There are certain kitchen tools that are must-haves: chef's knives, wooden cutting boards and sheet pans. Then there is a kind of secondary level of equipment that makes your life easier and neater - items you may eventually not be able to live without. If you are looking for some small upgrades to your kitchen arsenal, these five are worth their cheap price tag. (Approximate ranges are included below.)
Bench scraper ($2 to $10)
As the name indicates, this blade-looking tool can be used to sweep away messes on your counter - flour you have dusted for pizza dough or, uh, the couscous that spilled everywhere. It is also handy for scooping up ingredients you have chopped on a cutting board and need to move somewhere else. Mine gets a good workout cutting dough for bagels or scones (this is why my husband has nicknamed it the "dough guillotine").
Cake tester ($2 to $5)
If you bake at all, a cake tester is worth having around. You use it to test for doneness of cakes (obviously), but also brownies, blondies and muffins. Toothpicks are commonly used the same way, but I hated going through so many and also never remembering where I stashed the box or if I even had them in the house when I needed them. Moreover, thin metal testers can help you determine whether your vegetables and even meat or fish are cooked through.
Splatter screen ($10 to $20)
A splatter screen can protect your kitchen and yourself from splatters. (These are well-named gadgets, aren't they?) It especially comes in handy for pan-frying food such as chicken cutlets, as well as tomato sauce, which is prone to vigorous, explosive bubbling. When set over a bowl, you can use it in lieu of a strainer, such as when you have made broth and need to remove the solids. Or use it to smooth out vegetable purées and even spuds for mashed potatoes.
Spoon rest ($8 to $20)
For years, I would stick my dirty, in-use spoons and spatulas on wadded-up paper towels, plates, the counter, the stove top or, precariously, the edge of the pot. Then we were passed along a beautiful ceramic spoon rest from Italy, and I was immediately sold. It earned a permanent place on the counter adjacent to the big burner on our stove. That first spoon rest eventually cracked in a tumble, and now I treasure its replacement, a blue-and-white one we picked up in London. There are some spoon rests that are just big enough for the end of the spoon or spatula, but I am messy, so I prefer having a full-length version that can hold dirty handles as well.
Brushes ($3 to $6)
A firm scrubber brush is perfect for cleaning produce, especially fruit and vegetables you don't plan on peeling. You can also use it for general cleaning tasks - you know, that burned-on stuff you have been meaning to get off your stove top. A bottle brush with a long handle makes cleaning thermoses, tall glasses and water bottles a breeze. I use this one by Dawn to clean other awkwardly shaped items, such as my glass pitcher and teapot.