Despite my new Instant Pot mania, I don’t make everything from scratch. I spend more time than necessary in the local supermarket perusing the frozen food cases because every week some new ready-made meal comes to market, each new brand or sub-brand more healthful and more innovative in its cooking technology than the last.
One item I buy a lot of is chicken pot pie and while Banquet, Stouffer’s and Swanson along with the fancier Blake’s have all graced my oven or microwave, a more local brand has almost cult status among chicken pot pie connoisseurs in New England and the East Coast, Willow Tree.
This family-run business was launched in Attleboro, Massachusetts, in 1954 with Chet Cekala’s original recipe made with chickens from the family poultry and egg farm. Now, son Walter and grandsons Chris and Alex Cekala continue the tradition and have expanded on it with a whole line of chicken salads (the original came out for the first time in 1974) and dips (2011).
I’ve been through all of the pot pies which you can get in 8-ounce and 28-ounce sizes. They cook up well in both the oven and microwave. My M.O. for the individual size is to tip it upside down on the plate and scoop it all out so the upper crust is on the bottom. I then top it with sour cream. The gravy covers the crust and away I go, bite by bite. I like the white meat chicken pies the best — just pure white meat chicken and their gravy. I make my own sides.
It wasn’t until last month that I had some of their newer chicken salad varieties, however. (Disclosure: They sent me some samples to try out). There are many deli cases all over the Seacoast that use their classic chicken salad and even many restaurants. I saw some copycat recipes for their classic online as well, so it does have a following. It’s quite a simple recipe really, just white meat chicken, mayo and a mix of brown sugar, salt and spices. Now, their mixing the classic with cranberry and walnuts, Buffalo sauce or Sriracha, and they have one made with Aveyo, an avocado-based mayo which makes the salad lower in fats and calories.
What I had never had, though, were the chicken dips which include the Chicken Caesar dip with parmesan Caesar dressing, cream cheese and white meat chicken, and the Buffalo style with cheeses and Buffalo sauce. Those I went a little nuts with and made a few recipes with. You can make it simple and just heat them up like a spinach and artichoke dip and scoop up with your chips of choice or spread on crusty bread. I topped the Buffalo dip with some mozzarella and heated it under the broiler for a nice crust on top. I tried these recipes, too.
Caesar Chicken Dip Pizza
This is a variation on a recipe I found on the Willow Tree website. Theirs called for spinach and artichoke hearts, but I made it with a light red sauce and arugula because it’s what I had in the house at the time.
Store bought pizza crust
Willow Tree Caesar Chicken Dip
1 c. chopped arugula
1/2 to 1 c. marinara sauce
Spread red sauce on pizza crust, then spread Willow Tree Caesar Chicken Dip on top of the sauce. Top with parmesan cheese and arugula. Bake in oven according to crust directions.
Remove from oven and let cool.
Chicken Dip Chili
Courtesy Willow Tree
This chili recipe uses the Buffalo chicken dip which adds spice and texture.
1 container of Willow Tree Buffalo Style Chicken Dip
1/3 can each of pinto, black and kidney beans (standard 15.5oz can)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ can chopped tomatoes
4-5 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Mix together the Willow Tree Buffalo Style Chicken Dip, beans, chili powder, ground cumin, garlic powder and chopped tomatoes in a frying pan on medium heat. Warm until the edges begin to bubble and place in individual bowls, then top with sour cream and chopped chives.
Sriracha Chicken Salad Wonton Bites
Courtesy Willow Tree
I brought these little snacks to a potluck and everyone loved them! I added some cilantro and a touch of wasabi mayo after each came out of the oven
Willow Tree Spicy Sriracha Chicken Salad
Wonton wrappers (24)
Chopped cilantro (optional)
Wasabi mayo (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 425°F. Press the wonton wrappers into mini muffin-pan cups. Scoop Willow Tree Spicy Sriracha Chicken Salad into wonton cups.
Cook with 8-10 minutes or until wonton wrappers are fully cooked.
Top with chopped chives and shredded carrots and a touch of wasabi mayo and cilantro if desired.
Find Willow Tree products in New England at Shaw’s, Market Basket, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods, Walmart, Hannaford and at their retail store at the company in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Find them online at www.willowtreefarm.com.
— Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Exeter (and Austin, Texas). She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of her Dining Out reviews online.