaking with my good friend, Jane, a chiropractor who very much believes in an all-natural, holistic and homeopathic approach to symptoms, first, then looking at all aspects of your life – like diet, stress, etc. to determine the problem and the causes to the problem. Jane has been a part of my life since I was an infant, she and my mom went to high school together and reconnected after my mom had my older sister and I and was pregnant with my little sister and she was experiencing some health issues. Jane now lives in Colorado, so I explained my symptoms to her through email and she told me to have my Chiropractor here in Buffalo look at my ileocecal valve (which admittedly I had never heard of). I googled it before I even got in to see my chiropractor/yoga teacher Elyssa and many of the symptoms of a grumpy ileocecal valve sounded just like what I was experiencing. The ileocecal valve is situated at the junction of the small intestine (ileum) and the large intestine. Its critical function is to limit the reflux of colonic contents into the ileum.
After a brief examination by Elyssa, she confirmed Jane’s suspicions and I had an explanation – my ileocecal valve was definitely grumpy. The valve is supposed to function on it’s own – opening and closing to release what needs to go to the large intestine from the small, leaving behind what doesn’t need to and shouldn’t go. (You can definitely google and find out even more of the details, I just wanted to keep this brief – a good intro to your ICV can be found here). Our ileocecal valves can get stuck in the open or closed position. Elyssa believes that mine is stuck open. After discussing my diet and trying to determine what may have caused this, Elyssa asked if there had been any major changes in my diet and I told her “no”, I have maintained the same diet that I have for the last nearly 2-years. However, this is when I recalled the cheese that I ate on New Years Eve. I have pretty much completely cut-out dairy milk when I am both baking and cooking, etc and I have cut way way back on cheese. Admittedly and embarrassingly, I consumed a good amount of cheese on New Years Eve with Mark’s family in Kentucky (we were in the South and we did stop at Grandpa’s Cheese Barn in Ohio, afterall). Not really thinking what it could do to my system after not really eating much of it, just thinking about how I rarely eat it anymore and that I would enjoy it just this once. Well the joke is on me. Elyssa explained that because I hadn’t been eating much dairy and more specifically cheese, just eating it this once, it could have just shocked my system, causing my ileocecal valve to freak out!
Now, let me explain to you that I haven’t been to a medical doctor with the exception of a physical in over two years. I have managed to stay fairly healthy minus a cold or stomach bug here and there, which is far better than my health in the past. I am not one to post around on Facebook or Twitter about how I am feeling and complain complain complain instead of taking the necessary actions to improve my health, I try to stay very positive and not dwell since I really think that has an effect on your health and well being. So, the only reason I even chose to share this on here at all – was that first, I thought it to be an interesting diagnosis, one that I never would have imagined. I have always found my digestive tract to be quite sensitive so finding out I have a part of that system, that I didn’t even know existed, not functioning properly, doesn’t really shock me. Secondly, I wanted to explain why you may not see as many posts for the next week or so, or why some of the recipes may be drastically different and toned down. I am definitely going to take it easy with eating, give my system a break and be very mindful of what I consume as I allow my body to heal. In addition to the dairy, I also plan to cut out caffeine, alcohol, sugar and chocolate. I am still not quite sure of everything involved with the ileocecal valve and what has to be done to heal it to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So, I definitely plan to share more with you as I learn more and I will also share the recipes that I am creating as I figure out what to eat to combat this.
The reason that I decided to share this diagnosis with you on this recipe, besides that it was the next recipe that was waiting to be written up, is that the biggest thing that I am removing from my diet, at least for the next few weeks, if not for the long haul, is dairy and more specifically cheese, so you won’t be seeing anything else like this cheesy-topped soup, for a while. I have always seemed to have trouble digesting it, but knowing that it wreaked such havoc on my poor ileocecal valve really has me thinking if I should remove it from my diet altogether. I am definitely not making any rash decisions just yet (gosh, even though I know it’s bad, I really do love cheese), but I do plan to start exploring all of my options and to really investigate all of my diet, once again. I obviously made this soup before we could pinpoint that my troubles were digestion related and I was absolutely craving soup. Had I known that my poor body was pissed at the fact that I consumed so much cheese on NYE – I would have just skipped out on the cheese topping and just had the toast on top. The broth to this French onion soup is soo darn delicious on it’s own, you could honestly enjoy a bowl of this without the melted cheese and be just as content. I promise – I know you think I am crazy, but this soup is that good.
