Baudelaire, the French poet and essayist, wrote during the 19th century that with "no restaurants, the means of consoling oneself {is} reading cookbooks." This year, toward the end of the 20th century, he would have found many of the new cookbooks from Europe to be great consolation, but not much help in the kitchen.

One of the problems is sometimes less-than-stellar editing. While the cuisines may be sophisticated, the books still need to be "user-friendly." Instead, many fail to take into account the skill level of many home cooks. As is commonly the case with cookbooks featuring chefs' recipes -- in this country as well as in Europe -- the recipes are difficult, and just don't work.

On the other hand, "Bouquets de Provence" by Jean-Andre Charial-Thuilier (Clarkson-Potter, $16.95) is a precious gem that any admirer of the well-crafted book would love to find in a Christmas stocking. It is small, both in dimensions and number of recipes; and it is as magnificently executed as the meals at Raymond Thuilier's L'Oustau de Baumaniere in Provence from which the recipes are drawn.

The book is divided seasonally and introduced by quotes from literature ranging from Colette and John Keats to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sylvia Plath. Each season is represented by two menus, and they should not be attempted without the finest quality raw ingredients. In the style of Thuilier, the food is lightly handled to allow the flavors to emerge. Preparing one winter menu, from its start of creamy mussel soup through simply roasted monkfish tails and filet of beef in a hearty red wine sauce flavored with anchovies, revealed the splendid combinations of flavors.

The recipes are easy, although not for a novice cook since directions are rather short and rely on a high skill level. If you feel comfortable with "cook until done" rather than more precise clues as to when that occurs, you will not be intimidated.

If St. Patrick was canonized for ridding Ireland of snakes, Myrtle Allen should receive similar recognition for introducing good cooking and garlic cloves to the Emerald Isle. Allen, who is perhaps the only name chef in her country, produced "Myrtle Allen's Cooking at Ballymaloe House" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95) from her Georgian-mansion-turned-hotel, which also includes a cooking school, in Southwest Ireland.

As is true with all cookbooks published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, the photography is superb and the recipes are lucid and accurate. I thoroughly enjoyed both cooking and eating the spiced mutton pies and Irish apple cake. If you want a single book on Irish food to add to your library or one of a friend, this is the book to own.

Each season produces its bevy of beautiful books, and "At Home in France" by Christopher Petkanas (Rizzoli International Publications, $40) is the perfect gift choice for a francophile who subscribes to both "Town & Country" and "Architectural Digest." It is a cross between the two, and its author devotes more space to personality profiles than to the cuisine. While the recipes tested did produce satisfactory results, clearly this is more a coffee-table than coffee-cake offering.

What the book is about is depicting a cross-section of French people, most of whom live in glamorous houses and few of whom appear to be inspired cooks. With the exception of a glimpse into the home of Julia Child's collaborator, Simone Beck, the people and their surroundings are not French food notables.

Arranged alphabetically, with listings for ingredients, dishes, basic recipes, utensils and cooking methods, "The Gastronomy of Spain and Portugal" by Maite Manjon (Prentice Hall Press, $35) is a comprehensive book that performs the same didactic function for the cuisines of the Iberian peninsula as the "Larousse Gastronomique" serves for French cuisine. It includes literary references (caviar is mentioned as a food in Cervantes' "Don Quixote"), food-related activities (la caza refers to game hunting), and basic information (the influence of the Romans on Spanish culture).

The encyclopedic nature of the work makes it more of a reference book than a standard cookbook, although there are more than 200 recipes for the stalwarts of Iberian food with excellent introductions as to the history and nature of the dishes. The classic paella was first rate, as were some fried peppers and pork with oranges.

Claire Macdonald, the owner of Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye, in "Laidy Macdonald's Scotland" by Claire Macdonald (Little Brown, $35) narrates a trip around her country via its inns, food shops and restaurants to explore the basis for its food -- glorious game, smoked salmon and other fish, traditional baked goods, etc. The book reads very well, and she is enthusiastic and bursting with pride about the land and the foodstuffs for which it is known. Matching the eloquence of her narrative are stunning photographs by John Ferro Sims.

There are recipes appropriate to each chapter, grouped on shaded pages. The pork stew with apricots is an excellent dish, as is the smoked fish pa~te'. The recipes are written clearly, and are extremely easy to follow. However this is far more a book about Scottish food -- where to eat it, buy it, and the people involved in its production -- than it is a cookbook. I doubt I will cook out of it very often, but I will share it with anyone planning a trip to Scotland who cares about food.

There are more stars represented in "Great European Chefs" by Caroline Hobhouse (Van Nostrand Reinhold, $44.95) than in most celestial galaxies, and this beautiful book -- with mouth-watering photographs of food and interesting action shots of chefs preparing it -- represents the best of chefs' cookbooks. Caroline Hobhouse is a well known British cookbook editor, and she has brought that authoritative voice to the stories of 18 remarkable restaurants and their chefs, including culinary superstars Roger Verge, Raymond Blanc, Anton Mosimann and Myrtle Allen.

This volume presents a good sampling of dishes and styles of the legendary restaurants, but the recipes are labor-intensive and generally difficult even though clearly written for the home kitchen.

The highest compliment paid to Raymond Blanc and his cooking at the grand and romantic Le Manior aux Quat' Saisons in the Cotswolds is that the food is so elegant, beautifully presented and well-seasoned that you can't believe it's in England. "Recipes from Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons" by Raymond Blanc (Van Nostrand Reinhold, $44.95) features these refined dishes invented by a talented practitioner of French nouvelle cuisine, but it is hardly for the novice cook or for quick meals.

The recipes are time-consuming, but Blanc does mark them to level of difficulty by the number of white toques. The directions are very clear, especially for a chef's book, but each dish is composed of a number of separate steps -- many of which must be accomplished at the last minute. The Roasted Turbot Roasted on Dried Fennel and moistened with anchovy oil is spectacular, as was the Roast Sweetbreads in Dry Sherry Sauce and the Calvados Souffle' Nestled in an Apple.


1 carrot

1 shallot

1 onion

1 bottle Co~te du Rhone (or similar dry French wine)

2 chicken livers, chopped

6 anchovy fillets in olive oil, crushed

2 pounds beef tenderloin

Olive oil

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

This sauce should be started a day in advance to give the subtle flavors -- especially the anchovies -- time to develop and mature.

Peel carrot, shallot and onion and cut into small dice. Put them in a saucepan with red wine over a medium heat. Boil to reduce for 30 minutes, then thicken the sauce with chicken livers. Add the crushed anchovy fillets and reduce for another few minutes, then seive through a strainer. Leave to rest for 24 hours.

The following day, return sauce to heat and reduce it until it starts to really thicken (at this stage it should just cover the bottom of the pan). Be careful not to let it stick; stir frequently with a wooden spatula. Brush meat with olive oil, then saute' in more olive oil, cooking according to taste.

Meanwhile, finish sauce by enriching it: Gradually add small pieces of softened butter, whisking all the while. Season to taste.

Per serving: 569 calories, 51 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, 29 gm fat, 12 gm saturated fat, 215 mg cholesterol, 411 mg sodium.

-- From "Bouquets de Provence" by Jean-Andre Charial-Thuilier (Clarkson-Potter, $16.95) From Italy