While using a tiny bit of crab to make three small crabcakes using ingredients from two recipes (I cherry-picked ingredients I liked) and cooking one with Panko crust and the other two bare to compare, it occured to me that I clearly have a process for testing out new recipes (whether self created or from somewhere else) before launching them for groups of larger than three people.
It starts when I decide to make something, i.e. crabcakes. I browse CH and other sites, I flip through dozens of cookbooks and think about what combo of tastes and textures I'm going for, then creating my own recipe. Or sometimes I just pick one recipe and stay true to that, depends on my level of adventure on the dish.
I then make a very small portion with the "essence" of the recipe, just for myself and no one else. I eat it, make mental notes, and decide how to improve for the next time. Or sometimes I pick a cooking style, i.e. "roasting" and I cook a small portion of a different food each day for a week using the method (just for me) making notes on likes/dislikes, and changes for the future.
Next, I ring up members of my "tasting panel" - a couple of my Dear Friends (DF's) - and call a get-together to sip wine and hang out. I casually mention that I'm trying out a new recipe, and would they like to try it? Now these aren't casual friends, these are the ones - like my friend who is a counselor for a living - who will give direct, honest feedback, couched in kindness. Friends who say "it does taste a little peppery, my tongue is burning a bit". (Note to self, lay back on the pepper flakes next time...)
I take their feedback and return to my kitchen - implementing the recipe again with adjustments - to make the dish once more, usually with another small group of (different) DF's. This time I don't mention that the dish is a new one, I just lay it out and see how much gets eaten and if there is any feedback. If no one says anything (which I can't remember ever happening), I ask casual, yet probing questions, i.e. "I tried out using a bit of chipotle pepper flakes in this to give it a smoky taste... do you think I should use more next time, less, or keep it the same?".
Based on responses, I further tweak the recipe one more time with myself alone, then if happy with the outcome, I launch it at a formal cocktail or dinner party with a larger (4-10 people) group.
Am wondering how other CH'ers test out and refine their new culinary concoctions. What is your "test kitchen" process (and who's in your "tasting panel")?