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What could be better than a really perfect picnic? Whether it be at a table alongside the road, a blanket spread out across the ground, or even in your own backyard, there are so many places around the Scenic City to enjoy a meal in your favorite outdoor setting.

"The beauty of having a picnic is you can celebrate for a special occasion, or you don't need an occasion at all," says picnicking expert Karissa Muilenburg, who, with business partner Madison Floyd, opened Savor Picnics this past January, creating a business dedicated to dining al fresco.

The duo brings the picnic to you, curated specifically to your needs so that no two are alike. They offer seven different styles of picnics, from romantic picnics for two to bachelor or bridesmaid party picnics to routine ones for men only, with cigars, whiskey and poker if desired. There are yoga picnics, too, with a certified instructor, perfect for a bridal party on the morning of your big day.

"Food is what connects people," Muilenburg says.

While food is key, there are also more things to consider. It takes some advance planning for a picnic that goes down in the books as one of the best yet. Here are some ideas from the team at Savor Picnics:

* The more food there is, the more of a treat you will experience. You don't have to offer foods with expensive ingredients, but an assortment gives everyone something to choose from. Finger food is essential.

* A picnic is more than just throwing a blanket on the ground and calling it a day, though that's a good place to start. It's all about the vibe. Add pillows, twinkling battery-powered lights, music and maybe even an outdoor movie — all that extra "wow" factor to make it a meal you'll never forget.

* Most importantly, choose friends and family that you enjoy being with. You don't need a special day to break bread with those kind of folks.

Chattanooga has the distinction of winning Outside Magazine's "Best Town" contest not once, but twice, primarily because of everything the area has to offer — including lots of top spots for picnicking.

"Our people understand the beauty of the landscape around us and take full advantage of all of our outdoor activities," Muilenburg says. "Adding a picnic to that is merely a chance to say 'cheers' to this amazing city.

"Picnics make us slow down and enjoy everything around us. Sitting on the ground with people that you love, enjoying the nature around you, no electronics muffling the conversation, makes time pause and gives us the space to simply appreciate life for just a little bit."

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A Tisket, A Tasket, A Chef's Picnic Basket

Picnics are a classic American pastime, and the familiar picnic foods are just that as well. Cold fried chicken, potato salad, brownies and lemonade or a nice bottle of wine are staples of picnic menus across the country — but great picnic foods don't stop there.

The following chefs and caterers from around Chattanooga love to picnic, so we asked them to lift the lids on their picnic baskets and offer a peek inside.

 

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Erik Niel / Contributed Photo

Erik Niel

Erik Niel, chef and owner of downtown's popular Easy Bistro and the Southside's Main Street Meats, likes to keep his picnic menu a simple one, snacking on the same ingredients he makes a sandwich out of: Niedlov's sourdough bread stacked with the City Ham from Main Street Meats and Dancing Fern cheese from Sequatchie Cove Farm, enjoyed along with his vegetable salad made with fresh haricots verts, grape tomatoes and almonds.

"I like to lay everything out on a board, snack a good bit, and then, when the cheese warms up and gets a little gooey, it's time to make a sandwich. Along with, of course, a nice rose wine."

His favorite picnic spot? Any spot overlooking the Tennessee River, but, says wife Amanda, "Snooper's Rock (in Prentice Cooper State Forest) is the best!"

Chilled Haricots Verts Salad with Grape Tomatoes, Almonds and Herbs

What you need:

1 pound haricots verts (French green beans), trimmed

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

Fresh parsley, thyme and oregano, minced, to taste

Splash red wine vinegar

Splash olive oil

Salt and black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup creme fraiche (sour cream)

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

What you do:

1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Blanch haricots verts for 2-3 minutes, or until tender but still crisp. Drain and spread on a plate and cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, combine the chilled haricots verts, grape tomatoes and herbs. Season with vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning. Add creme fraiche, folding in gently. Remove to a serving plate or bowl, then sprinkle with almonds.

 

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Hardin Cowan / Contributed Photo

Hardin Cowan

A graduate of the International Culinary Center in New York, Cowan is a sous chef at The Meeting Place, a sister restaurant to St. John's on Chattanooga's Southside. When picnic season rolls around, he packs his basket with sandwiches of charred tuna salad, homemade pimiento cheese served with chips, a salad of compressed melon with balsamic reduction and, for dessert, blackberry cobbler.

His favorite picnic spot? Along the Hawkins Ridge Trail in St. Elmo.