Being that we purchased and shared half of a pasture-raised cow this fall with my parents from Sojourner Farms in Olean, I wanted to use some of the soup bones and beef that we received with our order to make this stock from scratch, I took all the steps to make sure that it was the richest and most flavorful stock I could make. I roasted the bones before I boiled them to make the stock and the results were phenomenal. I have never done this before, but it produced the darkest and most robust beef stock that you could ever imagine. I used this recipe here from Simply Recipes. I enjoyed so many of the different flavors from this soup that I want to attempt it again but next time with a vegetarian or a mushroom stock. I think with the right flavors, possibly roasting the vegetables a bit first and maybe adding in some miso to round out the stock, I could make an equally delicious vegetarian version of this. Stay tuned, I am determined to try it out.
A note – I would have really enjoyed making a French-style gluten free bread for the top of the soup, but I was a bit limited in time, so I bought these beautiful and tasty gluten-free baguettes from Schär. They toasted up absolutely perfectly and retained a nice amount of that crunch even when floating on top of the soup. What a treat to find those at the store. It was a perfect finish to this incredible soup!
Adapted from Julia Child’s Recipe
5-6 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted organic butter (if you wish to skip the butter, you can just add a bit more olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon raw sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons gluten-free all purpose flour (whatever your favorite blend is, I used Bob’s Red Mill)
8 cups (2-quarts) beef stock* (preferably homemade stock made with pasture-raised beef – I used this recipe to make mine with bones from our pasture raised beef from Sojourner Farms in Olean, NY)
1/2 cup wine (dry red or white – I used dry white vermouth since that is what I had and it works wonderfully – do not skip this, it really makes the flavor of the soup)
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
salt and pepper
12 ounces swiss cheese, grated
4 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 raw yellow onion
2 -3 tablespoons cognac or brandy (optional – sadly I had neither of these on hand so I skipped it)
8 slices gluten-free French bread (cut about 1 inch thick), toasted until hard
Place heavy bottom stock pot or dutch over a medium-low heat. Add olive oil and butter to the bottom, melt. Add sliced onions and stir until they are evenly coated with the oil and butter. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until they are very tender and translucent. Remove the cover and add the salt and sugar, mix. Raise the heat to a medium. Continue cooking the onions, stirring frequently, allowing them to caramelize and turn a deep golden brown. They will reduce significantly. This will take about 30 to 40 minutes. Don’t rush this step, you don’t want the onions to burn and the caramelization of the onions is what gives this soup it’s classic flavor.
Once caramelized, reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle the flour over the onions. Brown the flour for about 2-3 minutes trying not to scorch it. (If the flour does not form a thick paste, you can add a bit more butter here). Stir constantly. Add in the wine, a bay leaf, the thyme and your stock, adding the stock a little bit at a time, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up all of the cooked-on brown bits. Add salt and pepper to taste (don’t add too much salt as the cheese will also add saltiness and you can always add more – you can’t take it away). Continue adding the rest of your stock. Stirring as you add. Simmer for 30 minutes. After simmering for 30 minutes, find the bay leaf and take it out.
You can certainly skip the crusty bread and melted cheese on top, this soup is really THAT good. But if you want to go further and enjoy this soup the way Julia fully intended, then keep reading.
To toast your bread, heat oven to 325º F. Bake the bread in the oven on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes on each side (30 minutes total) or until golden brown and very hard, being careful not to burn it. Increase the temperature of your oven to 350º F.
To serve – either ladle the soup into individual oven-proof soup bowls or ramekins or one large casserole dish. I personally prefer individual servings. If you are adding raw onions, add that to the soup now and stir. Cover the soup with a single layer of the toasted bread and sprinkle with as much cheese as you’d like, I would say we probably went with about 1/4 cup of total cheese (a blend of the two cheeses). Place the bowls onto a baking sheet and place into a 350º oven for about 20 minutes. Then preheat your broiler and finish the soups under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown. Remove from the broiler carefully, let cool for a minute or two and serve immediately.
*mushroom stock would make a great vegetarian substitution[/print_this]