It was the painters who decided, before we even moved into our house, that the library fireplace would make a fine kitchen stove. They would arrive at 10 a.m. and break for their afternoon meal from 2 to 5. Ricardo had been a chef in the Argentine navy, and would grill everything from steak to calamares on a makeshift grill he built out of old paint cans, wornout tennis shoes and clothes hangers.

I'd never eaten so well.

Every winter since, we've been cooking dinners there -- chickens, duck, geese, leg of lamb, even suckling pig. There is a nightly idyllic scene, as the meat roasts aromatically in the flickering flames, and the children gather to do their homework by the firelight and listen to what daddy says when he sears his thumb.

I've found that it's a good idea to have the flue working properly. It's embarrassing to have a neighbor call the fire department just because smoke is billowing out of the house, and disrupting to have the department arrive at dinnertime to put out the venison.

The chief equipment you need, besides the fireplace, is a spit. Ours consists of a 75-cent steel rod. (It's 14 years old, so the price may have gone up.) The spit must be several inches longer than the width of the fireplace. If you have a metal-lined hearth, you need only drill two holes at the appropriate height and the metal rod will slip into one hole, and then can be pulled back into the other. A masonry bit will do the same for stone or brick. Although this sounds precarious, the only disaster I have not yet had is the rod slipping and the roast having to be plucked out of the fire.

If so inclined, you can get more elaborate spits at any fireplace store. You can even get ones with electric motors to turn the roast. I don't doubt that in a few years some company will sell a fireplace accessory that starts the roast while you're out, turns it so the meat cooks evenly and, via a radio-controlled thermocouple, shuts it off if you're late getting home.

A great advantage of fireplace cooking is that you need no fattening sauces to add flavor, although you can, if you want, baste it with sauce. The best flavor comes from the wood. The same chicken will taste quite different roasted over oak or maple. The first ingredient in any recipe, therefore,