Feta Watermelon Salad

What you need:

1 pound watermelon, diced

8 ounces feta cheese

3 ounces Kalamata olives

2 ounces arugula

1 ounce extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 ounce aged balsamic vinegar

What you do:

1. Place watermelon in large bowl. Crumble feta into large chunks and add to watermelon. Dice olives into small pieces. Combine with watermelon and feta. (Do not season. The feta is the seasoning.)

2. In a separate bowl, dress arugula with olive oil and salt and pepper.

3. To serve, spread balsamic across bottom of a plate. Add watermelon salad above it. Garnish with the dressed arugula.

 

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Blackwell Smith / Contributed Photo

Blackwell Smith

Former owner and chef of two popular Chattanooga restaurants — Caffeine and Blacksmith's — and a graduate of the Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana, Smith now builds websites and will soon incorporate cooking into one of his designs. But, as he says, "once a chef, always a chef." And one look inside his picnic basket confirms that remark. The awaiting feast includes Coppinger cheese from Sequatchie Cove Farm, homemade pickles, spicy salami with crackers, potato salad, his grandmother's pickled shrimp, deviled eggs and smoked almonds.

His favorite picnic spot? The Blue Hole in Soddy-Daisy. "The farther you go, the better it gets," he says.

Deviled Eggs

What you need:

1 dozen eggs

1/4 cup chow chow or favorite relish

1 1/2 tablespoons each chopped fresh dill, fresh Italian parsley and fresh chives

1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise

Tabasco sauce

Sea salt

Smoked paprika

What you do:

1. Place eggs in single layer in large saucepan with lid. If you have to stack them, use a bigger pan; if none of them are touching, the pan is too big. Fill with water just covering eggs, add 3 heaping tablespoons salt and put on high heat. When it comes to a boil, put on lid, lower heat to medium and continue boil for 15 minutes. When timer goes off, remove from heat and run cool water over the eggs. When cool enough to handle, peel eggs, cut in half and remove yolks.

2. In food processor, add yolks, herbs, chow chow, 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and purée until blended well. Add more mayonnaise, if needed. Season with Tabasco and a few pinches of sea salt, to taste. Always taste — never assume it's right. Fill eggs with deviled yolk mixture, place in airtight container and chill for a few hour or overnight. When serving, sprinkle with smoked paprika.

 

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Rebecca Barron / Contributed Photo

Rebecca Barron

As executive chef at St. John's Restaurant and mother to 16-month-old daughter Ruby, Barron is a busy woman, so taking time off for a picnic is something she treasures, particularly during the summer months. It's a time when tomatoes are vine-ripe and ready for her panzanella salad, a delicious side dish to pack in her picnic basket along with meats and cheeses from Bleu Fox Cheese Shop on Main Street and some Modelo beer to wash it all down. For dessert, Barron likes to keep it simple, packing some dark chocolate for a sweet, healthy finish.

Her favorite picnic spot? One of the side bouldering trails off of the main Guild Trail on Lookout Mountain.

Panzanella Salad

What you need:

2 medium-size heirloom tomatoes, chopped into large pieces

1 English cucumber, chopped into medium-size pieces

3 large slices of sourdough bread, torn so they're about 1 inch in size, and toasted in the oven with olive oil and salt until crispy

1 small shallot, shaved thinly on a mandolin

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil and mint

1/3 to 1/2 cup of your favorite vinaigrette ("I like red wine vinaigrette for this," she says.)

Salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

What you do:

Toss everything together in a mixing bowl starting with a small amount of vinaigrette and adding more as needed. Some tomatoes are more juicy than others. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Let sit at room temp for up to 2 hours.

 

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Michelle Wells / Contributed Photo

Michelle Wells

When she can take time away from a busy summer catering schedule, Michelle Wells, owner of Events with Taste, and her husband, Ted, enjoy a good picnic, but stick to their low-carb diet. "So our picnic basket would be a little different," she says. On her menu is cold grilled chicken, cauliflower tabbouleh, sliced tomatoes, Sequatchie Cove cheese, deviled eggs with bacon, and maybe some fresh berries.

"If I was being decadent, maybe a couple of cold grilled lobster tails," says Wells. "And bubbles. Lots of bubbles. For drinking."

Her favorite picnic spot? The 24-hour terrace at the Hunter Museum. "They even have cute little tables out there now."

Cauliflower Tabbouleh

What you need:

2 cups cauliflower rice

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, stems removed and chopped

1/2 bunch fresh mint, stems removed and chopped

4 scallions, chopped (include both white and green part)

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

2 lemons, juiced

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

What you do:

Place cauliflower rice, cucumber, parsley, mint, scallions and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and olive oil; mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or place in refrigerator and store for up to 4 days.

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