After spending so long out of the UK, one thing I’ve really missed is getting to hang out with other bloggers and writers. Travel and food are two of my favourite things, so getting to spend a day combining the two and getting to blog all about it – pretty much my dream day! So I was over the moon when I was invited along to a Middle Eastern cookery class with Visit Qatar and found out I would be spending the day cooking up a storm with a group of bloggers, journalists, food stylists and more. Watching the sunrise from the train as we powered through the misty and frosty fields towards London, I was on my third coffee of the day and couldn’t wait to get started. The event was being held at The Cookery School, just off Oxford Circus, and it was such a perfect venue with everything we needed to create our feast, plus a great team of chefs on hand to help guide us through the process. After brief introductions, it was full speed ahead to create an amazing feast of middle eastern delights for lunch.

Let’s get to the food…

The aim of the day was for us to all work together on various recipes to create a feast for the whole group to enjoy over lunch. Whipping up everything from flatbreads, tabbouleh and a mezzo of dips including hummus, to a choice between lamb or vegetarian tagine with Persian rice, and rounding off with semolina cake served with yoghurt and fresh oranges, and homemade baklava. I couldn’t think of a more perfect menu and I was so excited to get stuck in and learn some new recipes, I was especially looking forward to learning how to make hummus and to see how their tagine recipe differed from the one I make at home. We were all set to work on different tasks from chopping and slicing, to buttering and mixing. I love cooking and I love how social it is, we all had plenty of time to have a good chat over the mixing bowls.The first dish I helped out with was the baklava which I was very intrigued by, I personally have never been too keen on the sweet treat, often finding it a bit sickly. But after realising this one wasn’t soaked in sugar syrup I was keen to find out if I would like it. Working with Amanda Bernstein of Glass Magazine, we teamed up to butter the many layers of filo pastry before adding chopped walnuts and cinnamon prepped by some of the other gals. I can tell you, after tasting the finished product, I am a total convert on baklava – the one we made was absolutely delicious and definitely wasn’t too sweet.Afterwards, I was assigned to helping to prep the tabbouleh which ended up being the most colourful dish on the table! With all the bright colours of the herbs, tomatoes and lemons, it certainly brought a dash of the exotic to the table. This one was a nice easy dish, it just took a lot of chopping and preparing. I took the herbs to one side as I worked my way through chopping them for tabbouleh-duty.Finally, it was on to the dips and one of the dishes I was most excited to make – hummus. I’ve always wanted to make hummus myself at home but it’s just one of those things I never get round to. Now, after seeing how ridiculously easy it is to make, I really have no excuse. We spent time perfecting the flavours and seasoning, adding a dash more lemon juice here, or a pinch of salt there, until we were happy with it.And finally, after hours of prepping and cooking, lunch was served! Everyone really enjoyed their food and we loved finally getting a chance to sit and enjoy all the unique flavours as a group.

But why were we there?

This amazing event had been organised by the wonderful Jess and Katie, of Visit Qatar, as a way to celebrate everything about this beautiful and exciting country. Why? Well it’s just become visa free for travellers from no fewer than 80 nationalities, so not only is it the most open country in the whole region, but there has never been a better time to visit!After reading this blog post by The Travelista after her visit to capital city Doha, I was already rather interested in what the city had to offer. Having spent very little time in the middle east so far, it’s an area of the world that becoming ever more accessible with countless new and more direct flights being introduced across the UK. Apparently there are over 37million travellers passing through Doha International Airport each year, but very few are actually taking the time to enjoy the city while passing through. Perhaps, like me, they were simply unaware of the incredibly diverse travel experiences that await them there! But ever since the event, I’ve been dreaming of getting my heart racing by ‘dune bashing’ across the desert in a 4×4, or exploring the alleys of the Souq Waqif and taking in the stunning architecture. Whether enjoying a holiday, or just a few days stopover in the city, you can squeeze in a taste of authentic street food across the country or discover the breath-taking exhibitions at the Museum of Islamic Art.  More than 150 countries spread across six continents are now connected with Doha thanks to Qatar Airways, which means you could easily build in a visit to your next trip. When flying back and forth between Asia or Australia and the UK, my layovers have always taken me to the likes of Dubai or Kuala Lumpur, so I’m eager to take the opportunity to discover somewhere new on my next big trip. There are even new direct flights available from Cardiff to Doha as of May 1, flying on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, these will be available seven days a week. Find more information on the Visit Qatar website.

Have you been to Qatar – how was your experience? Do you love middle eastern food – what’s your favourite dish?