Monika's guide to the summer picnic

A picturesque location, large blanket and good weather are the main ingredients for a great picnic - whether it be fancy to celebrate a special occasion or simple for a family to break the weekend ritual of stopping for fast food meals.

It seems more people are taking advantage of the outdoors and opting for a picnic to spend some quality time with loved ones, says Monika Armstrong, of Culinarius Catering and Cupcakery.

She has noticed that more people are also buying picnic hampers as gifts for others to enjoy.

RECIPE: Monika's apple and cinnamon muffins

"There are so many beautiful spots in the Illawarra - it's nice to go outdoors," Armstrong says.

"It's more private than a restaurant and not as cramped and you can do things like kick a ball out in the open."

Armstrong says anniversaries, Valentine's Day and kids' birthday parties have always been a good reason to get out the picnic hamper, but these days more workplaces are also opting for a Christmas party picnic.

A picnic can be as simple as a cooked chicken and crusty bread rolls, she says.

"In advance, you can do a nice antipasto plate."

She says must-haves include cold meats, sundried tomatoes, dips and crusty bread rolls.

"It really is one easy big plate that can feed more people."

"You can do quiches and potato salad the day before - the flavour in potato salad comes out more the next day. And also such things as banana bread and chicken skewers can be done in advance."

Muffins, friands and macaroons are at the top of Armstrong's list for picnic treats.

"It's best to have them in small bite sizes," Armstrong says, adding that a thermos filled with coffee goes nicely to finish off the picnic.

Fruits such as strawberry punnets are also easy to pack.

You can go fancier with a Mediterranean or Japanese theme to the picnic, or stick with the tried and true ploughman's lunch of cold meat sandwiches.

Armstrong says her picnics are mostly impromptu and an antipasto or ploughman's lunch were her favourite choices.

Her favourite picnic spots are along Wollongong's Blue Mile.

"I really enjoy the lighthouse [at Flagstaff Hill], especially now the Blue Mile has been done up."

Armstrong's tips for a nice, simple picnic include:

■ Have a large basket to keep your plates and utensils together.

■ Use a well-insulated bag to keep items cold. Make sure you have an esky for seafood or chicken.

■ Make sure you're not in an alcohol-free zone if you've packed some bubbly.

■ Use screw-capped jars to store condiments and olives.

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