Chicken salad has spread its wings. It's no longer the old-fashioned plain-Jane stuff -- chunks of chicken mixed with mayonnaise and celery -- that ladies used to lunch on at department store tearooms a couple of decades ago.

These days you'll find the comfort fare in chic, contemporary dress -- in many innovative, stylish combinations and flavors -- at all kinds of restaurants, cafes and takeout deli sections of markets.

"The bland chicken salad of more tranquil times now takes center stage as an exciting and upbeat dish," notes Barbara Lauterbach in her book "Chicken Salad: Fifty Favorite Recipes" (Chronicle Books; $18.95).

Trader Joe's currently offers a small container of delicious Wine Country Chicken Salad With Cranberries and Pecans -- and you'll find a great-tasting, easy copycat version here. Another winner is the Chicken Apricot Salad With Dijon Rosemary Dressing, which is very similar to the Rosemary Apricot Chicken Salad also available at Trader Joe's.

Everything goes with chicken. The only limit is the breadth of your imagination. Variations can include cranberries, pecans, apricots, rosemary, tarragon, cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, roasted peppers, avocado, bacon, Dijon mustard, curry, chutney and much more.

Today, you'll find many recipe creations with interesting dressing options beyond mayonnaise, including oil and vinegar, nonfat or low-fat yogurt, regular or reduced-fat sour cream and all kinds of prepared dressings on supermarket shelves.

If making your own, try different oils -- grapeseed, walnut, basil, sesame, avocado, for instance, along with a variety of vinegars such as seasoned or plain rice vinegar, sherry, white or regular balsamic, raspberry and more.

Although you can use a whole chicken or favorite chicken parts -- roast, grill, broil, stir-fry or poach the night before and refrigerate -- we prefer chicken breast chunks.

When time is at a premium -- and to whip up salads in a jiffy -- pick up frozen cooked chicken strips, a rotisserie chicken, roasted chicken breasts or cooked chicken strips at supermarkets or club stores (though avoid those that are highly seasoned).