Slow cookers are not the sexiest of kitchen appliances, but when used well they can offer quietly stupendous results. In my kitchen this Rival Smart-Pot has earned back its low price over and over again in braised lamb stews, tender ragús, and intensely flavored curries.
The Smart-Pot lets you set a cooktime for up to twenty hours using two temperature settings: high and low, which are all you need for slow cooking. But it also has a a convenient feature that will switch the temp to warm after your set cooktime is up. So if you're a little late getting home from work, it's OK; your beef bourguignon will still be warm.
Which brings us to the point of having a slow cooker: for busy city cooks, it's an indispensable tool for winter cooking - look past its dumpy reputation and see it as the perfect instrument for long, slow braises. Instead of hanging around at home with your oven on 250ºF for four hours, waiting for the meat to get tender and absorb all that flavor, put it in the slow cooker and leave for the day.
The stone crock is removeable and easily washable; somehow all the caked-on sauces rinse right off. At five quarts this is also big enough for a roast but not too large to squeeze into your apartment somewhere. That is perhaps the biggest drawback to a slow cooker: finding a place to put it. For me, it's worth it. (It lives on top of the fridge.)
• Buy at Amazon for $34.99