The Crock-Pot revolution began in 1971, when Rival introduced the slow cooker, said Noelle Carter in the Los Angeles Times. It became an overnight success, its popularity exceeded only by the fondue pot. By the end of the decade, however, sales "decreased dramatically." Detractors claimed that the food always tasted the same, "no matter what was in the pot." It also didn't look very appetizing.

In recent years, a "new slow-cooker movement" has brought the Crock-Pot back. "For many, it's all about convenience," and it’s now estimated that 83 percent of all U.S. households own one of these devices. In making this lamb tagine, "you could just throw everything into the pot and forget about it." But this dish will taste noticeably better if you first season and sauté the lamb pieces. An hour after putting the ingredients into the pot, add some dates. "They'll cook just long enough to soften."

Recipe of the week
Lamb Tagine

Note: This recipe requires a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. The lamb shoulder should be weighed after it is boned and trimmed.

4 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp finely ground chili powder
3 lbs boneless, trimmed lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/4 cup flour
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp butter
2 large onions, cut into 1/2-inch slices lengthwise
10 shallots, peeled and left whole
4 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup raisins
1 tbsp honey
2 to 3 cinnamon sticks
1-1/2 cups vegetable broth, more as needed
1 cup pitted dates

In large bowl, stir together cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper, paprika, chili. Add cubed lamb, toss until pieces are evenly coated with spice mix. Sprinkle with flour, toss to give lamb a light coating of flour (you may have a little flour left in bottom of bowl; save this to thicken tagine). Heat large sauté pan or stovetop-safe slow cooker insert over medium-high heat. Add oil and butter. When butter has melted, add lamb pieces in single layer; sear until pieces are browned on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Remove lamb with slotted spoon back to large bowl.

Add onions and shallots to pan. Sauté onion and shallots until onions are just softened and slightly golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat. Place onions and shallots in even layer in slow-cooker insert (if not already in use). Stir in garlic, ginger, apricots, raisins, honey, cinnamon sticks, broth. Place lamb pieces over onion mixture in even layer. Gently sprinkle remaining flour over lamb.

Cover insert, place in slow cooker. Set slow cooker to high heat setting. After 2 hours, remove lid, sprinkle dates over lamb. Replace lid quickly (heat is lost whenever lid is removed), cook an additional 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until lamb is fork-tender. Remove insert from heat, briefly prop lid open to allow mixture to cool slightly. Gently stir lamb with vegetables and fruit; apricots and dates will crush easily if stirred too hard.

Serve the tagine spooned over couscous or rice. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve each portion with a wedge of lemon.